Potatoes are generous plants: they’ll grow in almost any garden and give you a fine crop of one of the most nutritious vegetables on the planet.

And you’ll get the best out of potatoes if you grow your own. The full gourmet delights of new potatoes can only be enjoyed when freshly dug because the sugars in the tubers turn to starch within a few hours and their magical flavour ebbs away.

There are more than 5,000 different varieties world-wide, with new ones added every year. But although there are around 180 species of wild potatoes, most of the ones we eat are varieties of Solanum tuberosum.

There are 3 main groups of potato: 1st Earlies, 2nd Earlies and maincrop. Confusingly, these names describe how long varieties take to mature, not the order of planting. So plant all the tatties at roughly the same time. Most 1st Earlies are ready for harvest 10-12 weeks after planting, 2nds take 14-16 weeks, with maincrop between 18 and 20.

Tattie shaws usually emerge 3-4 weeks after planting but like many South American crops, they’re tender and are easily frosted. Depending on where you live, plant some time in April to try to avoid a late frost. Local gardening gurus will put you right on this.

Tubers should be planted a full 15cm deep. This prevents developing tatties from poking above the surface and turning a toxic green. [When buying in a supermarket, always check the skins aren’t a poisonous green after lying on the shelf too long.]

The traditional method for planting a tattie dreel, or row, is to dig a trench, throwing soil to one side and place the seed potatoes tubers along it: 30cm between 1st Earlies, 40-45cm for 2nds, and 50-55cm form maincrop. A little closer in rich ground. Then earth up along the dreel by raking soil at each side to form a neat inverted V. A freshly planted dreel is a joy to behold till a band of busily foraging ducks waddles in.

When the shaws are about 5-10cm high or if they’ve appeared and a frost is forecast, earth up again, covering the growth.

As I’ve largely adopted the ‘no dig’ approach, my methods have changed. My mulched, undisturbed soil is friable and slightly warmer, so is ready for planting without any preparation. I don’t need to loosen and till any compacted ground, which is a real bonus for a dodgy back.

I prepare holes for the tubers along the dreel and, after planting, refill the holes. As part of my no-dig approach I spread a compost mulch on top.

Tattie dreels should be a metre apart, so one fits perfectly in my metre-wide raised beds, but 1st Earlies are planted more closely, letting me squeeze 2 rows in a bed. I plant the first row at the beginning of April and the second a fortnight later for a longer harvesting season.

Potatoes also grow well in hessian or stout plastic bags with plenty drainage holes. I use large planters. Place 2 or at the most 3 tubers on 30cm of good compost, cover with 15cm and water. Keep covering the shaws as they grow till the bag is full and keep it moist, but not wet. After 10-12 weeks, stick your hand in to monitor the crop.

Provided the bag is kept frost-free, do this at any time of year.

For a good selection of varieties, help and advice visit a potato day:

23 Feb. 11am - 2pm. Reidvale Centre, 13 Whitevale St., Glasgow G33 1QW.

1 March. 11am - 3pm Springwood Park, Kelso

7 March 1pm - 3pm. Braefoot centre, Braefoot Dunblane.

Plant of the week

Salix gracilistyla ‘Mount Aso’ produces a cloud of fluffy pink catkins in early spring. Blue green leaves with a silvery underside follow.