Allotment Potatoes

We’ve just put in our potato order:

First earlies – Accent
Second earlies - Kestrel
Maincrop – Pink Fir Apple.

I can’t tell you how good it is to say that! Placing a potato order really proves you’re an allotment holder. Of course there’s a lot of mythology and mysticism that surrounded the growing of the great British staple food, and some pretty confusing terminology too: all those earlies and chitting and blight and what have you. But it’s nowhere near as difficult as it sounds.

First – potatoes have two main problems: blight and slugs. We already know that on Duncan’s plot we have slugs (the evil little black keel slugs) so we shall be giving both plots a lovely dose of nematodes in the hope of killing the slugs before they get to the potatoes.

Second – the early and maincrop terminology is all about how long it takes from planting to harvesting so:

1. First earlies – ten weeks
2. Second earlies – thirteen weeks
3. Maincrop – twenty weeks.

Third – chitting is just the process of getting your potatoes to produce shoots and I’ll go into that when the time is right.

And while maincrops store much better (larger thicker skinned tubers) than the thin-skinned smaller early varieties, is the maincrop types that are likely to get hit by potato blight. Usually the earlies and second earlies have been harvested before it strikes.

Potato blight is properly called Phytophthora infestans and it happens in warm humid weather. The signs of blight are brown freckled leaves or leaves with brown wilted patches. The blight causes the potatoes to die in the ground but even worse because it’s airborne, it can get into your harvested potatoes and rot them too. Worst still, it spreads literally overnight – one day you have a crop, the next day you have a rotting stinking mess.

Fighting blight – don’t water the leaves of your potatoes, only the plants. Earth them up carefully and well so the spores of the blight can’t get in. If you see an early sign of blight, dig up that plant and burn it, but to be honest, if blight is within three or four miles of your crop, there’s little you can do to fight it, except grow earlies only, or blight resistant varieties.

Preventing blight – don’t leave a single potato, no matter how small, in the ground when you harvest – the spores can overwinter in the potato much easier than in the ground, where a frost usually kills them. Rogue (volunteer) potatoes left in the soil can infect the whole of a subsequent year’s crop. And rotate your crops – that way it should be three years before potatoes go back into the ground they occupied before, which gives the spores much less chance to hang on and ‘get them’. And store your harvested potatoes off the plot, if you possibly can.

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Thursday, November 13, 2008

2 Comments:

Blogger Lindab said...

Hopefully you'll be luckier than we were with Pink Fir Apple. You'll see from my blog that PFA wasn't the potato for us. Shamefully, I have to confess that they're still in the ground. Next weekend I'll do something with them, honest!

November 19, 2008 at 12:31 PM  
Blogger The Allotment Blogger said...

Ah, well we already rather like them, although slimy bits are not on our agenda, I hope. We steam them and have them as a salad with walnuts, basil and garlic. Lovely! You do have to get used to the knobbles though ... and we're growing them in (whisper it) old car tyres! It's going to be a mad experiment.

November 19, 2008 at 1:00 PM  

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