Saturday, 28 March 2015

Early Spuds, Broad Beans and Companions



Strong chits on my Red Duke of Yorks
The potatoes have been sitting in egg boxes to chit since early February. The cool entrance porchway seems to have been a good place to do this, as the earlies have developed good, strong chits.
But the big question is, when to plant them out? Some say Easter Friday, but this is clearly ridiculous as that's not even a fixed date. When potatoes first came over to Britain they were, apparently, not well thought of. Devil's food, in fact. Hence the belief that they should be planted on Good Friday. Needless to say, I don't believe in that.
Others say to plant out on St Patrick's Day. For me that's a tad early. I don't want to be spending cold evenings earthing up potatoes to try to stop the frost nipping their leaves, nor do I want to be running in and out with fleece, trying to keep it weighed down and avoid churning it up in the mower.

Almond blossom signals time to plant the Early spuds

For this reason, I go early on the Earlies, but the Mains can wait till Good Friday! (Well, actually about the second week of April.) March 17th is still a bit too early, even for the Earlies. I tend to wait a week or so. To compensate, I have six plants already poking their leaves above the soil in the polytunnel. I've grown these in the soil this year, as previous attempts to grow them in the polytunnel in bags have not gone well, mainly due to difficulties in regulating their water.

Maybe a better sign for me to start preparing the way for the Earlies to go outside might be the blossoming of the almond tree. That's more likely to take into account the vagaries of the weather in any particular year.

It has to be said, another factor in my decision has to be when the school holidays fall. For two weeks holiday gives me a great chance to catch up if I've already started falling behind.
And it doesn't take much for that to happen. My long weekend in Latvia, for example, coincided with a weekend of perfect weather and perfect soil conditions. By the time I'd returned and made up all the work days I needed to, the soil was too dry to rotavate.
But heavy overnight rain was forecast for late last week. This is the very best type of rain for a couple of days later and the soil was just begging to be worked one final time before being planted up.

Now, I had intended just to rotavate a few of the bean beds and a couple of the potato beds. The broad beans were a little overdue to be sown. Having said that, we've still got some in the freezer from last year so there's no rush to produce the first beans.
As it was, I ended up rotavating for nearly 8 hours yesterday. I can't tell you how much my body knew about it last night! The soil was in such good condition that I just kept doing one more bed. I decided to stop when the tank of petrol ran out. An incredible 18 beds later and that finally happened, just as I was finishing anyway.
Mr Rotavator the Motivator had done me proud. As a reward, I have booked him in for a service.

The leeks had to make way for the rotavator,
so I've healed them in until I need them.

I'd worked so hard on this, though, that I never did get the broad beans sown or the Early spuds planted. With rain forecast for midday today, I was up nice and early. My muscles had had a chance to recuperate and I was out into the garden. The broad beans took no time to sow. I used seed saved from last year, Broad Bean Bunyard's Exhibition. Having tried Sutton and Aquadulce, this is the variety that seems to serve me best.

The potatoes didn't take too long either. I don't bother digging almighty trenches. As long as the soil is well worked, I just place my seed potatoes and sink each one as deep as I can get it with a trowel before all the soil falls back into the hole. I then simply go along each row drawing up the earth. I mark everything with a string. It's surprising how, once you've buried the spuds, how quickly you begin to forget exactly along what line they were planted.

The Earlies ready to go in.
I leave as much space as I can between rows and run the rows
so that the prevailing wind can blow down them.
Hopefully blight won't be a problem with the earlies,
but last year it struck as early as June.
As a new precaution this year, I hauled some old chicken wire over the bed until the soil settles down. Otherwise the few chickens who can scale the fence into the veg garden plus the resident trio of ducks and the guinea fowl all do their best to make the earth flat again!

Oh, I should have said. I have settled on Red Duke of York and Arran Pilot for my earlies. The Red Duke of York are my favourite, for they are floury and make excellent chips - there's not many early spuds you can say that about. Arran Pilot are a good, solid early variety and they seem to keep pretty well in the ground in case you've not eaten them all come the summer.

One last word. I used to grow pot marigolds in the trenches between my rows of potatoes. They are a good companion plant. However, I have decided that I'd rather leave nice airy corridors instead. Also, growing the marigolds made it virtually impossible to weed between the potatoes. I know they crowd out most weeds, but our fertile fenland soil ensures that the occasional stinging nettle, and boy ours certainly do sting, can give you a nasty surprise and really spoil your day when you're harvesting.
The marigolds will still find a place in the garden. I'm growing them between the asparagus plants this year in an effort to control the asparagus beetles. I grew tomatoes there last year (another good companion for asparagus) but don't want to keep growing toms in the same spot.

I have also tried planting a horse radish plant in each potato bed in the past, but I find that they do not really get established before the potatoes get dug up. Maybe I should be more organised and plant them two years ahead! I don't think that's likely to happen. Besides, they'd probably get mangled by the rotavator as they disappear below ground for the winter and are only now just starting to poke their crinkled leaves above the surface.

Well, that rain has come and the wind's picked up, which is why I've retreated indoors for a while. But I'm back out in a moment. The poached egg plants have self-seeded from last year and I want to move them, for they are there as companions to the broad beans. It may just be luck, or the exposed site, but I've never had blackfly on my broad beans (you know what will happen now!) as long as I've grown them with poached egg plants underneath. Besides, they look pretty and the bees like them too.
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