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!
I shared a couple of weeks ago that C and I bought our Christmas potatoes in one of my favourite local garden centres. Christmas potatoes are potatoes that you plant in late summer/early autumn and harvest at around (or just before) Christmas time, they are also known as Autumn planting potatoes but I think the name Christmas potatoes has become more popular in recent years. Christmas potatoes only really work as new potato varieties (also known as earlies) as they have a shorter growing period so enough time to mature before the winter sets in. We have chosen two different varieties, Charlotte (a favourite of ours) and a new one to try Pentland Javelin. Now late planted potatoes such as these are best grown in bags as the open ground can get pretty cold in winter. Then ideally before the first frost you want to move the bags into a greenhouse (or a conservatory) to keep them a bit warmer. You can get your potato bags from a variety of places but I found them cheaper online than in the garden centres.
I find it best to roll down the sides of your bag before you start as then they are easier to fill and also they get the best access to sun.
First fill your bag with about 10-15 cm of good quality compost and water it well. Then place 2 or 3 seed potatoes on top, with the best looking sprouts facing upwards.
Then cover with another 10 cm of compost and lightly sprinkle with water again.
Then they just need leaving, until you get your first foliage you will need to ensure that the soil is kept moist so try to check it every couple of days. Then once they have a good amount of green foliage sprouting (say 10 cm plus) then completely cover with compost again (roll the bag sides up as required). Then repeat until the bag is full. This is known as earthing up and will help to maximise your produce.
Now the astute amongst you will have noticed that I earlier said you will have to move the potatoes inside before the first frost. Now the potato bags might be rather heavy once you start filling them with compost so for us we have already sited them where our greenhouse will be constructed. Obviously not an option for most people but it is something worth remembering before you overfill your bags and then can’t move them. Although the bags do have handles to move them, I don’t imagine they will do too well when they are full of compost. Has anyone else grown potatoes in bags this year or fancy trying it?
I love garden centres. They have so much more than just garden stuff in them nowadays. We are lucky where we are that we are surrounded by several really good sized ones. Yesterday C and I decided to head out for a morning trip to one of my favourites. We did actually have a reason to go (I promise) as we wanted to buy our Christmas potatoes. Yes that’s right it’s already the time to start thinking about Christmas. Well in gardening terms it is. When I said to C that we were going out to buy Christmas potatoes she immediately launched into a discussion about Santa and how he gave her one present. I took advantage of the situation to remind her that you only get presents from Santa if you’re good. She did say she was going to be a good girl and that the present she would like is pink shoes (we’re going through a very girly phase at the moment). I guess I need to start planning for Christmas presents as well as Christmas potatoes.
Anyhow I digress, we were shopping for Christmas potatoes. Christmas potatoes are potatoes that are sown in summer to be harvested from November onwards. They should be sown in bags and then when it get’s cold they can be moved inside a greenhouse. As we still have an abundance of potatoes to currently harvest, I’m going to wait until late August and mid September to plant these to delay harvesting as long as possible so we have time to use up our summer harvest. I selected two different varieties of seed potatoesto try; one that we know well and have grown this year already, Charlotte and one which is new to us, Pentland Javelin. Both are varieties of new potatoes which are the only type you can grow well in the UK for Christmas harvest. Now I have heard of people using normal shop bought potatoes which have started to sprout instead of buying seed potatoes. I’m not a fan of this I’m afraid. When you buy seed potatoes (the potatoes which you use to start off your potato plants) you are paying for disease and virus free products. They should also be pest free. Whereas your supermarket leftovers could contain anything which could then infect your soil which is bad news. Also, from what I’ve read, seed potatoes tend to be much more prolific than any leftover potatoes tend to be. Besides which, I like trying different varieties instead of the same ol’ limited variety offered in supermarkets. Maybe I’m in the minority though? What does anyone else do, seed potatoes or sprouted leftovers?
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!