This final article in the series looking at our sowing plans for 2014 covers those odds and ends that did not fit well in any of the previous parts. Included here are the tubers – potatoes and Jerusalem artichokes. At some point I would like to experiment with other tubers, such as oca, but I doubt that we will get around to it this year. Also included are various leafy things.
We usually order our seed potatoes online, but this year left it a little late so bought from local garden centres instead. The problem with garden centres is that they offer their seed potatoes far too early in the year, and unless one buys early they tend to shoot. Whilst it may be helpful to chit potatoes – and different authorities debate this point – it is not helpful to buy potatoes long before their planting time with long, weak shoots. I store seed potatoes in the refrigerator, which retards them and prevents shoots from developing. Three or four weeks before planting they can then be removed and chitted before planting out. Tubers can be successfully stored for the entire season; last year we kept some back for autumn planting in the polytunnel.
I usually grow heritage varieties and several varieties have become firm favourites. First early Sharpe’s Express is generally included in our first sowing in large pots in the glasshouses to provide our earliest harvest, typically before the end of April. This is a good flavoured new potato, which we find is best steamed rather than boiled. We will be planting further Sharpe’s Express in the main beds along with some Epicure, an early sort well regarded for its flavour, and also known to recover well from frost damage. Epicure is not the best looking potato, being rather lumpy, but good flavour makes up for that. To follow on from the earlies, we are planting second early International Kidney, essentially the same variety that is better known as Jersey Royals when grown in Jersey. These are good lifted early when small or later treated as an early main crop. It is an ideal filler between the earlies and main crop potatoes.
For main crop, we regularly grow a more modern sort, Wilja, a Dutch variety developed in the 1960s. Strictly, this is a second early, so can be lifted earlier than a main crop, but, if left to fully develop, produces good quality tubers that store well, some of which will attain a great size for baking. We have found it to be an excellent general purpose potato. Another favourite is the older variety Arran Victory, a good sized purple skinned potato with a floury texture that makes a delicious mash. The late season Pink Fir Apple is also a firm favourite. These long, knobbly, pink tinged tubers have a waxy texture and retain something of a new potato character even when stored over winter. They do store well and make an interesting addition to the other main crops.
This year, we are also trying Golden Wonder for the first time, another late maturing variety. This old potato is said to have excellent flavour and storage properties, and is even claimed to improve in flavour in storage. It is a dry, floury sort not suited to boiling, but apparently very good for roasting and frying.
- Sharpe’s Express
- International Kidney
- Arran Victory
- Pink Fir Apple
- Golden Wonder
We grew Jerusalem artichokes for the first time last year. As they have few pests and diseases they can be grown in the same location for a number of years, which is just as well, as it is difficult to get rid of them. Rather than the more usual white skinned Fuseau, we selected the purple skinned Violet de Rennes. This turned out to be a great choice, as they produce enormous tubers of superb quality and flavour. So long as this variety continues to perform well for us, I am not really tempted to try any other sort.
We have an asparagus bed that should have been fully planted last year with two rows of twenty crowns. Unfortunately, we were let down by one supplier so the bed will be finished this spring. Whilst I do not doubt that the modern all male hybrids may offer a larger crop, I really wanted to grow something a little different. I selected an ancient variety, Violetto d’Albenga, and a wild asparagus, planting 10 crowns of each. This year we will add the missing row of twenty crowns of Connover’s Colossal, the famous variety of the Victorian era, and the one open pollinated sort that may still provide a good crop. Like many varieties of the time, it was bred in the USA.
Sweetcorn is one crop where open pollinated varieties are rare; indeed, none of the mainstream seed merchants offer any open pollinated sorts. We have previously grown several hybrid varieties, and have found Lark to be very reliable, providing good quality cobs. Lark is one of only two hybrids that we are growing this year, the other being tomato Sun Gold. The hybrid corn does have obvious benefits for commercial growers, particularly as they have more sugars and their sugars turn to starch more slowly than the old varieties. With a traditional sort, they are best eaten soon after picking. This year we will grow Lark once again, and the open pollinated variety Golden Bantam, seed of which we picked up in Amsterdam. It will be interesting to see how the old sort fares.
- Lark (F1)
- Golden Bantam
Although it is a useful ingredient from time to time, I am not so keen on growing it, it being somewhat bothersome. There are two main sorts– trenching and self blanching – and we dabble from time to time with both. We might sow Verde Pascal this year if we find time. More useful, to my mind, and less bothersome, is celeriac. It needs a long season, and our results have been a bit variable, but if grown well, it provides useful roots through the winter. In previous years we have grown the old variety Giant Prague, but this year I happen to have some seed of a variety called Goliath.
- Verde Pascal
- Golden Self Blanching
- Giant Prague
Leaf beet and spinach
Leef beet and spinach are both of the Amaranth family. Leaf beet or chard is a hardy and useful crop. We have grown various chards, and all seemed to be quite good. The old variety Fordhook Giant produces large and fine quality plants. I am not so keen on the look of the gaudy colours of some mixes that seem popular now, but we do grow the red ribbed sort, Rhubarb chard, from time to time. This year we will be trialling Argentata, another white sort, this one of Italian origin and said to be particularly fine tasting. Perpetual spinach, which is neither perpetual nor spinach, is another form of leaf beet that forms smaller leaves without the prominent ribs of the large chards. Spinach proper is from the same family, but a different genus. In the past we have grown Bloomsdale Longstanding, which is a large crinkle leaved sort that is slow to bolt. This year we are hoping to try Viroflay, a French variety from the 1800s. At some point, I would like to plant some Good King Henry, a perennial from the same family, which has been grown for a great many years for its shoots and leaves, the latter of which can be cooked like spinach. It does not seem popular anymore, but seed is readily available, so it would be interesting to see how it performs.
- Fordhook Giant
- Perpetual Spinach
- Bloomsdale Longstanding
- Good King Henry
Although we do have some favourites, I do not tend to maintain a list of varieties of lettuces and other leaves destined for the salad. I have gathered, from garden centres, trips abroad, and perusing various catalogues, far too many packets of saladings, from cut and come again crops to heading lettuces, such as cos, round head, and crisphead types, such as Webb’s Wonderful, and various endives, especially the excellent Pancalieri, and whitloof chicory, and then the oriental greens such as pak choi, mustard greens, and so on. The lettuces are members of the sunflower family whilst the oriental greens are brassicas. The latter are particularly useful for growing through colder periods. Along with the leaf beets, above, it is entirely feasible, with some protection, to have various leaves for the salad available throughout the year.