Potatoes for Chelsea and August/September Shows
4th Jan 2001
A new year now lies ahead of us and I'm sure we shall all look forward to some better weather than we experienced during the last one, we really had some depressing months where I live with not enouigh sunshine and far too much rain. I just wonder whether the Scientists are right after all and global warming might well change the whole way we garden before long. My two lots of potatoes are all laid out in trays in my garage and just in case of some really serious frosts, I have a blanket at the ready to throw over them.
The reason I say two lots is because I have ten varieties with fairly large shoots on them that I intend to grow for Chelsea whilst the others are just starting to break dormancy and those will be the ones planted during late April to early May to be shown at the August September shows.
Potatoes for Chelsea
The varieties for Chelsea are not of necessity top show varieties as I have selected them primarily for colour and these will include Coco, a pale pink variety with a white splash to resemble the mouth of Coco the clown.
Of course Salad Blue and it's sister variety Salad Red will be planted, both of these have internal colouring to match as well and I have to admit that I rather like the waxy taste of them. I shall also be sowing Pentland Javelin which used to be a top flight exhibition variety and is still about the whitest skinned potato available. Kestrel, Lighthouse and Mona lisa will also be sown, the latter for it's beautiful clean creamy skin. Pink Fir Apple will be another planted for it's odd shape as well as it's light pink colour which should make a lovely contrasting dish.
For Chelsea I shall plant eight to ten of each variety around the 21st of January depending on how even they have chitted, they will all be started off in 5 inch square pots using Levington M2 or Levington Multi Purpose which is the same material. One potato will be planted per pot and left on the bench at my friend Jim's greenhouse. I am very fortunate to be able to use Jim's facilities as my greenhouses at home at this time of year are full to bursting, primarily with leeks and onions. I will therefore have 100 pots or so and these will fill one side of the greenhouse benching, some slight heat will be given, enough to keep the frost away.
Towards the end of February to early March the haulms will be about nine inches tall and ready to be moved to Bangor where they will be potted up into 45 gallon plastic drums sawn in half and filled up with peat based compost. Five potatoes are planted in each making sure that half of the haulms are buried to prevent any potatoes from pushing up through the compost and greening over. The greenhouse that they will be grown in has no heat whatsoever so I will have to keep a close eye on the weather. Should some hard frost be expected then the haulms will be covered over with fleece.
The greenhouse that they grow in is a large commercial type so I can usual get away with no fleece with a few degrees of frost as the the frost has dissipated by the time it drops down through the tall glass. The above is a perfect way of growing some really fantastic early potatoes for eating during the middle of May. Select some early varieties and plant them as I have done above and you will be well rewarded.
Potatoes for August Shows
The potaotes for the August shows are more or less the same varieties as previous years with the addition of Lighthouse which is available from Websters. This grew really well for me last year and I was able to show it at Chelsea. It is similar to Kestrel with more of a paler splash, the skin condion is superb as well as having very shallow eyes. The remaining ones are Kestrel, Winstone, Maxine, Nadine and Osprey.
Pesticide and Foliar Feed
Later on in the year when the weather will start to warm up it will pay you to have a look over the young shoots sprouting from the potato. Green fly can soon settle in on the young fresh shoots and as they are prone to transmit viruses a spray of a systemic pesticide such as Tumble Bug is advisable. At the same time also you can add a little Maxicrop with added iron as a foliar feed which will help to strengthen the young shoot and keep it short and sturdy.
In the greenhouses, all of which are heated with my thermostatically controlled Parwin electric Fan heaters, always to try to maintain a flow of air into the house. This has two functions, it helps to strengthen the plants foliage through regular air movement as well as drying out the inside of the glass which at this time of year, with low light levels and increased humidity, gives you the maximum amount of natural light penetration possible.
The flow air in my case is achieved through a fan that is set into the glass at the far end of the green house. This fan is operated with a reverse thermostat set at 70°F, this means that although my heaters are set at 60°F, on a nice sunny day, the temperatures inside the greenhouse can soar. With the reverse thermostat, as soon as the temperature rises above 70°F the external fan will cut in to expel the air and in so doing create good growing conditions. If you have no fan do make sure that one of your roof lights is kept slightly open.
At this time of year we can, or should, expect some hard frosts; if the are persistent I close down my outside water supply which normally supplies me with water to the greenhouses. The two 45 gallon plastic containers inside both greenhouses are full of water and kept topped up daily with a few drops of Armillatox added to keep it clean and fresh. It's important at this time of year that the young onion and leek seedlings are only watered with water that is of the same temperature as they are being grown in. Watering them directly with water straight from the mains can be far too cold and certainly will not help to get the very best performance from your plants.