Growing Potatoes for the Show Bench
2nd Feb 2005
Last year was a real disappointment as far as my show potatoes performed, the reason being that the majority of the young shoots on each potato were totally burnt out with the heat underneath the polythene cover. If you have been following my articles on growing potatoes for the show bench, you will recall that I have used the same system exactly as Trevor Last uses which entails covering up the growing pots with fleece and then polythene. This system really worked well for me in 2003 producing potatoes that won the coloured class at the Welsh Championships.
The problem for me was that I had to time my potato planting to coin code with my Chelsea diary, so they inevitably get sown around the first week in May and arte then left under the covers until I return from the show. Last May however proved to be extremely hot with the resulting damage from which the potatoes never really recovered. The logic behind Trevor's thinking is that the covers are in position to give a stable and relatively uniform growing environment, particularly as regards even temperatures both night and day. Trevor sows his seed in April so he would at that time have lower night temperatures and covering them with polythene would certainly help towards a more even start. I have to say that I would still cover the pots if I was home as I would then be in a position to remove the polythene if the weather was to get really hot. The other part of the equation is that the polythene prevent the potato bags fro getting over saturated with water while they are starting to develop a root system. This though has to be minimal as the ground on which the bags are sitting is my old short carrot beds and this full of free draining sand so the risk of too much water within the bags would be minimal.
If you haven"t got you seed potatoes ordered just yet, then you must get a move on as you have to get them really chitted in order to get the best possible start. Chitting is a term used for forcing the potatoes to producing their shoots from their eyes early so that the potato romps away when planted. Check all the varieties when you receive them just in case there is a touch of blight or any other damage on them. If you really do want to be keen then you can wash them all in a weak solution of Armillatox which help to clean away any nasties that may well be hidden amongst the eyes.
We all know of course what an excellent runner bean grower the late Brython Stenner was, you may not have known though that he was also, undoubtedly, a master at growing and staging exhibition potatoes. Brython once told me that he would always wash and clean up any potatoes that he brought in to his own garden. He would do this habitually to safeguard against any pests or viruses that could be lurking within the eyes and thereby spreading right through his garden. He was quite meticulous about this, each potato would be thoroughly washed in the kitchen sink using some washing up liquid. He would also sharpen up the end of a matchstick and use this to tease out any small hard lumps of soil that may he lodged inside the eyes.
The varieties to select today are important if you are to stand a chance of winning at any of the shows. Naturally there are other excellent varieties around that may well beat some of the show varieties for flavour, but they certainly won't beat them on the show bench. The criteria for judging, first established by the RHS many years ago and slightly different by the NVS in their current Judges handbook, extols the merits of a good show variety. Each potato should be medium sized, shapely, clean clear skinned with shallow eyes, fresh condition and when staging a dish the potatoes on that dish should be uniform in all respects.
The varieties that are currently satisfying such a criteria consistently and regularly winning at the highest level are the following, Kestrel, Nadine, Sherine, Harmony, Winston, Malin, Maxine and Amour. These are not in any particular order or preference but I can tell you that the ones that I shall be growing are - Kestrel, Mona Lisa, Nadine, Winston, Harmony and Amour. I am growing the latter in preference to Malin because it performed so very well for me in 2003. What I particularly liked about it was the amount of quality, usable potatoes that I had from each bag. They also cleaned up really well with the minimum of rubbing with a soft sponge bringing up a bright smooth sparkling skin. I will therefore plant two part coloureds and three banker whites, Mona Lisa will, I am certain, give me a good uniform batch of tubers with my only concern being the ultimate skin finish and the absence of any black lenticel marks, I will therefore grow fewer of this variety than the others. I will over the next few weeks explain how I intend to go about growing them together with the potato mixture.
You can buy all of the above varieties from either of the three following specialist potato companies -
Castlemill Seed Potatoes,
Tel: 01764 662 930
Exhibition Seed Potatoes,
26 Bakehouse Lane,
Tel: 01651 862 333