Posts Tagged ‘heritage seeds’

Potato Day learning curve

Today was our first Bridport Potato Day and seed swop, organised by local guerilla gardening group Plan B, with potatoes, heritage seeds and fruit seeds from Pennard Plants (

Well, what an eye-opener today was! I had no idea there were so many varieties of potatoes in the world, let alone available to buy and plant locally, all displayed neatly in trugs, ready to load into lovely brown paper bags, like a huge, satisfying potato pick ‘n’ mix.

For the community allotment, after much agonising and much discussion of the characteristics of blight-resistance, skin and flesh colour and cooking properties, all helpfully provided by Pennard Plants, we went for a mixture of some classic, reliable varieties such as Charlotte, Ratte and Home Guard, and a few tubers of unknown (to us) varieties, to try them out for flavour and grow-ability on our plot.

Obviously, just like in the usual sort of pick ‘n’ mix, where you get to the till only to find out that your bag of carefully selected sweeties is going to set you back about £43.50, we ended up with what I suspected were sufficient tubers to cover all of our available growing area, which was a little bit worrying until, with perfect timing, Daryl – the man with his hand on the tiller of all things allotment-y in Bridport – showed up at the event and assured us that our new allotment area, just over the road from our main plot, would be ready very soon indeed, so potato armageddon thankfully averted.

The beauty of providing the lovely brown paper bags, potatoes for the loading of, is that we were able to write on the bags useful information like the name of the variety, the number of tubers (mostly for the ladies on the till, that one) and, importantly, the type of potato – whether first early, second early, or maincrop.

And at this point I’m again going to have to confess to a huge hole in my gardening knowledge. And why then do I presume to write a gardening blog, you ask? well, it’s always good to be able to say ‘I was completely baffled, now I’m not, and this is why . . ‘ so I’m happy to admit here and now that I have always been pretty well baffled by these categories of potato, and by the cultivation of potatoes generally, to the extent that my potato experience could generally be summed up as ‘buy potatoes, plant potatoes, forget to label potatoes, dig them up at some random point’ – and I know that I was not alone in this confusion.

Today, all that has changed, all thanks to the wonderful, clear instructions for Pennard Plants, which I summarise here:

1) Plant all types of potatoes (early, mid, main, whatever) AT THE SAME TIME – within a three-week period from the end of March.

2) Harvest as follows:

First earlies: start to harvest & test crop as the flowers reach full bloom.

Second earlies: do the same, but for these ones wait until the flowers start to fall off.

Maincrop: harvest after all the top growth has died down.

3) It’s as simple as that.

In essence, it’s all to do with how long they are in the ground once planted, which is done all at the same sort of time; also, what is going on above ground is a huge clue to what should be going on below. Armed with this knowledge, this year I will be labelling my potatoes by name and by type, and watching the top growth with a newly knowledgeable eye.

Hope this is a lightbulb moment for some of you too – and don’t they feel good!