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?
  • Fruit growing · Raised beds · Recipes · Vegetable growing

    Preserving our produce

    So I’ve previously mentioned that for some of our homegrown fruit and vegetables we have had a bit of a glut. Whilst we love all of our homegrown produce I can’t really stomach eating strawberries every meal or everyday for a week. There are some products that can be stored for prolonged periods of time in the right conditions but others need to be preserved in some other way. The main ways in which I preserve produce are either by freezing or by making jams and chutneys. I know that in the USA in particular caning is also a popular method but I don’t yet have the proper equipment for that. Today I thought I would go through a couple of the different ways I’ve preserved our produce this year. All the ingredients that were homegrown I’ve put in bold.

    Tomatoes

    Our tomatoes haven’t quite finished yet for the year so there will no doubt be more preserving to be done but so far this is what I’ve done.

    • Roasted vegetable pasta sauce; roast tomatoes, courgettes, onions and peppers in olive oil, then blend about half so the sauce still have some substance and season well. Then freeze as required.
    • Roasted tomato pesto: roast tomatoes in olive oil then add to basil, pine nuts, a couple of gloves of garlic, Parmesan and black pepper and blend in a food processor until fine. Add more olive oil until you achieve the desired consistency. Quantity-wise I tend to go for the same basil, pine nuts and Parmesan when I’m doing pesto with tomatoes, if not including tomatoes I’d have double the amount of basil to the other ingredients. Pesto is all about personal taste so just keep testing to find what you like best. You can also toast the pine nuts to emphasise the nutty flavour. Or change them up for a different type of nuts. Or switch the basil for spinach, or rocket leaves. Then portion up and freeze (it will store in the fridge for up to two weeks just make sure it’s covered with a film of oil to keep it fresh).
    • Freeze cherry tomatoes whole to defrost and cook fresh at a later date.
  • Strawberries
    • Strawberry jam: strawberry jam is notoriously hard to achieve a good set due to the low pectin level in strawberries. In order to achieve a good set you need to either mix it with another high pectin fruit or add pectin to it. I’ve gone with adding pectin as I wanted to keep the lovey freshness of the fruit. I’ve made a couple of different batches now using two different recipes, one of which was much more complicated and I couldn’t really see or taste much between them.
      Strawberry and yogurt lollies. A nice simple recipe, blend strawberries and Greek yogurt add to ice lolly mould and freeze. You can add a bit of honey if you want but I found our strawberries were sweet enough.
      Freeze whole: remove the stalks and wash then open freeze before bagging once frozen (this will prevent them from sticking together). I prefer to weigh before freezing and label the bag so I know how much to defrost.
      I also plan to use them in smoothies from frozen and make strawberry ice cream in the future too.
  • Potatoes
    • Potatoes store well in the ground but all gardeners have the dilemma of deciding when to pull them to avoid pest damage or damp ground. Once harvested brush off any loose soil and ideally leave the skins to dry for a few days. Then store in hessian sacks in a cool dry place. Check them periodically for damage and remove any damaged potatoes straight away.
      Potatoes cannot be frozen without being cooked first or their consistency changes too much. My favourite thing to do is to freeze potatoes as roasties. Par boil and then roast for about 20-30 minutes. Then cool and open freeze before bagging. They can then be taken out as required and put straight in the oven and will just need 20-30 minutes roasting. It certainly reduces some of the stress of a roast dinner.

    We still have lots to harvest and I’ve only looked at three different products here so I’ll do another post (or two) soon about some different ways to preserve homegrown produce.

    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!

    Life in the Countryside · Vegetable growing

    Potatoes in bags

    So this year we have decided to grow our potatoes in grow bags. There are several reasons for this. Partly this is down to our potatoes from last year. Across the UK last year was quite poor conditions for potato growth, lots of wet weather at the wrong kind of time ended up with blight and slugs being more common than usual. We didn’t experience any blight but we did have a fair amount of our crop hit by slugs. It was a real disappointment to dig up our lovely harvest and find it had been damaged. We also had our potatoes in the field last year and we trialled using lazy beds which were a lot of work to set up and I don’t think they necessarily gave us the best crops. This year a couple of things are different. We now have the dog and the dog kennel up in the field. We also will be living up there in the not too distant future in our caravan as the work is completed. The area we used last year has grown over a fair bit as we kind of neglected it a bit (oops). So we decided to grow our potatoes in bags this year. Growing potatoes in bags is a great way for anyone to start growing some of their own veggies as it requires very little outside space, it could even be done on a balcony, and requires very little skill. In a previous house of ours we had grown potatoes in bags one year so we still had some bags left over but they can be bought from most garden centres or online. I’m even planning on using some of our spare recycling bags this year for our larger main crop varieties.

    I always like to chit my seed potatoes, although you don’t really need to chit main crop varieties but as I buy all my seed potatoes at the same time it makes sense to. For chitting potatoes all you require is an egg box or two. Make sure that the side of the potato with the most eyes is facing upmost and leave them to sit in a warm dark place. Chitting just helps to give the seed potatoes a head start. Make sure before you start that you roll down the sides of the grow bag for ease of planting and for more sun exposure, we will roll them up again when we earth up the potatoes. For planting potatoes into bags I tend to go for 4 to 5 inches of a mixture of compost and well rotten manure and then water them and leave for 10-15 minutes or so to let it drain downwards. Then place three seed potatoes with the largest chits pointing upwards (as shown below). There are variations in the sizes of grow bags so if the label suggests to include more or less then go with that. Cover the potatoes with more compost (say three or four inches) and then lightly water again. As there have been a fair number of cold snaps (lots of snow) this year, when I first planted our early potatoes I kept them in the greenhouse to make sure they got off to a good start. If you don’t have a greenhouse then you could keep them indoors until all sign of frost has passed or just don’t plant until a bit later.

    In a couple of weeks you should see the first signs of growth. Don’t get over excited and start earthing up yet, I like to wait until I have a good four or five inches of growth first time so I can be sure that they’re well established. Then cover them with compost until the tops of the plants are only just showing. Repeat as often as you can until the bags are full and then just wait. Below are our Red Duke of York earlies. The three bags on the left we planted first and are just about to have their final earthing up, the two bags on the right were planted a couple of weeks later and are due their first earthing up. I’ll update more about how to know when potatoes are ready nearer to the time.

    Vegetable growing

    Earthing the Christmas tatties

    So back at the end of August C and I planted our Christmas potatoes and a couple of weeks ago they were ready to be earthed up. Earthing up basically means putting soil (compost ideally) on top of the foliage that has sprouted from the potatoes. You can completely cover it and it will keep growing through the new soil. Earthing up can be done more than once as well. Why earth up potatoes? Simply, to increase the yield. The more depth of soil, the more space for potatoes to grow. 


    So basically once the potato foliage has grown to about 15cm then cover them with earth just up to the top of the foliage. Then once they’ve grown to the same height again then repeat. I would probably only earth up twice to then give the chance for the foliage to develop and enable it to concentrate on fattening up those tubers. If you have your potatoes in bags like me (which ideally all potatoes grown at the time of year should be) then you can earth up to the top of the bag. Remember though that bags are pretty hard to move when full so try to get them in their final position (a greenhouse or conservatory by mid October) before earthing up. 


    Mine can probably have a tiny bit more earth in but not much really. Next thing to watch out for potato-wise is the flowers…hoping they appear by about mid October. Does anyone else grow Christmas potatoes? How are they getting on?

    Vegetable growing

    Christmas potatoes

    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?

    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. 

    Vegetable growing

    A trip to the garden centre

    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?


     

    Life in the Countryside

    What a difference a week makes

    So C and I have been away for a week and J has been keeping an eye on things at home. The weather whilst we have been away has been very poor. Lots of rain and cloud and little sunshine. Now I want to preface this next sentence by saying I do love J. But he has kept an eye on the garden rather than tend to it. Not that I asked him to do any different or expected him to, after all he has been working all week too. Not that I would have done anything different to him but I know myself enough to acknowledge that I often think I would do things better. When I got back and went to have a look at how things had progressed then I was amazed at how much things had grown. I mentioned to J how large the pumpkins had gotten and he said he hadn’t noticed! Anyway, I digress. The garden has really bloomed with the much needed rain. Sometimes in a good way and sometimes in a bad way. 

    So we have three pumpkins (one is quite a way behind the others) and they have grown so much. I need to work out some way to support them.


    Some of our herbs and salad have unfortunately gone to seed with the weather.


    Our baby corn is so tall now.


    We have our first broad beans ready to harvest


    The caterpillars have had a field day with our cauliflowers and some of them have bolted in the weather (more on that another time). 


    We were able to harvest more of our beetroot as it had reached monster size.



    Some of the potatoes are ready for harvest (see here to read about the excitement of harvesting). 


    And the blackberries are starting to ripen. 


    It really is reaching that amazing time of year when everything starts happening in the garden and our bellies are filled with homegrown goodness. 

    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!