A day of weeding and planting potatoes

The ‘Speedhoe’ makes light work of small weeds

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.

Seed potatoes, chitted ready for planting

For the main potato beds, I first rake out two troughs down the length of the bed, heaping soil down the centre and outsides of the bed. I then plant the chitted seed potatoes quite deeply along the troughs. I tend to plant about twice as close as would usually be recommended. This is partly because I always seem to have more seed potatoes than I need, but also because this works well for me. Such spacings are said to reduce the size of the tubers and perhaps also overall yield, yet I seem to get a very satisfactory yield of good sized potatoes; indeed, far more than we need. This may be because of the planting depth. As they grow, the banked up soil is dragged over the troughs to form two ridges. This not only provides great depth to provide a good yield, but also protects the tubers from exposure to the sun, which would otherwise turn them green and inedible.

Potato bed prepared for planting

Four varieties were planted: first early Sharpe’s Express, second early International Kidney (better known as ‘Jersey Royals’ when grown on Jersey), and main crops Pink Fir Apple, which retains something of the new potato flavour even at the end of the season, and Wilja, a great all round potato.

This is my third planting of potatoes this year, but should have been made a few weeks ago. The first was made in late winter in twenty 15 litre pots placed in the glasshouses. These can provide lovely new potatoes long before the first outdoor sowing is ready. The second sowing was made outdoors. The first and second earlies will follow on after the pots, whilst the main crops will stay in the soil until the foliage dies back. Similarly, the first and second earlies sown today should be ready when the first bed is beginning to run out. Later sowings are more susceptible to late season blight, but I still like to risk planting throughout the year. That gives a more continuous supply of delicious new potatoes, and main crops to harvest later in the year, hopefully storing well for winter use.

Seed potatoes being planted fairly deep

I order seed potatoes early and when they arrive put them straight into the salad drawers of the fridge, which retards their growth, bringing them out to chit as and when needed. They seem to store very well, and readily burst into growth when brought out to room temperature. Like so many plants, seeds potatoes offered for sale in garden centres typically appear too early for outdoor plantings. Whilst they can recover to some degree from frost, it is better to prevent damage by planting at a sensible time, and earthing up as they grow to cover the delicate shoots. Fleece would help, too, when frost is expected, but I have never bothered with that. This year offered a cold and miserable spring, so I planted later than usual and growth was much slower than last year. Similarly, those in pots in the glasshouses were also much later than last year; although they avoided frost damage, the low temperatures just did not encourage growth.

First early potatoes planted in pots

Although we still have plenty of space left in the beds, this year I have not wasted the good compost that the early potatoes are grown in. As each pot is harvested, the compost is returned to the pot and used for a second crop. So far, we have pots of carrots, beetroots, dwarf broad beans, and peas. These will not, of course, provide huge crops, but will add some young fresh produce later, whilst the main crop varieties are still growing on. Time will tell how successful this is, but I am fairly sure that the rich compost is far from exhausted, and certainly ideal for baby root crops.

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