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Apples of the Earth...

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Adamn Greathead
Rank attained: Hazel Tree
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Joined: 12 Sep 2006
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PostPosted: Fri Mar 23, 2007 9:41 pm    Post subject: Apples of the Earth... Reply with quote

Potato flowers are very close to beautiful...

It's quite apt that the day after St Patrick's day i should plant my first early potatoes in the vegetable garden. Normally i would wait several weeks after this before putting the seed potatoes in however it has been very mild of late and, irresistibly, the urge reached boiling point so in they went. And, there is nothing more soul-soothing than being in the great outdoors, smelling the fresh air and undertaking a very sensual ritual- the sexual smoothness of the mattock and the seductive abrasiveness of the seed potato epitomise all there is about this widely grown crop.

Potatoes are old timers- they've been around for years and will, undoubtedly, be around for many more years to come- and they form the basis of the majority of meals that we eat today. It would have been likely that before the potato (Solanum tuberosum) came along the parsnip was the most popular vegetable that people grew themselves and loved to cook with. Peru's southerly mountains are the origin of this overt tuberous vegetable however it has, over the decades, acclimatised to much cooler climates as is ours. Obviously with every positive comes a negative and that, for us, is the looming effect of blight. Blight is a terribly cruel fungal attack which leaves the potato haulms in shreds just as though a herd of locusts had ravaged the whole crop and, yes, it can literally happen that fast. I will talk more of blight later.

When it comes down to varieties there definitely is not a lack and to the amateur it can seem daunting but fear you not as there is a cornucopic amount of guides published which give the details of almost every possible variety. I admit to having one favourite and that favourite is 'Wilja'. It's a variety which has stood the test of time, has given birth to opulent harvests and is widely available. We have always eaten 'Wilja' however we did not start growing it until two years ago when i first stumbled across the seeds. 'Wilja' is actually a second early but can be treated as a maincrop and therefore will store superbly over winter if put into hessian sacks in a dark cool place - we have a a storeroom for this at a lower level to the house so it remains cool all year round but cellars are fine.

Potato flowers are very close to beautiful, with most varieties flaunting golden centres enclosed by mauve petals. If you happen to leave the flowers on which helps with maincrops you will find that they will gradually produce robust seedpods. These seedpods are green globules resembling an unripe tomato- hence their family connection with solanaceae- but do not eat them for the first will indefinitely turn out to be your last. To some extent potatoes are self fertilising although a little help from the odd insect would not go amiss. Generally speaking, in earlies and second earlies, flowering commences when the tubers are ready to be lifted which is a good sign if you are unsure of harvest times. On the other hand, with maincrop varieties it is advisable to let the haulms die down after flowering before the whole crop is excavated. When harvesting, if it is a dry day, leave the potatoes on the bare earth to dry for several hours or, if it is a rather miserable day, bring them indoors to dry- but make sure- whatever the weather- that you allow the potatoes to dry otherwise they will rapidly rot.

As you may already know potatoes are full of starch which makes sense when you think that the tubers are food storage for the plant designed to keep them going from one year to the next, so as a result they are more often than not used in every meal some way or another to provide bulky vitamins and minerals- the most obvious one being carbohydrate. Additionally a medium sized potato with the skin left intact will provide 45% of your daily vitamin C intake. So in theory three medium sized potatoes will more than cover your required amount of Vitamin C for one day. All types of potato are high in dietary fibre and will therefore get you going. It therefore seems ridiculous that we should not grow more of the miracle 'Maxine' and the perfect 'Pentland Javelin' even 'King Edward' could help you go to the toilet (you could call it a royal

Blight, as mentioned before, can demolish a crop and the tell tale signs will not be apparent until it is too late unfortunately. Now i have been lucky for i have never had to contend with blight (Phytophthora infestans) but i do know it is prevalent in most areas especially in areas which are prone to a mild but wet autumn. All i can say is that if you notice brown blotches defacing the haulms then it is probably blight and the preferred action against this is to sever the top growth right down to ground level and then dig out the tubers as soon as you can because, if left in, the blight spores will wash from the foliage into the soil and onto the tubers and then the crop will be no good for neither man nor beast. Potatoes which can be diagnosed with blight will not store so must be used immediately if not disposed of. Furthermore prevent yourself from composting any blight-infested material as chances are the heap will not be sufficiently hot enough the kill the blight spores. I have found that when planting my potatoes into their trenches it is a good idea to spread a 2-3" layer of grass clippings in the base because this can help to protect the tubers but also helps them resist common scab which is another potato problem but it does not affect the culinary ability of the tubers or their storage ability; it is just unsightly to see the raised skin rather like warts on something that is destined for the table.

Whatever you are doing this weekend try and get your hands on some seed potatoes and slip some into the garden even if you lack space they can be grown in containers, you can even buy specially made spud bags nowadays which you simply fill with compost- preferably a loam based- and plant one or two (depending on the size of potatoes desired) and top up the bag as the potato haulms grow. I can safely guarantee you'll not regret growing your own potatoes because picked straight from the ground with soil still clad to their tight leathery skin they are a joy to be proud of and a treat for all of the sense...
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Rank attained: Ash Tree
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Joined: 25 Jan 2007
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PostPosted: Fri Mar 23, 2007 11:19 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

All types of potato are high in dietary fibre and will therefore get you going. It therefore seems ridiculous that we should not grow more of the miracle 'Maxine' and the perfect 'Pentland Javelin' even 'King Edward' could help you go to the toilet (you could call it a royal

Good one!!
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