Getting the Balance Right
22nd Sep 2004
Having put in a fair bit of hard work in producing beautiful compost for my show potatoes, I was quite disappointed with the end result that I had this year. Although I carried out everything more or less the same as last season when I had some really good specimens, the weather initially put paid to my plants. If you recall I have used Trevor Lasts' system of growing them in polythene pots, 12 inches in diameter, and these pots are filled with soft spongy peat that you generate by passing it through a shredder. The idea then is to place the pots on some soil and Trevor then covers them over with Fleece and clear polythene.
Polythene and Fleece
In my case I do this roughly a couple of weeks prior to Chelsea whenever I get a window free to complete the job. The polythene is then left on until I return from the show and by that time most of the potatoes are through and pushing up the fleece underneath the polythene. What went wrong this year was the really hot temperatures we experienced during the Chelsea flower show week. On my return I peered through the polythene and was disappointed not see a lovely even bed of green shoots pushing through. Instead I had scattered uneven growth of shoots all over the area with some pots showing no shoots at all.
I immediately removed the polythene and the fleece and was amazed at the temperatures on the outside of the bags. When I pushed my hands inside the bags and into the compost I had to quickly withdraw them as I could barely put up with the searing temperature. I knew then in reality that I had pretty near cooked my chances, the high temperatures had burnt out the young tips on many of the plants and I had to wait for some re growth to appear. They did appear to grow on later and actually looked as if I had some tremendous potatoes, but in fact half of them were the worse that I have grown for many years.
Amour, Kestrel, Malin and Winston
Amour was certainly hopeless with about ten usable potatoes from twenty bags, Kestrel were also no good producing more round specimens than the normal oval that it should be. The best by far, and the one that has produced some decent sets for me was Malin and Winston. This makes me think that Malin will therefore grow well at higher temperatures where as Amour needs a cooler steady growing regime. For the second time have failed to get any size on the red self coloured Maxine, they were actually nice shaped potatoes but undersized, this is one variety that I shall not be growing next season.
The fact is that on a cold spring, Trevor"s method really works well offering protection to the potatoes should the temperatures drop radically at night. The other thing that I should have realised was that I always plant my potatoes during the first or second week in May, purely because it suits me to do it at that time. Obviously temperatures by then have improved no end and they don't require any polythene at all around them. My intention next year is to carry on in the same vain but covering the pots over with just fleece alone. This will offer a few degrees of protection should the night temperatures drop lower than normal.
It"s time now to be considering saving some of your own plants for seed production or bulbils production as the case may be with leeks. It really isn't difficult to do this provided you bear in mind a few rules. Select only the best blanch leeks that you bring home from the shows and by best I don't mean the biggest or the heaviest. Select for quality and follow closely the meritorious attributes as stated in both the Royal horticultural Society Show handbook and the National Vegetable Society Judges guide.
A good specimen blanch leek should have lovely shiny and smooth skin finish similar to a marble column. The barrel should be as parallel as possible all the way down it's blanched length and showing no sign of bulbing out at the base. It should also be free from pest and disease, in particular rust which can devastate your leeks, Make sure also that the existing roots are perfectly white and not showing any sign of pinkiness. The disease fusarium or 'pink root' as it's often called can be devastating causing your leek to twist and bend during growth and eventually the whole root plate rots away.
When you have selected your best leek, or leeks, if you want to have a good selection of pips or bulbils, cut right through the barrel approximately six inches from the root plate. You can reduce the diameter of the remaining stump down to about the diameter of the root plate. This takes away a great deal of unnecessary flags that will simply rot away in time causing more problems than any advantages. Plant the leek in a 4 litre deep type pot with some fresh Levington M3 and top soil, a ratio of two parts M3 and one part soil will give the compost some sustainability over the coming few months. Water well and keep out of doors until absolutely necessary to bring it indoors because of impending sharp frost. If you have somewhere outside that has a roof over to prevent the pot being saturated with the winter rains, even better.