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!

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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

Potato types: a review

So all of our Spring planted potatoes have now been harvested and we have sampled some of each variety so I thought it would be a good time to look back at the varieties we grew and see which ones we would grow again and which ones we wouldn’t. 


As a reminder for everyone our six varieties were: Red Duke of York, Charlotte, Maris Peer, Maris Piper, Purple Majesty and King Edward. The Purple Majesty were an individual pack of seed potatoes and the other five varieties were all together as a beginners potato growing pack. They were all planted in lazy beds in the field and ended up all being planted at the same time but were harvested at slightly different stages. Let’s look at each one in turn.

Red Duke of York:

These were my favourites I think. Our only first earlies they went in a little late and we left them in for about 11 or 12 weeks in the end and they were amazing. This variety produces red skinned potatoes that actually grew to an incredible size. We found they made great baked potatoes and also did well as roasties or mash. In fact there wasn’t anything we did with them that we didn’t enjoy. They also seemed to have been one of the varieties which were less damaged by slugs or other pests. These are a definite must for next year. 


Charlotte

These are second earlies and a very well known supermarket variety of new potatoes. These turned out pretty well as well, a good job as we have these as our Autumn planted (or Christmas) potatoes. They were a good size for Charlotte’s and had beautiful yellow flesh. There was some damage by pests but not too much thankfully. I think we will probably do these next summer as well. 


Maris Peer

Now these were one of our least successful varieties. Lots were attacked by slugs and we lost a significant amount of our crop to them. They have a more white flesh and just in general didn’t look as appetising as the others. The taste was okay but nothing special. These are not going to be repeated next year.


Maris Piper

Again this is a well known variety so I was expecting great things. This was another crop which was hit pretty bad by the slugs and other pests. The taste wasn’t bad, but nothing special and a bit disappointing for such a well known variety. I think we probably won’t be doing these again next year and will try something different.


Purple Majesty

Now J had really wanted to grow these as he had once had them served boiled at a posh restaurant and wanted repeat the experience at home. They turned out very well and gave us a good yield. However, some people were a bit put off by the colour. C wouldn’t try them and we served them a couple of times for Sunday Roast (in combination with other varieties) when we had guests over and a couple of people weren’t keen on sampling them. They were also remarkably difficult when it came to spotting any defects until they were peeled so they weren’t going to be great to store. So probably not a one for next year. 


King Edward

Again another well known potato variety and what should have been a reliable maincrop potato. However, we had quite low yields (although this may have been that they needed earthing up more) and they ended up being nibbled on by some kind of rodent (my money is on a vole). And actually taste-wise they weren’t as good as other varieties, we were very disappointed in the roasties we made with them. So probably not ones to repeat next year.


So we would grow the Charlottes, the Red Duke of York and would recommend the Purple Majesty but probably won’t grow ourselves next year. The Maris Peer, Maris Piper and King Edwards don’t have a place in our growing schedule for next year. Some interesting points to note here are that apparently it is a bad year in general for potatoes (according to smallholders we know) so we might have had less slug damage and better yields if the weather had been different. And we probably should have earthed up a bit more but actually the lazy beds weren’t as easy to keep weed free as we might have hoped. 

Next job on the agenda – work out what different varieties to try next year! Any recommendations? 

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?