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Seed Potatoe – Gardening with Daphne Ledward

I confess I always heave a sigh of relief when the prolonged disruptions of Christmas are safely behind us for another ten months or so, and I don’t make New Resolutions as such, but this year there is going to be one change to my gardening practices.

For years I have convinced myself that, where we live, at any rate, with potatoes at around £4-£5 for a 25kg bag, it wasn’t worth growing my own, what with the cost of ‘seed’ and the effort of digging, planting and harvesting.   However, with last season’s wet weather, the cost of spuds has risen astronomically, so once more it seems worthwhile giving over a section of the veg patch to potato cultivation, with the added benefit that I can try out some of the more interesting varieties that we are unlikely to see in farm shops and supermarkets, at least not for the immediate future, anyway.

The piece of land I am going to use has been growing cut flowers and dahlias for several years, but last summer a friend who runs her Doberman in our field with our greyhounds and has horses brought me several trailer-loads of horse manure, so I decided that as this ground was rather tired and lacking in humus, I would cover it with a deep layer of manure and leave it for the worms and other soil organisms to set about improving it.

My first job is to deep-dig this area.   Although it’s not large, there are some very tall trees with invasive roots nearby.   These, even the fine ones, will not be conducive to raising a crop of perfect potatoes, so they must all be worked out thoroughly before I can even consider planting.   There’s at least a couple of days’ work there, and snow is forecast, so making a start as soon as possible is essential.

There is always a good choice of seed potato varieties at garden centres from before Christmas, and an even better mail order selection.   I spent hours with the relevant catalogues over the holiday period, the problem being that there is now just too much choice.

Obviously, it would pay me to grow some extra earlies.  There are fewer new introductions in this category, and I have tried most of them in the past.   I decided that ‘Swift’, would best fit my bill, as it has good resistance to scab, eelworm and other diseases, and as my new potato patch, once thoroughly dug over, will still be heavily manured and therefore not ideal for potato growing, disease resistance is of paramount importance.

For the new variety, I chose ‘Toluca’ because it is thought to be blight resistant, and blight was a big problem the last time I grew potatoes in any quantity here.   And, just for fun, I thought I’d try ‘Purple Majesty’, a curious spud with deep purple skin and flesh which retains its colour when cooked.   I guess we will either like or loathe this one.    Purple chips – maybe?   Purple mash – possibly.

The seed potatoes have yet to arrive.   I am saving all my egg trays so I can set them out, ‘eyes’ uppermost to ‘chit’ (sprout).   This needs to be done in a cold but frost-free, light place – under the garage window is ideal.   I can’t wait to watch their fat little shoots appear.

In the meantime, I’m pressing on with jobs I should have done last autumn, had it ever been dry enough for more than a couple of hours.   I like to top-dress all our ornamental garden with bone meal every other winter; this should really be done in October to November as bone meal breaks down slowly for several months to produce the strong plant roots that are so necessary for healthy top growth from spring to early autumn.   Today, with a sliver of blue sky appearing and snow not predicted until tomorrow, would seem to be just the day for doing this.

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