Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Potatoes: an end-of-season review

As some of you may remember, this year I bought my seed potato tubers at the Hampshire Potato Day held in Whitchurch, back in January. I deliberately bought tubers of several different varieties, so that I could try out a few that I had not grown before, and also so that they would give me a harvest over a longer period. In this post I will give my assessment of their various merits / problems.

After chitting (in the garage) the first tubers were planted on 21st March. These were the First Early varieties, two each of "Sharpe's Express", "Marilyn", "Leontine" and "Red Duke of York".

Almost exactly 11 weeks later, on 6th June, the first ones were harvested. They were Sharpe's Express.

Sharpe's Express

I found them to be a classic new potato - light and almost creamy. They were very delicate, with papery thin skins that could be rubbed off easily, and needing only very brief cooking.

Sharpe's Express

The other First Earlies followed at a good even rate. Next to be harvested was Leontine:


Leontine was a good one for the kitchen. Their exceptionally smooth firm flesh cooked well with no disintegration. It would be a good one for using cold in salads.


There's no mistaking Red Duke of York, a very dramatic-looking potato:

Red Duke of York

Whilst there is no doubt about its visual appeal, this variety produced a fairly small yield, and was difficult to cook. I found that it disintegrated easily, and the texture was too floury for a new potato.

Red Duke of York

The last of my First Early varieties was Marilyn - apparently a variety that is very popular with the supermarkets (I'm instantly suspicious....) on account of its dependability and even appearance. Yes, this variety did produce very regular, even-sized tubers. A good variety in the kitchen too. It held up well when boiled.


My Second Earlies were planted on 4th April - two each of "Balmoral" and "Blue Kestrel", and four of "Charlotte". I know Charlotte well, having grown it several times before, and I consider it to be perhaps the best potato variety of all. This is why I had more tubers of it than the others.

Charlotte and Blue Kestrel

Charlotte was as good as ever, and yielded well, but the Blue Kestrel is not one I will grow again. They look impressive (though the colour of their skin colour fades to a dirty grey when cooked), but their taste and texture is less so.

Blue Kestel

Charlotte is confirmed as the queen of new potatoes though - excellent in all respects.


Balmoral was also a good-looker:


It produced the biggest tubers of all the varieties I grew this year, and also the smallest number. Despite their small numbers, they were good potatoes. We baked some of them and they were nice this way. If you are into growing for exhibition, I think this would be a good variety to choose.

The next variety to be harvested was "Harlequin", (planted 12th April) which is listed in the British Potato Variety Database as an early Maincrop. I have seen it described elsewhere as a Second Early, so I suppose it is an "Intermediate" one. It's parents are Charlotte and Pink Fir Apple, which I think is evident in its appearance - the kidney shape of Charlotte, with a tinge of pink colour from PFA.


I thought this variety was OK, but (understandably) a bit of a compromise: not as good as either of its parents. The yield was modest too. I probably won't grow this one again.

My next one is "Nicola", which I had thought to be a Maincrop variety. I treated it as such, though I later realized it is a Second Early, not that that makes a lot of difference! Mine were planted on 18th April and harvested in late July and early August.


The yield from Nicola was good, probably because (thinking them to be a Maincrop variety) I left them in the ground for longer than I needed to. The first pot of these yielded 35 useable tubers, weighing 900 grams - not bad from a single seed tuber!  In terms of their culinary qualities, I think these are on a par with Charlotte.

My last variety - the only true Maincrop one - is "Pink Fir Apple". This is also one that I have grown many times. I usually avoid Maincrop varieties, because since they remain in the ground longer than the others they are more vulnerable to blight infection. I make an exception with PFA though, because the potential result is definitely worth the risk.

Mine were planted on 27th April, and the first pot was lifted on 24th August. In retrospect, this was possibly premature, because the yield was very small, a mere 281 grams:

Pink Fir Apple

The next pot to be harvested yielded a more respectable 580 grams, which is about normal for this variety. I find that it concentrates more on quality than quantity!

Pink Fir Apple

This year the risk paid off: blight finally arrived in my garden on 6th September, but by this time the potatoes had mostly been lifted. Only the last couple of pots of PFA remain, and their foliage is already brown and dry, so their tubers will have already matured.

Pink Fir Apple plant ready for harvesting

Pink Fir Apple

So what have my experiments with potatoes this year taught me?

Well, firstly they have confirmed that Charlotte and Pink Fir Apple are the ones for me, and Nicola will probably join them as a Regular. I liked Sharpe's Express a lot, and that will probably be my First Early of choice from now on. Balmoral may be lucky enough to feature again, but Red Duke of York and Blue Kestrel will definitely not. The others - Harlequin, Leontine, and Marilyn are ones I would happily grow again if someone gave me the tubers, but I would not seek them out because they are less good than my favourites.

An afterthought. Almost without exception my potatoes this year were smooth and practically unblemished. I put this down to the fact that they were grown in composted stable manure, with Multi-Purpose Compost being used only in the latter stages for earthing-up. The high level of organic matter obviously suited the potatoes well, probably because of its superior water-retention properties. Potatoes grown in pots can be difficult to hydrate properly and if their compost dries out it can promote the growth of the disease Scab. I shall definitely be using composted stable manure again next year.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Harvest Monday - 15 Sept 2014

Since I have been commuting to London again this week, my first harvest was not picked until late Wednesday evening:

It included a few more Runner Beans, a couple of cucumbers, a handful of chillis, one Turkish Sweet Pepper and these three radishes:

Normally I wouldn't be particularly proud of producing a measly three radishes, but these ones are pot-grown ones, and in view of my former lack of success in this area I consider them to be worth a mention!

The chillis are a mix of "Ohnivec" and the strange-shaped "Ring of Fire". The latter look for all the world as if they are actually sweet peppers, not chillis.

The Turkish Sweet Pepper is very small, but quite a handsome thing. This one is going to be dried for seed-production.

The following day I dug up the two leeks which I wrote about a few days ago - the ones that had been damaged by foxes.

Later in the week came these "Pink Fir Apple" potatoes:

This batch is the proceeds from one pot. They weighed just under 600 grams, which is over twice the yield from the first pot which I harvested on 28th August.

These particular tubers are much smoother than "Pink Fir Apple" ones often are. They look more like the variety "Anya", which is a cross between PFA and "Charlotte", except that "Anya" tubers never get that long.

This is an excellent variety - probably my favourite. The flesh is dense, firm and almost nutty in flavour. Very nice eaten just on its own, without other flavours to confuse the palate (Oh go on then, just a little butter and black pepper...)

I'm still picking a few Blueberries, and a fairly respectable quantity of "Autumn Bliss" Raspberries:

On Friday I cut down and disposed of the blight-infected tomato plants, but I kept all the green fruit that didn't look damaged. Together with a few more beans and a couple each of radishes and beetroot, they look like quite a decent harvest. I expect that many of the tomatoes will not make it to ripeness before blight develops in them though.

Finally for this week, the ingredients for a really nice salad (all this is home-grown):

This is my entry for Harvest Monday, hosted by Daphne's Dandelions, so please drop by and see what things other people have been harvesting this week.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Gourmet Salad

It has been a great year for salads in my garden, and I want to show you my latest crop. This is a tray of plants grown from a mix marketed by Thompson and Morgan as "Gourmet Salad Mix".

My tray looks a little patchy, but that's because a cat or some similar creature walked all over it shortly after germination! The mix contains Green Pak Choi, Lettuce "Red Salad Bowl", Mibuna, Mizuna, Mustard "Red Giant" and Salad Rocket.

The plants are not quite ready for me to start picking, but it won't be long. The packet says that they mature in 30 days during Summer and 60 during Winter. I will be snipping off individual leaves from these plants rather than harvesting them wholesale. I'll probably use them as a garnish or as elements in a salad comprised mainly of bigger leaves.

Nearby is the pot of Mesclun that nearly gave up the ghost a few weeks ago, after being attacked by the Flea Beetle. I think I pulled up all the worst-affected plants, but those remaining are looking healthy enough now. I see several leaves of Sorrel there, and some Celery Leaf. These will no doubt soon be combined with the Gourmet Mix.

Here's another salad element that's worth a go - the small leaves from some beetroot I recently harvested. Bigger ones can be cooked just like Chard, but tiny ones like this are tender enough to be eaten raw.

This is another salad element to which I am looking forward with eager anticipation... Curly Endive.

During the Summer months I always struggle to produce any decent Endives. They always bolt before they get to a decent size, even though I water them assiduously. However, when the weather begins to cool down and the days shorten, then the Endives start to do well. The one in my photo above is immature, but it won't be long before it is big enough to eat.

P.S. I drafted this post a few days ago. Yesterday we ate this salad:-

It included many of the elements referred to in my post. We ate it as an accompaniment to steak and chips, with a really special bottle of wine that Jane brought back from a recent trip to France.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Brussels Sprouts - letting some light in

Whilst undoubtedly healthy, my Brussels Sprouts were beginning to look a bit too luxuriant. I didn't want all their energy to go into leaves at the expense of sprouts, so I have given them a trim.

You may remember that I have six plants on the go, two each of three different types. In this next photo you can see that the shape of the three types is very different.

My view was that if I removed some of the lower leaves, not only would the plants put more energy into the formation of sprouts, but also the sprouts would benefit from a greater level of light, and air circulation - as indeed would the Endives underplanted beneath them.

This is "Before".


And this is "After".

The three varieties are developing at different rates, which is just what I wanted. The plan is to have Brussels Sprouts available for picking over a nice long period. You can see that the sprouts on "Brilliant" (photo above) are further advanced than those on the "Napoleon", below:


"Napoleon" is a tall variety and it is producing a lot of sprouts!

This variety is "Bosworth", whose sprouts are still very tiny:
This is how the bed looks now. 

Incidentally, I plan to remove the net in a few weeks' time, to further improve airflow and thus reduce the risk of fungal infections, but there are still plenty of white butterflies about so I'm not doing it just yet!

Friday, 12 September 2014

Leeks under attack

My leeks have been under attack not from the Allium Leaf-miner or the Leek Moth, but by foxes! At least, I think it is foxes, though I can't be 100% sure because I have not seen them doing it. During the night, something decided to dig around in the soil where my leeks are growing, presumably in search of worms to eat. Maybe it was badgers, not foxes? Definitely not cats, because I'm sure cats don't dig for worms. Whatever it was that did it, there is no denying the damage. Several of my few (and therefore precious) leeks have been damaged. They have rips in them evidently caused by clawed feet:

I realised that it was highly likely that damage like this could allow fungal infections to enter the leeks, so decided that the worst-damaged ones had to be used up very soon.

Two leeks is enough for a serving for the two of us, so two of them came up straight away. More will have to follow soon.

These "Toledo" leeks are actually quite decent specimens. The table on which they are laid here is 5 feet (1.5 metres) long.

In order to make the leeks useable in the kitchen I had to strip off several layers, but I was still left with a couple of quite decent leeks.

You can see that the one on the left had been squashed by the offending animal and severely bent, but I straightened it up!

For now, I have draped a piece of lightweight anti-butterfly netting over the remaining, rather battered, leeks. Maybe it will deter the foxes; maybe it won't...

I'm beginning to think that I am going to have to buy some more nets and poles in order to cover ALL of my raised beds. It is animals that do most damage in my garden, not diseases or weather.