The Potato Diaries: 2020 – January to May

24th January

Seed potatoes are already appearing in garden centres now the Christmas decorations have finally been removed.

With my new allotment bed now available for the coming year, I have decided to plant early potatoes – Swift for preference – in containers at home, and main-crop potatoes – Desiree once more – at the allotment, where I have room for sixteen plants using the Square Foot gardening technique. I don’t think I’ll bother with second earlies this year.

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Swift are on the left and Desiree on the right.  I ‘rescued’ this polystyrene tray from the packaging on the top of my new washing machine and thought it would be ideal for chitting the potatoes.  Each bag of potatoes cost £4.99 and for that I got 18 Desiree and 23 Swift (there should have been 24 but one was rotten).

There seem to be plenty of shoots forming and I’ve got them at just the right stage in their development unlike last year when the Swift had several long white shoots already formed which I had to remove. So I’m hoping for a higher yield this year.

As I did last year, I’ve ‘labelled’ them by writing their initials on the skin in marker pen!

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Just before Christmas, I harvested the last of the 2019 Desiree potatoes which I had grown in pots and left in dry compost inside my shed.  When I brought them in the house, I kept them wrapped in an old towel in a dark cupboard. We’ve just eaten the last of them.

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They were perfectly edible and showed no signs of starting to shoot. So this year I’m going to be growing them in the allotment bed. Once I’ve dug them upk, brought them home and cleaned them, I’ll store them in dry compost in boxes in the shed to keep them cool and in the dark.

I’ve still got two bags of the Christmas Charlotte potatoes that I haven’t looked at yet.

12th February

Meeting friends for coffee at the garden centre, and our discussion turned to potatoes. My friend wanted to buy his seed potatoes and had decided to stick with the same varieties that I passed on last year, Swift and Desiree.

Meanwhile, I decided to try some Pink Fir Apple potatoes,gyo-potatoes

which – so the packet says – can be planted now. But I think that will be too soon – according to this handy chart.

We use five date zones for gardeners, your town is in zone 4. As an example of how the date changing works, test it out on the phrase below which corresponds to your current selection: Start chitting seed potatoes during the first week of March in the Wrexham area.  You will see that the date for chitting potatoes is different dependent on which zone the town is in.

St Austell – zone 1 – the third week of January, Bude – zone 2 – the first week of February
Worcester – zone 3 – the third week of February, Manchester – zone 4 – the first week of March

BUT, I am six miles away from Wrexham (and fifty from Manchester) and quite a bit higher above sea level so, although some of these potatoes may be grown in my allotment bed, they are still going to take longer to chit where I live, so I started them straight away – this time in the conservatory.

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23 February

Four weeks on and both Swift and Desiree are showing signs of new shoots.

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Meanwhile, I thought I’d better check the final two bags of the Christmas Charlotte potatoes. I was convinced that they would all have rotted away as the compost was still very wet and I hadn’t watered them since October.

But . . .

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. . . not many, I agree – and some of them quite small (compared to a £1 coin), but enough to add to an evening meal for two.

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6th March

I’ve now moved all the potatoes into the conservatory to make room for the first sowings of seeds. And I’ve also dug over half of my allotment bed, removing weeds and digging in the green manure (red clover). The recommendation is to do this at least six weeks before I want to plant my potatoes, which should put me at the end of Easter fortnight.

29th March

Welcome to Lockdown! Thankfully gardening is not yet banned, but non-essential travel is, which means I can’t go to the allotment. And I have all these potatoes chitting!

Today, I ordered bags of compost and ten potato growing bags from a local garden centre which is making home deliveries (following social distancing policies – which is fine as they can deliver straight into our back yard without even seeing either of us).

In an attempt to reduce the number of potatoes that need immediate planting, I have removed all those that have only just started to produce shoots, put them in a cardboard box with a lid, and placed them in the coldest part of the house, which happens to be by the front door. Well we won’t be using it will we?

This gives me a more managable six each of Swift and Desiree, and all twelve Pink Fir Apple still to plant. My brother suggested planting potatoes in a bale of straw, but despite living in a rural village, there is none to be had.

5th April

All my potatoes were ready for planting after a warm week at the end of March.

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To give them a fighting chance (and hoping to speed them up a little) I’ve put them in the new Tiny Greenhouse.

Swift and Desiree on the right-hand side (labelled) – two of each per bag.

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Pink Fir Apple on the left-hand side, three to a bag. The compost all came from my first compost bin (once I’d removed all the rubbish from it).  It will keep dry here and be handy for topping up the potato bags when the shoots appear.

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12 April

With no sign that the lockdown will be over anytime soon, and therefore no chance of getting to the allotment,  I had to find places to plant the remainder of my potatoes (which I’d kept in a box in the cool front porch.

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Basically, anything that can hold soil/compost has been pressed into service.

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From my original three potato growing bags, to the drum from my old washing machine;

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Desiree (main crop) and Swift (first earlies)

from pots to our old plastic dustbin.

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This patio will be shady in the summer months (neighbour’s trees), so I’m hoping this will extend the growing season. As each of the previously planted bags (5th April) is moved from the sunny patio and emptied, I’ll move one of the shaded bags into place.

27th April

Time for a top-up!

Despite little rain for most of April – though I have used the hose four times – both the outside potatoes (the extras that should have gone to my allotment) and the inside potatoes (the ones I put in bags and placed inside my new Tiny Greenhouse) are both putting on a lot of growth.

This morning I have used the remains of the old runner bean compost from last year and a whole 10 kg bag of new compost to top up all the bags and pots.

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While there is still room for more to go into the bags, the pots, and my old washing machine drum, are full.  These will be the first to be used in a few weeks time. Hopefully there will be enough for a couple of meals in each small pot.

4th May 2020

Or as they say “May the Fourth be with you”. The force has certainly been with my potatoes as all have again grown above the compost. Drastic action was needed before I could top the bags up.

The growing bags in the Tiny Greenhouse have got to come out first, or I won’t be able to lift them. This is the only space available . . .

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. . . so this is where they went – Desiree (ready mid-August) nearest the greenhouse, then Swift (hopefully ready by early to mid-June), then Pink Fir Apple (which won’t be ready until September)

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After tidying both the garden and the greenhouse, I didn’t actually have the energy to top the bags up. A job for later in the week – after I give the bags a good watering.

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And the ‘overflow’ potatoes that should have gone into my allotment bed, are also doing well.

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We’ll see what’s what in five or six weeks time.

 

 

 

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