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The Forgiving Spud
Member Name: sandemp
Date: 03/07/11, updated on 04/07/11 (81 review reads)
Advantages: Easy to grow, delicious results, you know what chemicals are used (if any)
Far from being humble, the potato is an incredibly exciting vegetable, not only to eat, but much more so to grow. There's little to beat the anticipation as you push the tines of the fork next to your carefully tended potato stems, the satisfaction as the soil parts to reveal dozens of beautiful tubers and the pride as you tuck into boiled potatoes that had been in the ground just over half an hour ago. As well as being an immensely satisfying experience, potatoes grown yourself simply taste so much better than anything you could buy from a supermarket. In fact, you'd be hard pressed to find any that surpass home grown for flavour, even if you should buy from a farm shop.
==In The Garden==
My first experiences of growing the not-so-humble spud were as a child, when my parents would grow potatoes in their garden. I must say that I wasn't all that interested in where's and how's of how they managed to produce the pile of mash on my plate, but I do remember that it tasted a lot better than the potatoes we had for the rest of the year. Now I'm all grown up and have a large garden of my own, I decided it was time to master the mysteries that are home-grown vegetables and potatoes were definitely one for my list. To say I'm an amateur gardener is probably doing amateur gardeners a disservice, let's say I'm an enthusiastic beginner and as such this review is going to reflect my experiences as someone who had never grown more than a few beans until the last year.
The decision to grow our own potatoes was a bit spur of the moment really, we were browsing our local garden centre and noticed that they were selling three packs of seed potatoes for £10. After a quick calculation on how many potatoes we would need to harvest to make the investment worthwhile, we picked three different varieties. A first early (Duke of York), second early (charlotte) and main crop (can't remember the name, but it was red). Now I do realise that we should have probably done a little research before we started on this venture, but the first potato growers didn't have the internet to turn to and they managed just fine.
After planting our seed potatoes we discovered that we should have done some preparation. Luckily we had already prepared the area that we used for planting, having dug it over and incorporated some well rotted manure in the previous October. Turns out this was perfect preparation for potatoes so stroke of luck there. Rather than having any method or organisation we simply planted all the seed potatoes in a rather haphazard manner, making sure there was about eighteen inches between each hole. Since planting these we did discover that we should have done a little more preparation, including placing the seed potatoes on a windowsill to sprout. It would have also been better to have dug trenches to plant the potatoes in, would have certainly made digging them up easier. We should have probably planted the different varieties at different times as well, as we've ended up with a very short gap between harvests. (Oh well, you live and learn).
Once buried the potatoes required very little attention, obviously the weeds kept under control, which took a few minutes a day and they needed watering during dry periods, but other than that it was just a case of letting them get on with it. We planted these potatoes out at the end of February, thinking that the worst of the winter weather was over (we live in the Anglia region) only for us to be hit with some extra cold snaps. Even with this less than clement weather the first potato shoots began appearing towards the end of March, steadily increasing in size until mid-June, when they were really like little bushes and were starting to flower.
Now if I had done my research I would have known that as well as planting them in trenches, it would have benefited the potatoes (and increased my crop) if I had earthed them up, by covering the growing stems with soil at regular intervals. Of course I didn't know this, so I simply allowed them to grow unchecked. Earthing them up would have not only protected the newly formed tubers from the light which could turn them green, but would also have encouraged more tubers to form. Of well, yet again you live and learn.
By the time the potatoes had grown into foot high bushes, I finally did some research as to when they were ready to harvest. The general consensus seemed to be that the first earlys were ready to harvest about a week after the potatoes had started to flower. I also discovered that I should remove the flowers as they bloomed so that the plant put all it's energy into fattening up the tubers.
Digging up that first harvest was so exciting, as I pushed the fork into the soil about a foot away from the stem and then lifted the soil I was rewarded with a multitude of different sized tubers, all glistening like buried treasure. I'm sure my neighbours thought I was mad as I got all excited and called my partner over to see my treasure. Remember, according to all the gardening websites, I did everything wrong and yet that first harvest in the middle of June produced almost 10kg of organic new potatoes, which could have cost about £10 in a supermarket. We had a gorgeous meal that night, and it tasted so much better knowing that we had produced the potatoes ourselves. All that we needed to do was wash them, boil them, add some butter and enjoy some divine, almost nutty potatoes.
Our second crop was ready just a few days ago and was even larger than the first, producing enough potatoes for us to give away to family and neighbours as well as having more to store for ourselves. Storing surplus potatoes is pretty easy, it's best not to clean the dirt off as apparently this protects them from mould. It's also best to store them in a cool dark place as light will cause them to go green, which is poisonous (the potato is a member of the nightshade family and it's leaves, stems and green tubers contain solanine, an alkaloid poison). To help prevent them going mouldy, it's also best to store them in a way that allow free airflow. I'm storing mine in purpose made vegetable sacks made out of Hessian and so far so good.
So far we've had two crops from our potatoes, we'll be harvesting our final main crop some time in the next couple of months and we've had about £20 worth of potatoes with the minimum of effort. In all probability if we'd have followed the "rules" we'd have got an even larger crop, but we're happy with what we've got. The potatoes taste so much nicer than even the most expensive shop bought, and it's really exciting digging them up. So personally I think that everybody should give growing their own spuds a try if they've got the room.
==In A Bag==
Although we planted the spuds out in the garden this year, they do take up a lot of room that I'm planning to use for other vegetables next year. It's also not a good idea to plant potatoes in the same spot each year as this increases the risks of disease (more about this later). So my next planting will be in potato bags rather than the ground. Potatoes can be grown in tubs, pots and even grow bags, but I've bought some purpose bought bags that I'll be using to grow yet another crop this year. That's right I'm planning to grow yet more potatoes, this time so that we'll hopefully be harvesting fresh potatoes at Christmas.
I've already started the preparation, placing four inches of compost in the bottom of the bag, adding fertiliser and allowing it to warm. When my seed potatoes arrive in the middle of this month, I'll place them in a cool, light place to start to sprout before placing them on the compost, five to a tub. After covering the seed potatoes with another four inches of compost and allowing them to start growing. As the stems grow I'll keep the compost moist and keep adding more compost until it reaches a couple of inches shy of the top of the bag. By removing any flowers as they develop, I'll be encouraging the plants to put all their energy into producing lots of delicious potatoes that will be ready once the foliage starts to die down.
Growing potatoes this way means that even if you have a small garden or only a balcony you can still reap the rewards of a little effort. There are other ways of growing of course. I vaguely remember that my parents used to use old car tyres, gradually stacking them into a tower as the plants grew and the added compost. Of course this isn't quite as convenient as a purpose made bag, but it still works.
==Variety is the Spice of Life==
The really great thing about growing your own potatoes is that there are literally hundreds of different varieties with different properties meaning that you can grow a variety that's ideal for you. Some potatoes are waxy, meaning they're better for salads, while others are floury and better for roasting or mashing. Then different varieties will have slightly different flavours, so you can experiment to find your favourite. There are even potatoes with coloured flesh, I'm planning to grow some of these next year, there are red and even blue fleshed potatoes, can you imagine serving up blue mash? There are also heritage varieties, which are more flavoursome than modern varieties, but because they have low yields they're not really favoured by large scale producers.
==What I Should Have Done Before I Started==
Although we managed to get a great crop without having done any research, we were lucky. It's really best to do at least a little reading before you start and there are plenty of websites out there, just type in growing potatoes and you'll find everything you need to know. There are also plenty of specialist suppliers online, I really would spend some time comparing different varieties to choose what's best for you.
Once I finally got round to researching growing potatoes there was something things that I found was pretty essential to know. Potatoes belong to the same family as tomatoes and should not be planted in soil where tomatoes have been grown in the last four years. This is because they share a rather nasty disease in common, potato blight, which can devastate a crop. Potato blight causes leaves to wilt and discolour and contributed to the Great Potato Famine of 1846. If any of your potato leaves or stems develop dark patches, then you should remove the foliage and burn it to prevent the disease spreading. Rotating your crops will also help protect your potatoes from disease.
Although I did almost everything wrong, growing my own potatoes was an amazing experience. I really wouldn't have thought that something as mundane as lifting soil would have brought so much pleasure. Growing potatoes is exceptionally easy, they really do seem to be very forgiving and the results are plates full of really yummy spuds. I also love the fact that by growing my own I know exactly what chemicals have been used on them, which in our case is none. Finally I love the fact that rather than believing that all vegetables come from the supermarket, my child will know that they come from the ground and when he gets bigger will even be able to help harvest them. So I can't help but give potatoes five stars out of five and recommend that you give growing them a try, it doesn't have to take up a lot of space and the results are delicious.
Summary: So easy even this idiot could grow them
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