The world of potatoes is remarkably diverse, although this might not be all that evident from the shelves of the supermarket or greengrocer. According to the International Potato Center – yes, there really is such a thing – there are more than 4500 varieties growing in the Andes, the ancestral home of the potato. The British Potato Variety Database, www.varieties.potato.org.uk, maintained by the Potato Council lists some 250 varieties. This database is a useful source of information, including on the pest and disease resistance, where known, of different varieties. Continue reading
This week we had limited time for sowing as we finally started planting up the orchard. We did, though, tend to three timely tasks: the parsnip bed, Jerusalem artichokes, and a second potato bed. Parsnips benefit from a long growing season and sowing as early as February is sometimes recommended. However, such early sowings, when the soil is cold and wet, are not conducive to good germination, and parsnip seed is already notoriously stubborn to germinate. I prefer to wait until conditions are better and the start of April is a good time. As weather conditions improved a few weeks back, we could have sown then, but this week was our first opportunity. Parsnips, along with other root crops, such as carrots, follow on from brassicas in our crop rotation. The brassicas are one of the most greedy feeders, whilst root crops tend to fork if grown in too rich a soil. Therefore, no manure, compost, or other fertiliser was added. The bed was simply weeded and raked over until level and of good texture. Continue reading
Although the garden centres start to sell their seed potatoes in early January, mid March is a suitable time to think about a first planting outdoors. I keep my seed potatoes in the refrigerator, where they can store successfully until the autumn. Three or four weeks before planting they are placed to chit, rose end up, in egg boxes. I have sometimes seen it suggested that they be chitted in a dark place, but this is, in my view, incorrect. They should be placed somewhere light but not overly warm. The dark results in the production of spindly pale shoots that are rather weak, whilst in the light, they form short, strong, shoots ready to grow away well. Traditionally, earlies would be planted first, followed by second earlies, then late sorts, over a period from about mid March to late April. The planting of main crop potatoes was often undertaken around Easter. Continue reading
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. Continue reading
The usual time for planting the first early potatoes is perhaps mid March to April, with a first harvest around mid summer. One can, though, try to produce a small crop earlier in the year provided the shoots are protected from frost damage. Since installing the two large glasshouses against their south facing wall, we have exploited the protection they offer to plant early potatoes in large pots. Today we planted this year’s first batch. Continue reading
With Arto on hand to lend some much needed manpower, we took the opportunity to lift some potatoes. Our first outdoor potato bed was planted on 14 March, with potatoes put to chit on 24 February. The second bed followed on 2 June, rather later than expected.
We had already harvested and enjoyed the first early, Sharpe’s Express, and second early, International Kidney, from the first bed, and partly also from the second. Today, though, the main crop, Pink Fir Apple, and second early, Wilja, were ready for lifting. In fact, the latter has been ready for several weeks. Continue reading
Today we made our final sowing of potatoes. At this time of year, the major seed merchants sell so called ‘second cropping’ potatoes; a rather silly name as they are neither cropping for the second time, nor are they necessarily one’s second sowing. However, tubers sown now – at least here in the south – should provide a crop of new potatoes towards the end of October and through November, and may well stand in the ground in good condition until the end of the year, offering home grown new potatoes for the Christmas festivities.
Many of the small, cleanly scrubbed, potatoes offered by the supermarkets that masquerade as new potatoes, are nothing of the kind in my view. A new potato has a thin skin that is easily rubbed off, and an unmistakable fresh dug flavour and texture that cannot be matched by these thick skinned counterfeits. Fortunately, depending on the blight situation and the protection that can be offered, it is entirely feasible to provide real new potatoes for 7 or 8 months of the year. Continue reading
After a slow start to the year, and with so much effort focussed on infrastructure rather than cultivation, it is good to see the harvest coming along nicely now. We have been enjoying beautiful creamy new potatoes, Sharpe’s Express and Red Duke of York, from the potato pots for some weeks. We steam these for best results, which prevents them from breaking up. The first of the outdoor potato beds is looking good now, and will be ready to supply new potatoes as soon as the pots are gone. The autumn sown onion sets are also developing nicely, with many of a good size already, and great used fresh. The outdoor sowings will provide the main crop for storage later in the year. Continue reading
I had not expected to write anything new today, as we are far away from the garden, wandering around the streets of Antwerp. However, I am drawn like a magnet to book shops – even if the books on display are in languages I do not read, as attested by the recent purchase of two books from a garden centre in Finland. Browsing through the second bookshop I stumbled upon today, I came across a wonderful book: a collection of prints of the 46 colour plates that together form the Album Vilmorin – Les Plantes Potagères, along with interesting historical notes and information on the plants, in English. I had seen these before, but not in such a volume. Vilmorin, a renowned French seed company issued one plate per year, in the years 1850 to 1895, each comprising beautiful botanical illustrations of a collection of fruits and vegetables from their catalogue. Continue reading
CT and I spent a long hot afternoon in the garden – this time with help from our good friend Tuula. Beds were weeded, tomatoes were pinched out and tied in to supports in the polytunnel, essential watering was done, and another bed was planted with potatoes. Generally, I have little interest in gadgets in either the kitchen or the garden, preferring the good old tools of the trade that have served well enough for centuries. However, I was recently given a Haxnicks ‘Speedhoe’, which I have found to be quite excellent. It has a smallish head, but is thin and sharp, working on both the push and the pull stroke. The long handle makes it comfortable in use, and it can rapidly rip through the leaves. I like it so much that I immediately bought the smaller ‘Precision’ version of the product for close work. Today was ideal for getting the hoe going; although it will help whatever the weather, on hot sunny days, the roots of the weeds soon dry out and die before they have a chance to root once again. Continue reading