Thursday, 7 November 2013

Pink Fir Apples. Not Apples, Potatoes!

I grow eight different varieties of potato and with good reason.
Different colours, different shapes, different textures and different tastes. Earlies, second earlies, maincrop and lates. Some more blight resistant than others. Some more slug resistant. Some perform better in cold, wet summers, some do better with a bit of heat.
In fact, it's quite a struggle to keep it down to eight varieties and over the last few years I've experimented quite a lot to try to arrive at the best selection.

Pink Fir Apples, freshly dug.
Today's post is all about Pink Fir Apples, a rather strangely named old-fashioned potato variety. They produce knobbly, fingerlike tubers with a waxy, yellow flesh and a wonderfully nutty, earthy taste.
Their shape makes them difficult to peel, but they scrub easily and the skin is good for you.

Fortunately this was about the only plant hit by blight.

The bigger problem with this variety is that it is a very late potato and so the whole crop can be lost in a poor blight year, as happened last year.
But this year only a few plants were affected by blight so I had high hopes. Only worry was that I've left it late to dig them up and I was worried about slug damage. When I harvested my Desirees a few weeks back, I was very disappointed that over half of them had suffered slug damage. In the previous three years this had been my most reliable cropper, producing wonderfully large red tubers. But not this year. And therein lies the reason for growing a few varieties. Eggs in one basket and all that.

On the other hand my Charlottes, a second early salad potato, only came out last week and virtually none had been attacked by slugs. I got so many that I needed two sacks.

So it was that I approached the Pink Fir Apple bed. The potato tops had long since been chopped off and the stubby stems were now hidden by marigolds and a few weeds. As the fork went in and I pulled out the marigolds, already fingers were poking above the ground and emerging from the crumbly soil. A bit grizzly really.

The crop wasn't amazing - it's been a dry year - but the first few plants delivered well. But then I began to find more and more damaged tubers, some plants yielding only a handful of edible tubers.

I lost over half the crop like this.
Not a total disaster, as I still have enough,
but a bit disappointing.
Something had clearly been busy enjoying the pink firs. The tubers had peculiar patterns on them, rasped or gnawed away. I couldn't quite decide whether this was the work of rodents - but could they really live underground and eat the tubers from the bottom? Or could this be the work of slugs. If so, they were large ones, not the sort that leave little holes and tunnel through the potato, no, giant ones which rasp away at the tuber, eating the fingers down to stumps.

While I was digging I was distracted
by the calls of this greenfinch,
 attracted to the sunflowers
which I grew especially for this purpose.
I've not seen them on the farm for quite a few months now.
The chickens were keen to help me with my digging today. It's the first time since early spring that they've been allowed into the veg plot. They have an important job to do over the winter, winkling out the grubs and nourishing the soil.

Back to those damaged tubers.
As I dug I found virtually no slugs and it does seem to be a good year for rodents (a post about this to follow). It was then that I noticed the soil where I had just dug moving. Something was in there, tunnelling away, and it was getting near the surface.
I got all excited, expecting to get a rare glimpse of a mole. Then out popped a vole before scurrying off.

That neat bundle of dried grass
is actually a vole's nest that
I disturbed while digging the potatoes.
It seems it made its home
next to its lunch!!
Not long later I came across this...

an underground nest of dry grass, and from it emerged a brown, furry body. Again it scuttled away, but the mystery of who's been eating my Pink Fir Apples has, I think, been solved. Next year I must get them dug before the harvest, which is when most of the rodents seem to come into the garden (and the house, the sheds and the stables).

Can you see it yet?
Still can't see it?

Surely you can see it now!

There! Hiding under that leaf.

Aaaawww. How cute is that!

The little blighter that's been nibbling my fingers.



At least we still got a half decent harvest.


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