Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Potato Day

Sorry. Not many photos. My car temporarily broke the phone. Read on for more details.

11th February 2017
Cambridgeshire Self-Sufficiency Group's 8th (I think) Potato Day.
This is an event where the club buys in over 50 varieties of seed potato to sell to members and the general public. Potato days are a great way to try new varieties as you can buy as few or as many as you like. Not only that, but it is the cheapest way of buying seed potatoes if you don't want to buy them in 25kg sacks!

As with last year I was there to help out with the setting up, which basically involves unloading about 100 sacks of potatoes and arranging them on tables in alphabetical order. I arrived at the hall at 8am sharp, which involved a 7 o'clock departure from the farm in driving snow, fortunately not of the settling kind.

As well as being helpful, helping out also entitles me to choose my potatoes in peace, before the general public come flooding through the doors. There were about 700 visitors this year.
I don't like that many people, so I quickly chose my potatoes and made a hasty departure.

The varieties I have chosen for this year are:

Aaron Pilot
- a good, reliable First Early. I find it to store well in the ground too.
Red Duke of York
- a floury early potato which is excellent for chips or roast too. Has a firm place on the list.
Duke of York
- I decided to try the non-red variety too this year, mainly on the recommendation of Lawrence D Hills in his pioneering book on organic growing (published over 45 years ago). He recommends these as an early which can be left in the ground to grow larger. One advantage of this which I hadn't considered is that, in an early blight year, you at least get a reasonable crop. I doubt Mr Hills would have realised just how warm and wet our summers would become and how regular blight would become.
- another early which can be left in to become a Maincrop. A disease resistant organic favourite. I have grown this once before.

- a great performer in this area. 100kg were sold out in 25 minutes at the potato day. My most reliable cropper, matures early and tubers seem resistant to blight. Extremely little slug damage too. What puzzles me is that these qualities are not pushed on websites. Maybe it's a secret not to be shared!
- different taste qualities, but otherwise rivals Charlotte for blight and slug resistance. Another Second Early so it guarantees a crop even if the tops have to come off early. Firmer flesh than Charlotte and stores even longer. Great for chips. First grown by me two years ago. Last year I grew Blue Kestrel, but they were not available this year.

- a great old-fashioned performer and one of my favourites for baking and boiling. You can't go far wrong with this one.
- a Maincrop variety popular with organic growers as it has high blight resistance. Some negative reviews about going soggy when boiled. I bought a few to try
- the only variety I've never grown before. An offspring of Cara.

Pink Fir Apple
- last year I got none. In 2015 I got sacks full. Let's hope it does well this year. I've missed the taste.

Altogether I bought just over 10kg of seed potatoes. A tenner's worth of potatoes should last the two of us comfortably for the whole year.

Four Hours and a Tow Truck later...
Two miles out of Huntingdon the car broke down. Completely kaput. Sleet outside and no heating, stuck in a muddy layby by the side of a busy road in the middle of nowhere. Thank goodness for Google Maps and phone reception.
Fortunately the breakdown service didn't take too long and I had plenty of spare coats flung in the back of the car as usual. But the car stubbornly refused to spring to life so it was another hour long wait for a tow truck.
The alternator had gone and the battery was so dead we couldn't even get the car into neutral without jump leads.

The journey to my local garage was quite enjoyable given the circumstances. The driver was a chirpy old fellow and there were great views over the dykes and Washes. And being in the passenger seat I noticed so much more than when I am driving. Not only that, but I saved a little petrol money too!

I did take photos of Potato Day and of my car being winched onto the back of a lorry, but it seems the alternator going affected more than just the car, as I had to reboot my phone to get it working and I had lost the day's photos. I think the car tried to suck power through the phone charger since its own battery offered nothing.

With the weather matching my mood, cold and grey, I spent what was left of the day setting my potatoes to chit.

12th February 2017
Squeaky Clean Polytunnel
Keen to catch up on some of yesterday's lost time, I was up early and creosoting some of the wood in the polytunnel. An extreme measure but I am determined to get rid of the red spider mite this year. I have decided that the environment inside a polytunnel is so false that there is no point trying to maintain a natural balance. Of course, I will still use organic means wherever possible and I will still encourage hoverflies, ladybirds, bees, toads.

With this job done, I planted up some of the Arran Pilot potatoes for a really early crop.

So that's where chicken comes from
Next up were the last of the meat chickens along with the young cockerel who is excess to requirements. This didn't take long but I'm sure you don't want all the details. They are readily available in other posts I have written!

Open space for the lambs
The recent wet weather has meant that the three Shetland lambs quickly turned their enclosure into a muddy quagmire, so today I moved them to the first paddock. This meant that they were within sight of the adults and much baaing ensued. Not being used to so much open space or electric fencing, it wasn't long before one of the lambs was through the fence, across the separating paddock and through the second fence to join the adults. It didn't matter too much. It always takes the sheep a few hours to learn about the fence, after which they tend not to go through it.

Later in the afternoon I caught the lamb and carried it back to join the others. There were no more problems.

With the meat chickens gone and the young cockerel dispatched, a stable had become free which gave us the opportunity to move Priscilla and her chick in with rest. They got a fair bit of hassle to start (to be expected) but we kept a close eye. Moving things around a bit in the stable gave the other chickens something else to think about and gave the new chickens somewhere to take refuge if they needed.
With darkness now upon us, I retired to the farmhouse but continued working. For the seed-sowing season is upon us. Today it was cauliflower, kohl rabi and lettuces. These are sown in trays inside but will go straight to the polytunnel once they germinate. They do not need heat, as long as temperatures do not plunge ridiculously low.

13th February 2017
At this point I didn't realise the Ixworth cockerel had taken out my glasses.
He came peacefully in the end.

Ixworth trio in a flap
Only the Ixworth trio remained down in the chicken pen, in a coop only just large enough for them to stretch their wings. Catching them was quite an effort, during which I got a few wings in the face and lost my glasses in the mud, but we managed to get them down to the now spare stable. They are inside but have space and straw aplenty.

I finally got round to planting the dozen or so small Christmas trees I purchased for £1 each. These are available every year and will add a nice bit of variety and greenery to the smallholding given patience.

Evenings are for seed sowing now. Today it was two trays of leeks which will be enough to keep us going through next winter.

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