Lazy beds · Life in the Countryside · Vegetable growing

Potatoes…what went right and what to change

We have now harvested all of our Spring planted potatoes and so I thought I would do a quick review about what went well and what to change for next year. So this year we grew our potatoes in growbags as opposed to last year when we used lazy beds. We had five different varieties:

  • Red Duke of York: we grew these successfully last year and they were just as good this year. My only complaint was they weren’t as large as I would have hoped but still a good size. This is probably due to harvesting too early but I was just so keen to get some potatoes. We’ll probably still grow these again next year.
    • Cara: these were our most prolific cropper this year. A really good harvest of decent size potatoes which taste amazing. A definite one to do again next year.
    • Pentland Javelin: our most disappointing crop this year. A small harvest both in quantity and size. Whilst it could have been down to the weather I don’t think we’ll do these again next year.
    • Charlotte: a good solid harvest. Decent size potatoes with good taste these are always a favourite in our house. We’ll do these again next year.
    • Pink Fir Apple: our first time growing these but we had them at a fellow gardener’s house and they were delicious. They have given us a really good crop of nice sized potatoes. Perfect just boiled and topped with butter. I think we’ll try these again next year.
  • Overall a very good year potato-wise, we barely lost any to pests or damage which was a big improvement on last year. The individual potatoes weren’t as large as last year which could either be down to being in bags as opposed to the ground or due to the weather. Our Autumn sown potatoes are in bags so they can be moved inside to avoid the cold (more about that another time) but next year I’ll have to work out whether to go for the ground or bags. Does anyone else grow potatoes? How do you grow them?
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    Lazy beds · Vegetable growing

    You can’t beat homegrown tatties

    Growing up we had a relatively small garden and gardening was never something which played much of a part in my life. I remember my late great uncle being into his garden and he tended a vegetable patch in his back garden. My grandfather also grew vegetables at home and took pride in his greenhouse. But although their passion interested me, I was never that bothered about having a garden of my own. In fact the first little flat which I bought by myself had no garden and that didn’t bother me in the slightest. How times have changed.

    Throughout the (very) hot summer that we’ve been having I have been watering my raised beds daily and my greenhouse twice a day. I still feel very much a novice vegetable grower and I have done things differently this year to last and will no doubt do things differently next year again. One thing which we have done differently this year is that we have grown all of our potatoes in growbags this year. Last year we grew them in lazy beds in the field but we lost a fair few to slugs so we decided to try and reduce that problem this year with the growbags. Last year we ended up planting all of our potatoes at the same time and planting them much later than intended so we ended up harvesting most of our tubers at the same time. This year I have aimed to be a bit better organised and planted the five varieties a bit more spaced out. So far we have harvested our Red Duke of York first earlies and our second early Charlotte’s.

    The Red Duke of York’s were smaller than last year but tasted just as delicious and we didn’t lose any to pest damage.

    The Charlotte’s were much better than last year. Last year we lost a lot to slugs and they were one of our weakest varieties. This year we’ve had a decent crop with no damage.

    The other three varieties left to harvest are Cara, Pink Fir Apple and Pentland Javelin. We should be harvesting them in the next few weeks. I’ve also started to plant our Christmas potatoes ready to enjoy in the depths of winter. With the very hot and dry weather we’ve had this year I’m not sure that our crops have been quite as prolific as they might have been and feel that with a bit more rain we would have had larger potatoes. However that is pure speculation and based upon no great gardening knowledge!

    Lazy beds · Vegetable growing

    Potato storage and preserving

    Now because of timings in creating our lazy beds we ended up planting all of our potatoes at the same time. We had six varieties: red duke of York (first earlies), Charlotte (second earlies), Maris Peer (second earlies), Maris Piper (early maincrop), Purple Majesty (maincrop) and King Edward (large maincrop). Now the theory is that they should be ready in sequence, which they haven’t all been, and even if they do spread themselves out a bit more, we had 1kg of seed potatoes of each variety so we’re going to end up with a lot of potatoes. An awful lot. We started pulling them up the other week but to be honest we didn’t really think it through and just started pulling up those where the foliage was dying back. We did stop but not before we had a vast haul. My wonderful husband then proceeded to help out (as good husband always do) and started cleaning them ready for use. 

    It wasn’t until later when I did a bit of reading about homegrown potatoes that I realised we probably hadn’t done the right thing with our harvest if we were wanting a good storage period. The best thing to do is to pull up the plant and harvest any potatoes that are attached. 

    Then ensure any potatoes still in the ground are still well covered with soil and leave for a couple of weeks for the skins to set. This will make them firmer and better able to withstand storage. Instead, some people, will harvest and let them dry out in the sun. I’ve opted to leave them in the ground. 

    Now you can, in theory, harvest just what is needed when it’s needed. Or, if you are concerned about possible pest damage, then harvest and store in a dark, cool place. Most people opt for brown paper bags or hessian sacks for this purpose. Then only wash when you are ready to use. 

    When it comes to preserving potatoes then the freezer is your best friend. Potatoes can’t be frozen raw so they need to be processed in some way first. I’m a big fan of my freezer and tend to do lots of batch cooking for my freezer. So far with our first harvest of potatoes I have done some roast potatoes: parboiled and tossed in flour and lard, then open frozen before bagging, they can then be popped straight into the oven from frozen to crisp up. They make delicious roasties and it’s easy to just take out the number you need. 

    We’ve also tried doing a potato bake: sliced potato and onion in layers in a dish, then covered in stock (I prefer chicken stock for the taste), season (I use salt, pepper and a little thyme from the garden) then bake until the potatoes are cooked (about 40 minutes). We used purple majesty potatoes for this and have frozen in the dish and covered with foil. When we’re going to use it we will take it out the day before use (or on the day, but then it will take longer to cook) and cover with a sprinkling of cheese and bake for 15 mins. It doesn’t look particularly appetising now, but I promise it is delicious and fairly healthy (without the cheese). 

    I also love to do a few baked potatoes in the oven when I have space then they can be frozen in foil and either defrosted in the microwave (remove the foil) or the oven relatively quickly for a proper baked potato taste in a rush. What does anyone else do to use up potatoes? I need some more inspiring ideas. 

    Lazy beds

    Harvesting our first spuds

    So this weekend we pulled up our first potatoes. I’d been itching to do so for a while, but had been trying to hold off and wait until they were ready. It’s not been helped by the fact that on my gardening groups on Facebook people have been putting up pictures of their harvests for a good few weeks now. But our seed potatoes had gone in a bit late so I knew we’d have to wait a little while. As much as the seed potato packets give instructions about them taking 8/10/12/14 weeks the best way to tell is by the flowers and foliage. Once the flowers appear then that means the tubers are starting to form. And then once the flowers and then  the foliage start to die back then they are ready to be harvested. You can cut back the foliage and leave them in the ground for a few weeks but we were desperate to harvest some. As you may remember we have six different varieties in this year: Red Duke of York, Charlotte, Maris Peer, Maris Piper, Purple Majesty and King Edward. So we decided to harvest some of the individual plants where the foliage was turning yellow and dying back. We started on row five and at first I thought they had gone bad as they looked black. But low and behold, they were the purple majesty ones. We harvested from one purple majesty plant and got these beauties.

    Not sure how we’ll cook them yet to ensure we make the most of their colour. 

    We also harvested a whole row of Maris Peer as a good number had started to die back and when we started to harvest we found they had been hit pretty hard by the slugs so we decided to get them all up. They gave us a good haul and although there were a few which had to be binned we still have all these left.

    We also harvested a few Red Duke of York and a few Charlotte’s. 

    I’m going to parboil some to go in the freezer as ready prepared roasties and we’re having some for dinner this evening. So excited to taste them!

    Lazy beds

    Potato flowers

    So we have planted six different varieties of potato in the field: red duke of York, Charlotte, Maris peer, Maris piper, King Edward and Purple Majesty. We ended up planting them all at the same time as we were very late doing our lazy beds. But we have a mix of types (first early, second early, main crop and late main crop) so we were expecting to at least have some time lag between harvesting. But now four different varieties are starting to get flowers on. For those that aren’t potato growing savvy, once the flowers start to die back is generally when you begin to harvest. So this means that we now have potentially four different varieties looking at about the same stage of growth. Which means we are going to end up with a hell of a lot of potatoes all at once. And it only seems to be the odd one or two plants from the different varieties, which would suggest we could be harvesting bits and pieces of different varieties at once. Very confusing and it doesn’t really help with my planning and organisation! I guess now I need to start looking at ways to store potatoes as I don’t want my amazing crops (well I’m presuming they will be amazing) to go to waste. The flowers are really pretty though which is good as the potato plants themselves seem quite ugly!

    Lazy beds


    So today we had the task of earthing up the potatoes. This basically means piling soil on top of the potato foliage and it serves two purposes. Firstly it ensures that there is no risk of potatoes being exposed to sunlight and hence going green if they are growing close to the surface. Secondly, it is supposed to encourage better yields. We have our lazy beds in the fields for our potatoes and the idea behind these is that you can dig up the soil between the rows to earth them up. Now J loves an excuse to buy a new boys toy and so he purchased a rotavator. We also will probably expand the area in the field which is dedicated to crops and so the rotavator will continue to be useful for this. Apparently. 

    The potatoes should have probably been earthed up before now but we’ve just had so much on that we haven’t got round to it. You’ll notice that I’m using the phrase “we” here a lot when in actual fact earthing up the potatoes is very much a J chore. Or rather should I say I want it doing but I want J to do it. So this is how we’re spending our evening, I am sitting and blogging on my iPad and J is working his backside off rotavating the potatoes. Bliss. 

    chickens · Lazy beds

    egg shells

    So for a while now, even before we had chickens, I’ve been saving egg shells. It all started when I read in a gardening magazine about how egg shells are good to sprinkle around your plants as a deterrent to slugs and snails. I had previously been putting them into the compost bin, but now I keep them in a Tupperware near to the bin. When the Tupperware reaches its capacity then I take them out and rinse clean under the tap then dry on a tea towel. Once they are dry then they are crushed up and squished into an old ice cream tub for storage. I’ve sprinkled them amongst the blueberries and raspberries and the turnip seeds so far and I plan to use them on all of our seedlings. The egg shells will eventually compost down into the soil and provide extra nutrients. Now I’m not sure how much good they actually do but there seems no harm in trying as otherwise the shells would just be going in the compost. After the torrential rain we had the other week we noticed some slugs on the potatoes so they too have now been sprinkled with shells. Fingers crossed they do something to protect our crops. 

    Lazy beds


    So out potatoes have finally started to sprout (or at least some of them have). I was really starting to worry that they wouldn’t and that all our efforts in creating the lazy beds would have been for nothing. However, finally today C and I managed to spot some greenery peeping up out of the soil. These are the start of our Red Duke of York first earlies which we thought had gone into the ground too late. They are supposed to be ready about 8 weeks after planting so should be ready by mid to late June. Fingers crossed we start to see more positive signs from the rest of them!

    Lazy beds

    There’s nothing lazy about lazy beds

    So we have decided to plant some lazy beds in the field. What are lazy beds I hear you ask? Well I didn’t know either until I saw an article in a magazine and learnt all about them. Lazy beds are an easy way to turn an area of turf into a useable bed for vegetables or flowers. Basically you work out where you want your length of bed to be. Divide it roughly into quarters length-wise. On the middle two quarters lay some well rotten manure and then place your potatoes as shown below.


    Then using a spade (it is useful when doing this to have each quarter one spade width for ease of action) cut out the outside two quarters and fold them on top of your potatoes as in the first row of the picture above. We are using a turf stripper instead of a spade as we happen to have one here for the week but a spade serves the purpose just as well. We’ve then added some compost on top of each bed where the two outside quarters meet, although you could just top with some of the soil from between the beds, see picture below for our finished beds. Then water very well and ensure they are well watered as they grow and the folliage starts to show.


    Then as your potatoes grow the foliage they produce should provide coverage to prevent too many weeds from growing. Also the potatoes growing should end up killing the grass in the allotted area and also help to churn up the soil so that it is ready for different crops the following year. As the potato folliage grows and you need to earth them up (basically put more soil on them to ensure potatoes remain covered and increase productivity) you can do this from beside the lazy bed and this further ensures well churned soil for the following year.

    We had hoped to get the first of our lazy beds done earlier in the year so that we could get our first earlies in sooner but unfortunately time ran away from us, I hope that they still take alright. We are growing six different varieties this year and had ordered 1kg of seed potatoes for each. Our first earlier are Red Duke of York. Then we have Charlotte and Maris Peer as second earlies. Our main crop potatoes are Maris Piper, King Edward and Purple Majesty. I’m not a huge fan of the idea of purple potatoes but J was really keen on them, I just hope they taste fairly decent. Our potatoes were all chitted before they went into the ground. Chitting is basically where the potatoes are allowed and encouraged to sprout. In theory it should help speed up the development of your potato plants and also ensure that you achieve a maximum yield. It is most important for earlies but does not harm being done for main crop potatoes as well. It will be about 8 weeks until our first earlies should be ready and then we can look forward, hopefully, to a summer of potatoes.