Potatoes and Stump Carrots
20th Jun 2002
Potatoes haven't been my strong point for a few years now as the sowing or planting time is always falling during the first few weeks of May, just before the Chelsea Flower Show. This year I changed from my usual routine of planting them in polybags at my friend Jim's garden to planting them at Bangor University where I grow all my Vegetables for Chelsea. Instead of Potatoes at Jim's, the ground will be taken up with cauliflowers and the potatoes will be grown in barrels on the benches at Bangor.
The barrels were 45 gallon plastic drums which have been sawn in half and over the past few years I have really grown some wonderful potatoes in them. Four varieties were planted in each drum which had one complete Gro bag emptied into it which was sufficient to give me an initial planting depth of approximately 12 inches. This was carried out on my return from Chelsea and whilst this sort of sowing date might be slightly late for anyone contemplating growing them outside, it should be ideal under glass. Of course the care of the plants will be paramount as the temperatures can get quite hot in there but as there is a very large automatic roof ventilation system, I don't envisage too many problems. My main concern will be the watering, particularly as the potatoes are developing, to make sure that they will be harvested with skins as smooth as a baby"s bottom!
These greenhouses have artificial lights set for 16 hour days and though not on during bright sunny days they can be very useful if we have some dull wet periods and therefore the growth rate on the potatoes should be very consistent throughout. I planted three varieties- Kestrel, Winston and Maxine as these have proved to be winning consistently on the show benches. As the potatoes grow on I shall add more Gro bag material around them to a further depth of 12 inches which should be enough to produce some good specimens. My requirements are primarily to get a good dish for the collection of six kinds of vegetables at the NVS Welsh and National Championships.
Anyone growing a large amount of different cultivars of potatoes may well have a very different schedule to mine where quality may have to go hand in hand with the quantity on display. I have to say that the work that is put in by the three Countries Potato team is exemplary under the guidance of Major Andy McQueen where they show literally hundreds of different varieties of potatoes at various shows all over the country. One of the team members, Norman Hoskins has been a keen potato exhibitor for many years and the quality of his potatoes when exhibited are always of the highest order. I was at the Shrewsbury show last year when I came across Norman with, what was to him, a small display of potatoes. To anyone else it would have been a mammoth task growing and showing thirty dishes of different kinds of potatoes.
When you are growing for a display, on a large scale like Norman, you can very often lose a little bit here and there of the strict criteria that all of us competitive exhibitors follow. In the main I refer to Size and Uniformity, however, what struck me with Norman's Shrewsbury display was the sheer quality, freshness and consistency of each dish, it really was a tremendous effort and well worthy of the red card that he won and certainly a benchmark for any budding potato grower to follow.
I have never sown so many stump carrots as I have this year, I have really gone to town with just over 400 stations sown. The main variety is Gringo, a very consistent type that has been winning consistently at the highest level since it's introduction a few years ago. I also have a bed of Canada and over 70 of my own stump as well as three new trial varieties that are supposed to take over eventually from Gringo, time will tell.
The remaining two short carrot beds have now been covered over with Enviromesh fixed on a wooden framework made from roofing battens; this means that the four beds are now completed. I can now reduce drastically my spraying programme for pest control as they will not be able to fly through the mesh to lay their eggs. A big problem at this time can be the dreaded willow Aphid which can cause devastation. Three years ago it was a major problem with nearly all exhibitors being caught out with it. If you have not covered over your carrots then you must revert to a precautionary spray of a suitable insecticide to try and keep it at bay.
Welsh Branch Championships and the Nationals
There's no doubt that the Pembroke Town Council have been extremely generous to the National Vegetable Society over the years by hosting on a regular basis the Welsh Branch Championships as well as the National itself. For the next three years however the Welsh championships are being hosted by Margam town Council as part of their Margam Show which held on the August Bank Holiday weekend. This year Pembroke are still going ahead with their own Golden Jubilee Show which has a really impressive schedule of classes and prize money.
An example is £30.00 First prize for 3 blanch leeks as well as for 4 onions over 250gms each. It also hosts the Welsh Gladioli Championships as well as a Dahlia, Rose, General Flower and Pot Plant Section. The show is held on Saturday and Sunday, August 3rd and 4th with further details and show schedules available from Mr Ron Macfarlane, 1 Whitehall Avenue, Pembroke SA71 4QR or telephone him on 01646 685 284. I shall look forward to meeting you there as I happen to be judging the vegetable section!