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Potatoes have given us more surprises than any other vegetable these last two years.
Charlottes used as new potatoes brought back childhood memories of new Jersey Royals arriving with the herring season. After a winter of steadily older potatoes, the first meal of "real" new potatoes was one of the best of the year.
The joys of lifting a beautifully clean crop of early Red Duke of Yorks - this was the first real harvest my children had from the allotment, and that excitement has kept them going for a long time now. It's the only crop where all four children join in - planting or harvesting.
We have all enjoyed discovering what all you can do with a potato in the kitchen, after years of gradually deserting it for rice and pasta.
Potato hints -
* Choose your varieties carefully for disease resistance, especially in an allotment; first early Red Duke of York, second early Kestrel and Sante, and salad Charlotte have given me good clean crops full of flavour, good enough to store. Main crop Valor were excellent for flavour - but half eaten by foxes and slugs. What works in my soil may well be entirely different for your own micro-climate - so do be adventurous in your selection.
* Potatoes are an easy crop to grow, but harder to grow well. They are susceptible to
* blight
* slug damage
* and frost damage. Earth up the shoots if a late frost threatens.* Buy good quality certified seed - cutting corners might be fine for a very small plot, but on an allotment you could be storing up a lot of trouble for yourself.
* Rotate your potatoes - your ground needs at least two years before you grow potatoes or tomatoes on the same plot.
* Potatoes will grow on most soils - dig it over in the autumn and add manure. Do not add lime - if you have to, wait until your potatoes are lifted.
* Chitting - When you get your seed, lay them out in egg trays with a layer of compost, in a cool (frost-free) room, not too brightly lit - that north-facing bedroom you rarely use! The seed potatoes will throw shoots, will have a substantial headstart on potatoes planted direct - and should be ready for lifting before summer blight strikes.
* Planting - dig a trench about 6 inches deep, pop the seed potatoes in shoots upwards, and cover over. Earlies should be 12 inches apart, in rows 24 inches apart; main crop should be 15 inches apart in rows 30 inches apart; and second earlies about half way between. You can earth up a good ridge over them now - it will protect against any late frosts. Or, especially if you are using the potatoes to clear new land, earth them up regularly through their early growing season.
* In dry weather, the growing tubers will need watering to fill out well.
* Earlies are usually ready for lifting when the flowers are fully open. For main crop, wait until the haulms and leaves have withered, clear this off the bed (and burn it), and have patience for another 10 days before lifting. Newly lifted potatoes need a few hours lying on the ground, for the skins to dry and set.
* Cart them home, store them in potato sacks - paper not plastic! - in a cool dark place. I check my sacks regularly through the winter, and rub off any shoots which may be developing.
* If you don't have the space for potatoes, at least try potatoes in a pot. The way Graham told me it works -
* Get a big drum or barrel; arrange the drainage, holes in the bottom and stones, like a flower pot.
* Fill the bottom with 12 inches of compost, or soil, and plant a chitted potato
* As the potato throws up stalks and foliage, keep earthing it up. The foliage will keep growing to keep its head above the soil - and underground the stalk will produce tubers all the way up the rising soil.
* Come harvest time, tip the lot over, and out will roll a barrel-load of beautiful new potatoes.* On the same principle, I'm tempted to try something I saw on an allotment in Allerton Bywater. This lad had planted his potatoes in rows about four feet apart, and built them up into enormous four foot ridges. If those were as full of potatoes as the barrel idea suggests, he must have had a superb crop.!







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