In this blog I will describe the techniques and varieties of early potatoes used in order to get a crop of new potatoes which can be harvested from the polytunnel deep beds before they are made ready for the summer crops.
The beds have been cleared of the last of the summer crops and any subsequent weeds. A moderate amount of organic matter can be incorporated at this stage and well mixed into the soil. It is important not to add fertiliser, organic or otherwise at this stage as this can encourage a ‘souring’ in the cold soil which can lead to adverse conditions for the young roots emerging from the seed potato tubers. The soil should be moist but not too wet, again in order to avoid rotting the tubers.
Seed potatoes bought at this early stage (buy soon whilst the best are in stock!) need to be ‘chitted’. This is the process by which the growing buds or ‘eyes’ are stimulated to form strong young shoots by placing them, eyes up, in a well-lit but frost free place. You can use egg boxes for this. Avoid the temptation to put them in a warm place as this will only encourage them to become straggly and the shoots may break on planting. While the tatties are chitting, the beds will be covered in black polythene to warm up the soil before planting.
Come along to our gardening workshop with a local expert, John Marshall, this Sunday 22nd of January to find out some more about all things tattie.
All of the potato varieties chosen for early cropping are, of course, first early varieties. There were purchased from Bridgend Garden Centre at Freuchie, which always has one of the most comprehensive ranges for sale in the country, even more than the mail order sources. The tubers are also there to be inspected and carefully chosen for blemish-free and uniform specimens.
There were a dozen or so varieties available and 7 were chosen for our trial after consulting the excellent reference ‘The Potato Book’ by Fife’s own Alan Romans. The following summaries about each of the varieties are reproduced with the author’s kind permission.
Arran Pilot. Bred in Scotland in 1930 and considered to be Mckelvie’s most successful selection. Donald Mckelvie was based, wait for it, on the Isle of Arran and introduced the popular Arran varieties.
It proved to be and still is a very popular garden potato with white flesh, medium yield and good disease resistance.
Epicure. Bred in England in 1897 by James Clark of Christchurch, Hampshire. As it recovers well from frost damage it was the early potato of choice in Aryshire and is still the most popular early in Scotland.
It has good flavour and a floury texture but is prone to disintegration on boiling.
Foremost. Bred in the UK in 1954 by Suttons, another home gardeners’ favourite.
It has white flesh, medium yield, good flavour and resistance to disintegration on cooking.
Home Guard. Bred in Scotland in 1942 and introduced by McGill and Smith of Ayr during WW2 and promoted by the Home Guard as part of the dig for victory campaign.
This is one to watch in our trial as it is reputedly very early, with a high yield and good cooking qualities.
Maris Bard. Bred by the Plant Breeding Institute in Cambridge in 1972, it is another very early variety, popular because of its high yield of good sized white tatties with good cooking qualities.
Orla. Bred by an Irish research institute in 2000 is considered it be the most blight-resistant early variety ever produced. It produces high yield especially if the seed potato is well chitted as it has a long dormancy which is an advantage if the crop is to be stored. We don’t think this will be necessary in our trial!
Red Duke of York. This variety was found amongst a crop of Duke of York in the Netherlands in 1942 and named ‘Eersterling’. It has spectacular foliage and deep red tubers and is more vigorous than its namesake returning greater yield of potatoes of good size and flavour. This is a heritage variety to have found favour with the food industry because of its qualities for making crisps.
Sharpe’s Express. Bred in England by Charles Sharpe in 1900. It has become a classic 1st early for home growers with cream flesh and very good flavour although its yield and disease resistance are low. It cooks well but it has to be boiled with care. Apparently it was TV’s Percy Thrower’s favourite variety.
In my previous experience with growing very early potatoes in a polytunnel, there are many factors which can determine the success or otherwise of this method, temperature being the main one, but also ground preparation, pest and disease control and care of cultivation.
So please come along at the various work days later during the winter and take part in the promise of lovely freshly dug new potatoes on your plate that haven’t been brought from far away! YUM!