Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Get Chitting

Let the chitting begin.

Full Circle
This blog has now been going for over a year.
As the seasons turn full circle and another growing year is upon us, for the first time I find myself revisiting a subject I covered last year.

I seem to remember heartily recommending JBA seed potatoes for their excellent, informative website and their wide choice of potato varieties. Also coming into the equation were their very reasonable prices and sensible delivery costs. (And no, unlike some other blogs, I'm not sponsored by anyone)

While all of this is still true, I sort of decided that this year I would try to support my local traders and attempt to source my seed potatoes more locally.

A few Edgecote Purples left,
the last of 2012's crop.
Rotting In The Ground
Last year was a total disaster for potato growers.
I have already almost run out of stored potatoes and unfortunately had to actually buy some from a shop the other day.
Many potatoes across the land still sit under the sodden ground, if they did not rot when blight hit so badly last year.
In fact, I received a very helpful e-mail from JBA at the back end of last year advising to order this year's seed potatoes early due to severely limited stocks. Many of the heritage varieties are not available at all this year.
I intend to put my pigs on last year's patch as soon as it is practicable to do so. The geese have already excavated some of them.
The last thing I want is last year's tubers regrowing, with the possibility of carrying over the scourge of the blight into this year.

My favourites
After two years of potato growing, experimenting with many different varieties, I am getting an idea of which varieties work well, both in terms of taste and productivity. Of course, no year is the same as any other and no soil the same either.

So here's my list.
Top place has to go to Bonnie, a second early producing large cylindrical tubers with a rosy blush to their cheeks. Next up is Desiree - a more traditional variety which has proved very productive for me. I like the taste too. In joint third place, Charlotte and Pink Fir Apple. Both of these are very distinctive potatoes. Charlotte is an excellent salad potato which again has always cropped well for me and which seems to last quite well in the ground. Pink Fir is a bigger risk, being susceptible to blight as it is a very late one, but in a good year it more than repays the risk.
An early potato which is firmly on my list is Red duke of York. Unusually for an early, it makes excellent chips and roast. More traditional earlies, with their subtle and fresh taste, I find it harder to differentiate between. I have grown Arran Pilot and Dunluce very successfully, but always end up still eating them when all the other varieties are ready. So this year I am plumping for just Arran Pilot.

Consigned to the bin
I tried Swift last year, reputed to crop well and be one of the earliest, but it was a total disaster, so much so that I won't be giving it another chance. A couple of the new blight-resistant varieties lived up to their claims last year, but failed to deliver on taste. I won't be growing Shetland Blacks this year either. I love these potatoes, but they have not fared so well on my Lincolnshire soil as they did in London. And Salad Blues, so nice to look at, too often end up watery when cooked.

Spud Shopping
So it was that I started scouting around the local shops this year.  Back at the start of January I found almost all the varieties I was after in two shops. But it was a little too early to buy them - they would start shooting too soon indoors and I could not keep them outside, even in the garage, as I would not be able to keep them frost-free. So I resolved to return in February. And this I duly did this weekend.

But the news was not good. One of the shops, a little local trader, came good. But they tend to only stock the more obvious, commonly grown varieties. I did at least manage to get my Desirees, Charlottes and Arran Pilots. But the other shop, a larger chain, had run out of many varieties and the ones they had left were clearly the ones they'd got in back in January, already sprouting shoots a couple of inches long.

So last night it was back to the JBA website. And a bit of a shock to discover that I had left it too late! None of my favourites were in stock.

I began a sweep of the internet, searching for Bonnie a I was pretty keen to grow these again this year. A couple of the larger seed merchants had them, if I wanted to pay an arm and several legs!
I was beginning to resign myself to just growing the more mundane (but successful for many) varieties when I remembered another source of seed potatoes, J Parkers. They are a bit cheap and cheerful and attract their fair share of negative reviews, but I have had god success with their spuds in the past. Again they were only charging £3.99 for 30 and just £3.99 delivery.

A Cheap Trick
Not only that, but I searched Mr Interweb for a discount code. I failed, but did find one which expired in 2012. I decided to give it a try but to add 13 on the end and, hey presto, 10% off!

So now it's off to find the egg cartons I used last year and fingers crossed for a much better harvest.

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