Posted on 27 January 2016.
Hopefully the lengthening hours of daylight and the dusk territorial calls all indicate the possibility of a new growing season. What to do first, I’ll take it as read that garlic was left in the ground at the time of last year’s harvest to allow it to grow in it’s own good time, five or six inches should now be showing, and the other thing I’ll take for granted is that shallots went in on their traditional date the shortest day to be harvested on the longest day. If not then they are a good place to start to catch up.
The real subject is first early potatoes, firsts because they are quick and therefore beat some of the later season problems, but I grow them in large pots in the greenhouse as a first stage in recycling my compost heap to the garden. Why pots? Well I live in a frost pocket and even using a surround of secondary double glazing, with a patch work of canes on top to hold a covering of plastic sheets has not proved up to the job, and besides which as the season wears on there’s a tidy job to do in taking off and putting back, believe me pots in a cold greenhouse have their benefits.
There are an increasing number of new locations from which you can buy seed potatoes, and it could only just be me, but their price seems to becoming more competitive. The obvious place is a good seed catalogue like “organic gardening”, but you have to wait for delivery and for some, price as well as being able to see their purchase (lots of little ones please) prior to the decision is important, for these people Dereham market and the discount stores like Roys of Wroxham have their attractions.
What to look for, well “no bad ‘uns” as an old acquaintance used to put it, is a good place to start. As a general rule you want the eyes undeveloped so that they are not going to be damaged either in transit or getting out of the netting bag. This last part is why I always buy early, the other reason is to be able to chit the potatoes well before planting. This just involves placing them in a wide cardboard box in good light but not direct sunlight, so that the chits which develop are fat small and look like a plant to be, and not the eerie white laces that develop when potatoes are kept in the dark (they’ve expended too much effort in reaching for the light).
The rest is easy, very large pot with a few inches of garden compost, in goes the seed potato, a small covering of compost and watering. It’s now a case of topping up the pot each time they break the surface until you reach the top. Watch out for frosts, and cover with bubble wrap if danger lurks. Water well in dry weather, and bear in mind that they can only drink what you give them, so there is some more work.
Finally, when you start to crop at a good size withdraw the water to ensure that the plant withers sending down to the tubers every last drop of goodness; it also saves work in tidying up. At this stage I have mine outside to allow room for other things, so shade them from the rain.
For more great growing tips from Robert, visit his home page.
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