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ARTICLES / Gardening

Feb 2020:  Perfect Potatoes

by Pippa Greenwood

Gardening Boxmoor Direct

It’s the time to think perfect potatoes and smashing spuds: mid to late February means time to get those seed potatoes bought and ready for planting. 

Home-grown potatoes are an incredibly good-value crop and you’ll soon find that the so-called humble-spud is actually a very variable and extremely versatile vegetable with a flavour and texture that will make you want to grow them year after year.

On a patio, balcony or in a backyard, a special potato-planting ‘bag’ or a 45cm (18in) diameter pot can produce a useful crop of spuds, just from a single tuber. Make sure the container is well-drained, fill it about half to two-thirds full of compost, pop a tuber in the centre and add a further 5cm (2in) of compost. As the foliage appears, add more compost to cover it over and repeat until no more can be added. Keep the container well-watered and sit back and wait!

Most potatoes produce a slightly earlier and somewhat heavier crop if the seed potatoes are allowed to ‘chit’ or produce small but sturdy sprouts before planting. Just stand the tubers, widest end uppermost, in a seed tray or old egg cartons and place these in a cool but frost-free spot with plenty of natural light. After a few weeks the sprouts will be about 1cm (½in) tall, perfect for planting. This is what you need to do with your newly purchased seed potato tubers as soon as they arrive.

When you’re choosing which varieties to buy, start by thinking about how you most enjoy eating potatoes.

Steamed potatoes are delicious, especially if you cook them the day you lift them. Many varieties taste great when cooked in this way but try Vanessa, Dunluce, Edzell Blue or Lady Christl for some of the tastiest steamers.

Just the thought of new potatoes dripping in chives and butter is wonderful – again, these are best when freshly harvested. Some I suggest you try include Lady Christl, Charlotte, Juliette, Nadine or Nicola.

If you adore mashed potato then consider Dunluce, Valour, Maris Bard, Lady Balfour or King Edward.

If you love your potatoes in their jackets, then I recommend Cara, Lady Balfour, Picasso, Kestrel, King Edward, Desiree or Valor.

For great roast potatoes try Kestrel, Maris Piper, Desiree, Lady Balfour, Vivaldi or Edzell Blue.

For superb quality for making into chips I suggest Kestrel, King Edward, Maris Peer, Accord, Rooster or Edzell Blue.

Go for varieties described as ‘earlies’ if you have a newly created vegetable plot, especially if the soil has not been cultivated for several years. Earlies will be in the ground for less time than main crops and so are less likely to suffer from wireworm attack. These small, slim gingery coloured larvae are the young stage of the click beetle and bore infuriating tunnels in the tubers’ flesh.

Sometimes you’ll also need to think about avoiding problems, as certain varieties are more susceptible to disease or other attacks than others. The fungus-like organism responsible for potato blight (the cause of the Irish famine in the 1840s) can be hard to beat, especially in warm, damp years. It has the potential to kill off the growing plants and may even infect the tubers. Generally if you choose early varieties, blight is less likely to be a problem. But selecting varieties which show some resistance to the infection can really help. Try Valor, Lady Balfour or Colleen; however, for the best resistance I’ve seen try Sarpo Mira and Sarpo

Consider varieties such as Cara, Desiree or Sante if you know your garden is infested with slugs. Earlies are likely to suffer less damage as they are not in the soil for so long. The biological control nematode Nemaslug can be used as a drench and, as it works under the soil surface, it has a brilliant effect and poses no threat to wildlife.

If space in your garden is at a premium then it’s worth concentrating on growing earlies, as these varieties take up a lot less space and, as they are in the ground for less time, give you the opportunity to grow another fast-maturing crop such as lettuce or salad leaves in the soil after the potatoes have been lifted.

Visit Pippa’s website www.pippagreenwood.com  and join ‘Grow Your Own with Pippa Greenwood’ for great vegetable plants and weekly advice from Pippa, stylish cloches, the fantastic SpeedHoe, gardening tools, Grower Frames and signed books! Or book Pippa for a gardening talk at your gardening club.

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