Potato perfection

Last year my spuds were a tad disappointing. Yes, we harvested enough to scatter around a few meals, but not the bumper crops we were hoping for.

This year I’m hedging my bets and am planting a whopping SIX varieties. I figure that with all that selection, there must be at least one that will do well in my garden.

Seed potatoes are available in garden centres and via the internet now, but I ordered mine online last year. I went for a collection called ‘Allotment favourites’, as this seemed to offer an array of potatoes that would crop throughout the year, were fairly resistant to blight and other critters, and most importantly, had received good reviews from more experienced gardeners and allotment keepers. What could possibly go wrong?

So, a couple of weeks ago, the parcel was duly delivered, and I could hardly contain my excitement as I ripped open the packaging. Sure enough, nestled inside the box were six bags of potatoes.

The spuds I’m giving a bash this year are:

  • First earlies – Orla and Lady Christl
  • Second earlies – Kestrel
  • Early main -Balfour and Sante
  • Late main – Cara

Earlies are normally new potatoes, whilst the main crops tend to be bigger varieties used for jackets and roasting etc.

Before any of them can be planted out though, they will need to have first thrown up a couple of nodules, or ‘chits’. The entire collection of spuds is therefore camping out in my conservatory to do just this – it’s light, dry and cool in there, so should be the perfect chitting conditions.

If you look at your seed potato, you’ll notice that one end has just one mark on it; the other end has a few more (called the rose end). Place the potatoes ‘one end’ down, ‘rose end’ up in egg boxes or crates – the chits will start to pop out from the top. These tiny shoots will help the potatoes get established more quickly once they are in the soil.

Chitting potatoes

Chitting potatoes

I’ve also made an extra effort to label them all clearly. With six varieties to be harvested at four different times of the year, I’m leaving nothing to chance. In the past, I’ve found to my dismay that once they are all muddled up, it’s nigh on impossible to sort them out… they just look like spuds to me.

Apparently all the varieties can start to be planted out during March. They’ll go in the bed that had roots and onions in last year, which I’ve started to dig over in preparation. Lady Cristl is suited to growing in containers and potato bags, so I’ll be trying out some in tyres and some in the old recycling bag that our cardboard used to be collected in.

A quick inspection of the potatoes in the conservatory confirms that little shoots are indeed beginning to form (I chit you not), so I think a planting job may well be on the cards sometime soon. I’m aiming for nothing less than a spud mountain this year…

Hinckley Times 7 March 2013

Hinckley Times 7 March 2013

Hinckley Times 7 March 2013

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It starts

Yesterday afternoon I recieved an intriguing email, telling me that a parcel I’d ordered would be delivered today. Racking my brains, I couldn’t remember ordering anything, so deduced that either

  • OH had been let loose on Amazon again
  • I’d been online shopping after wine (like drunk texting – never a good idea!)

Anyway, the doorbell went this morning, and sure enough, Mr Postie was there, brandishing a fairly heavy box with my name on it.

Seed potatoes

I could hardly contain my excitement as I brought it inside, and I eagerly set to work ripping through the industrial staples that held the thing together. Spying the contents, I allowed myself a little internal ‘Hooray!’… the new gardening year is well and truly on its way… my seed potatoes have arrived.

Last year, the spuds didn’t do too well. The ones in tyres never appeared, and I seemed to be forever rescuing the ones in the ground from my ever increasing slug population. That’s why I must have decided to hedge my bets and order not two – but SIX varieties to grow this year. They were marketed in the catalogue as ‘Allotment favourites‘, and I reasoned that with some being first earlies, some second earlies and some maincrop, I may just have a chance at success this year… Oh yes!

The varieties were:

  • First earlies – Orla and Lady Christl
  • Second earlies – Kestrel
  • Early main -Balfour and Sante
  • Late main – Cara

Perusing the planting schedule for each kind, it looks as though the earlies go in during February, and the rest are planted in March. I’ll have to label them up well so I can keep track of what went where, so they get dug up at the right time.

I’ve also decided to try something new this year. Half of the Lady Christl are going to be planted in a container in the greenhouse later on this month. Just to see what happens. If I can harvest some super-earlies, I’ll be more than happy. The greenhouse is insulated, and once the temperature really drops I’ll keep it frost free with my trusty paraffin heater. I’ve got an old recycling bag that the council used to take cardboard away in… so will make some drainage holes in the bottom and plant the potatoes in there. Once the weather warms up (assuming they’re growing), it will be an easy enough job to move the bag to a sunny spot outside to finish off. Plus it will make room in the greenhouse for all the other crops I hope to be growing.

So with that in mind, six of the Lady Christl seed potatoes are currently camping out in the conservatory in an egg box. As it’s cool and bright in there, it should provided the ideal conditions for the spuds to throw up little shoots – or chits. These will help the potatoes get established more quickly once they are in the soil.

Lady Christl - chitting

Lady Christl – chitting

What’s your top varieties and top tips for spud growing?

Potatoes are all in

This week, I’m happy to report that my potatoes have all been planted.

You can get three types of potato: first earlies, second earlies and maincrops – which is also the order that they’re ready to come out of the ground. First and seconds are normally new potatoes, and maincrops are the bigger varieties used for jackets and the like. I understand all that, but for some reason get absolutely bamboozled by the sheer number of different varieties when I see them for sale.

The first year, I happily whizzed round the garden centre, with not a clue what I was after, but reasoned that one from each type would do the job just nicely. Just one problem with this – by the time I had got them home, I hadn’t the faintest idea what type or varieties I had. Nonetheless, they all went in, and it was a tense summer of guessing which order they should be dug up. I’m not convinced we got it right, but we ended up with some potatoes, which was a bonus at least.

The following year I paid extra care, selecting them in separate bags. This didn’t work either, as the woman on the checkout mixed the bags up for me!

This time, I decided on just two varieties to hopefully cut down any confusion, and a month or so ago eagerly took delivery of some International Kidney for the first crop and some Cara for the main crop. It would seem that International Kidney are tasty little new potatoes, but if they are left in, produce large, floury all-purpose potatoes – ideal if you have history like mine. Cara was picked as it’s a good all-rounder and is resistant to drought and blight. Both seemed like no-nonsense spuds that wouldn’t need a whole lot of looking after.

Determined not to mix them up, I split the two varieties into opposite ends of a cardboard box, and left them in a cool, light place, (ie the conservatory) to chit. Chitting is where the spuds throw up a couple of purply green shoots, and by doing this, they apparently get off to the best possible start. I guarded the box with the eye of a hawk. No-one was allowed within an inch of it, and most certainly, those potatoes were not touched by human hands. There was no way on earth they were getting muddled up this year!

The shoots were soon visible, showing they were ready to go off into the big wide garden, so I took on the task of planting them out at the weekend. I’d prepared the bed a while back, so it was just a case of carefully getting them in the ground without knocking off the new shoots.

I’m trying a new idea too this year. I have three old car tyres that have been lurking around in the garden for a while. I’ve planted some potatoes in the bottom tyre and covered them over. The theory is, that each time the new growth appears, you add more soil and another tyre, until you’re left with three tyres stacked up, full of soil and hopefully, gazillions of potatoes. It’s worth a try, just to see how they fare.

I’m looking forward to the day where I can saunter off down the patch and dig up a few for a salad.

This article appeared in The Hinckley Times on 5 April 2012: