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Know your spudz

Posted on 8th April 2015

Did you know that potatoes are not root crops at all but actually the tubers that we eat are swollen underground stems evolved by the plant to store energy to survive the winter?

 

Growing your own potatoes can be troublesome and they take up a lot of space but there is nothing that beats those first new potatoes that you dig up like buried treasure in early summer. The flavour of freshly dug new potatoes is far superior to that of shop bought ones as storage deteriorates the flavour of new potatoes.

The main enemy of potatoes is blight which is the disease responsible for the Irish Potato Famine of the mid 1800’s and is prevalent after a period of warm, damp weather and affects main crop potatoes the most as they are in the ground for longer than the earlies.

 

First and second early potatoes take up less space and occupy the ground for less time and are therefore a more economical use of space than main crop potatoes, you can harvest them when you need them and you save more money as baby new potatoes are the most expensive to buy. Most early potatoes give you those lovely small, waxy salad type potatoes that are good for boiling or putting on the BBQ and can be eaten hot or cold once cooked.

 

Maincrop types generally give you the bigger,  more floury potatoes that are better for mashing, baking and roasting and if harvested and stored correctly will last through the winter.

 

Recommended varieties of early potatoes include ‘Maris Peer’ for superb flavour but if you have a problem with slugs then ‘Accent’ has a natural resistance. ‘International Kidney’ and ‘Charlotte’ are popular for texture and flavour. Heirloom varieties such as ‘All Blue’ and ‘Purple Majesty’ have a purple skin and flesh and great flavour although do not crop as heavily as some modern varieties.  Early varieties start cropping in June and you can begin lifting the tiny tubers as soon as you see the flowers begin to fade on the plant. While opinion is divided on whether to ‘chit’ potatoes before planting I would recommend it for early varieties because we need to force them into growth before planting them for an early crop.

 

Main crop potatoes stay in the ground until the haulm (the top growth of the plant) starts to die back  in late summer and they are lifted all at once, dried off and kept in sacks in a cool dark place for winter use. Of the white maincrop varieties ‘Cara’ is a good all round potato with a firm but floury white flesh and pink ‘eyes’ and of course there is the favourite ‘King Edward’. Red main crops include ‘Desiree’ which is smooth textured and good for mash and roasting but if you fancy something a bit different why not try ‘Belle de Fontenay’ an heirloom main crop variety from France with long white tubers that remain waxy and firm.

 

Written by: Caroline Wright, Guest Contributor