Potato


Another great step here at the Eco-House, chitting our first potatoes!

We’ve been collecting eggboxes for a little while now so we’d be ready, and today I took the kids out to the Hulme Garden Centre in advance of this Sunday’s Potato Day. Here’s our haul, all ready to “chit”:

I got a whole range of different ones to try, to try and liven up one of our less exciting, but important, crops:

Swift – First Early

Pink Fir Apple – Salad Variety

Maris Peer – Second Early

Setanta – Highly Blight Resistant Maincrop

Kestrel – Second Early

Sarpo Mira – Blight Resistant Maincrop

Sarpo Axona – Blight Resistant Maincrop

Salad Blue – Blue-fleshed Salad Potato



We’ve finally harvested the potatoes that we planted back in April – back before we even moved into the Eco-House. Having lovingly tended them for a very short period we then left them to be watered while we traipsed around the country for a couple of months. Now we’re settled we figured it was time to go back and harvest them!

Overall we didn’t do too badly for three smallish plastic bags. Here’s the resulting yield:

  • Carlingford: 1.7kg
  • Maris Peer: 1.5kg
  • Duke of York: 1.6kg

So, nearly 5kg of potatoes from an area of less than one square metre. It’ll be interesting to compare that with yields from our in-ground potatoes that we’ll be growing next year. If we were going to do it this way again, I wouldn’t bother with the kit – I’d buy some bags of compost and just use those. Just empty half the compost out, roll down the sided, punch holes in the bottom of the bag and put 2-3 seed potatoes in each bag. Roll up sides and add a couple of inches of compost each time you see shoots appearing – easy!

The best thing about it (other than just eating delicious potatoes) is how excited the kids get about them. By growing them in bags we had a bit of an advantage – we could tip the whole bag into the wheelbarrow and let the kids root through it looking for potatoes. They loved it!

Now we just have to decide if we’re going to try to grow some potatoes for Christmas.

While we’re thinking about it, here are some pics of the potatoes growing. I haven’t got any showing the “jungle” they had become before harvesting unfortunately, but here are some of the progress shots!

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OK, so we don’t have a house yet, so no garden yet, but the gorgeous weather has got our green fingers itching. So we’re taking the “portable garden” route, and using containers so that we can start playing (& learning!). We’re not taking this incredibly seriously so we’ve just started at our local garden centre with a Potato Growing Kit, some strawberries and herbs. 

The kit cost £7, and had three plastic bags and nine seed potatoes that were already starting to sprout! Compost (peat-free) was another £12, so our total spend was almost £20.  There were three varieties in the kit – Duke of York, Maris Peer, and Carlingford – with three seed potatoes for each. We planted them pretty-much according to the instructions on the kit, but with a bit of our own creativity. One variety went into each bag, about a third full of compost. The kit then suggested filling the bags up to the top with the remaining compost, but we went for the quicker gratification that came from covering the potatoes with a couple of inches, and then planning to earth-up the stems as they grow.

After a couple of weeks we’ve now got leaves coming up from every seed potato! We’re all excited – it’s not a bad success rate so far so it’ll be interesting to see what sort of yield we end up getting – if any!

The other great part of this is how excited our eldest is about them. She’s only three, but she’s really enjoyed planting them, and now shows off the shoots to every vistor we have.

Photos of our efforts below . . . 

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For the first time I’ve actually seen some decent, non-vague, instructions on how to earth-up your potatoes, to get the highest possible yield. These are from a response to a letter in the latest Gardener’s World magazine:

  • Cover your newly-planted potatoes with about 8cm of compost
  • Then, when shoots are about 15 cm long add another 8cm of compost
  • Repeat as desired.

This means you should get more potatoes growing from the earthed-up stems, and a higher yield.

Sarpo Una

Sarpo Una

Potatoes should be one of the staple foods we’re going to grow, they store well, are relatively low maintenance, and everybody likes eating them! However they do have one major issue: potato blight. Potato blight can reduce the yield of your plants, and one infected potato can turn an entire sack to useless mush. What is Blight? Here is a description from CALU:

 

During warm damp conditions spores are produced on the leaves of infected plants. If the weather then becomes dry, the spores are released and can travel considerable distances on the air. If humid weather persists the infection will continue to multiply within the infected plant. Periods of highest risk are called “Smith Periods” and are defined as:
“A period of two consecutive days where the minimum temperature remains above 10oC over the whole 48hr period and where relative humidity remains above 90% for at least 11hrs each day”

When the spores land on wet foliage they “hatch” to release swimming zoospores (or “swarmers”) which may encyst on the leaf, or may be washed down into the soil and infect the potato tubers. Infected leaves show brown or black lesions, these may also appear on plant stems. Infected tubers show mottled brown lesions. A severe infestation can reduce a healthy crop of potatoes to a slimey mass within a matter of weeks.

So how can we avoid the devastation of blight?

There are many methods, including early harvesting, that are discussed to reduce the impact of blight. The most significant factor though seems to be selecting blight-resistant varieties. I’ve just been looking at this great leaflet from the Centre for Alternative Land Use where they have done a test between three varieties:  Orla, a first early; Sárpo Una, also an early; and Sárpo Mira, a maincrop.

They found that the two Sárpo varieties survived the season with no blight damage, where the Orla (supposedly highly resistant) started to show signs of blight well before harvest time.

Less scientifically comes this comment from Dan Pearson in the Guardian:

 You live and learn, but the waxy ‘Lady Christl’ were the best spuds I’ve eaten in a long time simply because they were mine. They were true to their description and were resistant to the blight that felled others not so far away.

Interesting note on the Sarpo varieties:

For more than 40 years the Sárvári family have been breeding for high blight resistance in potatoes in Hungary. The Sárvári Research Trust was established to develop and promote this work. The resulting varieties are called Sárpo (Sár from Sárvári and po from potato). 

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