Wednesday, 3 April 2013


Who can resist a mound of fluffy buttery mash? I love it! Particularly atop a Shepherds Pie, but not unheard of eaten all by itself with thickly buttered toast - a carb frenzy!

Potatoes are said to be easy to grow, but not so in my experience, I try every year, though, come what may. My issue is the clay soil I garden on and the accompanying slugs, and the wireworm, potato cyst nematode, oh, and potato blight. Not impossible to grow but certainly needing some thought and trial and error.

Having said that, here is a picture of some potatoes I left for dead last year! The potatoes were dug up from a 4 metre x 1metre raised bed, that had overwintered and I was propping the bed for this year's sowings. I always grow 2 raised beds worth of spuds, and the other bed had been an unmitigated disaster. The blight struck early last summer probabaly because of the extreme rain and before I could take preventative action all the leaves were raised to the ground, and any potatoes found reduced to a slimy smelly blob. So I gave up on the other bed. Foolishly.

Pentland Dell and Charlotte potatoes 2012
These potatoes are a mix of last year's (2012) Pentland Dell and Charlotte. Both had no slug damage or potato cyst damage and were clearly not affected by last year's blight.
So how (and why?!) do I grow potatoes given the problems I face?
Why is simple, they are so utterly delicious and even more so straight from the plot. One word of warning when cooking home grown spuds though. Salad varieties, often yellow fleshed, such as Charlotte or Pink Fir Apple are perfect for cooking directly on harvesting, needing nothing more than tossing in butter and salt. Whereas the white fleshed floury varieties like King Edward will cook MUCH quicker than you are used to with supermarket varieies and will disitegrate to nothing if you take your eye off of them whilst cooking, ceratin varieties are also particularly prone to this like Pentland Dell.
As for how. It has been 5 years of trialling different varieties, carefully choosing varieties from seed catalogues that are bred to be resistant to my pests and diseases and soil. A helpful resource is The British Potato Variety Database
In one bed I grow varieties I now know will do well and in the other bed I try something different each year. I then keep records of what I grow and how well it has done (it is so easy to forget from one year to another).
So far on my clay soil, I have grown with success:
King Edward - a good allrounder and always gives me a lovely crop, although I lose about a quarter to slug, wireworm and potato cyst damage
Pink Fir Apple - my favourite! Knobbly salad variety, quite delicious with a buttery firm texture
Pentland Dell - Wonderful big allrounder crop that overwintered in the ground. Good mix of large and smller potatoes with no damage at all!
Charlotte - salad potato with little damage slightly smaller crop
Less successful:
Cara - too much wireworm damage and small crop
Irish Sceptre - Not as tasty as King Edwards and a smaller crop, with some slug damage
Duke of York - A red skinned variety large potatoes great baked, but only a tiny crop
Belle de Fontanay - useless! Loads of wireworm damage.
Lady Christl (chosen simply because it's name was so similar to mine!) - tiny crop, and lots of wireworm and slug damage
I garden organically and a helpful resource is Garden Organic. They do a Potato Factsheet more on how to grow in my next blog.