Is my potato harvest blighted before I even begin?

I always plant my seed potatoes on March 17th, which is easy to remember as it is St Patrick’s Day, but also because by mid-March the ground is normally warm enough for the spuds to go in the soil without suffering frost or rot. I buy my seed potatoes in January so they have time to chit – or grow short, stocky sprouts – which gives them a head start once they get into the soil and can produce larger yields. It is not too late to get seed potatoes from online nurseries or garden centres.

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Seed potatoes that have just arrived in the post

I ordered four varieties, two that I have grown before and two that are new to me. ‘Casablanca’ is a white first early potato which I grew last year and was pretty successful – it was not hit by blight because it is an early cropper, and they produced a decent amount of spuds. I am also having a go at ‘Inca Bella’ for the second year running – this is a maincrop potato which has pinkish skin and is good for roasting.

One of the varieties I am trying for the first time is ‘Harlequin’, which is an early maincrop and has a waxy texture. It is a cross between the tasty salad potato ‘Charlotte’ and a ‘Pink Fir Apple’, and as a result is tinged pink. I am also growing ‘Picasso’ for the first time – this is another maincrop variety, which is medium-sized and also said to be good for roasting.

I grow my earlies in potato bags to save on space (they still produce a decent crop although not as big as those in open ground) while the maincrop varieties will go in two open beds.

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‘Casablanca’ dug out of the soil last summer

The problem is finding the space indoors for chitting for nearly two months – each seed potato needs to stand in a light, cool and dry place with its “rose”, or faint bud marks, facing upwards. In my case, growing four varieties meant I had about 120 seed potatoes in total. Him Indoors, who is more into cooking vegetables than growing them, is not very tolerant of the house being overtaken by plants and other allotment paraphernalia, so in the interests of domestic harmony I decided this year to chit potatoes in my daughter’s playhouse down at Plot 35a.

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Potatoes ready to chit in the playhouse

The key is to keep them dry so they do not go mouldy. I laid mine out like this picture above and returned home to domestic bliss. The next day I went to check on the playhouse inhabitants and because this wooden hut has no ventilation, the potatoes had sweated in the night, causing condensation on the windows. Every single seed potato was soaking wet. An entire season’s worth of potato crop was hanging in the balance, all for the sake of harmony at home.

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The potatoes had caused some creepy condensation overnight

I hastily moved them to the mini wooden greenhouse, which has a gap in the door for ventilation but fairly dry inside. However, they went onto a shelf underneath some root-trainers where broad beans and peas are growing, so I feared it would not be completely dry. I texted Him Indoors to suggest that the potatoes might, after all, have to come home if they did not dry out by the next day. How long for, he asked? A few weeks, I mumbled.

There was pretty heavy rainfall that night. I lay awake, as allotmenteers often do, worrying about a calamity – in this case, would the rain get to the potatoes? Or would rats sniff them out? The next morning, Him Indoors grudgingly agreed for the potatoes to be returned from exile, so I went off to Plot 35 to rescue them. In fact, even after a downpour, they had dried out completely in their new home. I came back with the news that our house would remain potato-free until I dig them out of the ground in the summer. Disaster averted down the plot and harmony restored at home. Happy February!

 

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