Sunday, 21 May 2017

A Hutton Alert!

Wednesday's forecast - cats and dogs
Last week we finally got some rain. Well, not just some rain but a WHOLE BUCKETLOAD. Quite possibly more in one day than we'd had in the previous two or three months.

As a result, the grass has started growing like mad (good for sheep, bad for maintenance - especially with the ride-on needing to go in for service but not likely to be even looked at for a few weeks), the weeds have gone berserk and there are slugs everywhere.
But I'm not moaning. The soil is beautiful to work, weeds practically jump out at the slightest tug and all the vegetables and flower beds are making rapid progress.

Add to that being past the last frost date (just watch what happens now!) and we really have entered a new season.

And with this came my first ever Hutton Alert on my phone. I didn't even know what a Hutton Alert was, but it came from the Potato Council so I guessed it was something like a Smith Alert, though these never come before mid-June.
There has been a problem with Smith alerts for the past two years. A Smith Period is supposed to be a period when conditions are ideal for blight to strike potatoes and tomatoes. It is, in theory, possible to take precautionary action by spraying. However, for the past two years blight has struck my potatoes way in advance of any Smith Period being notified.

So it was no surprise to learn that the rules have changed. A Smith Period is two days where the temperature stays above 10C and humidity is at least 90% for 11 hours or more on each day. The Hutton Criteria radically reduce the humidity element to 90% for 6 hours each day.
The problem is that my Maincrop potatoes have only just poked their heads through the ridges I carefully mounded up for them and already they are facing the risk of blight. I think that maybe I'd just rather not know. I don't spray anyway, as drenching the upper and underside of every leaf is totally impossible. Instead, when the weather is warm and muggy (in effect a Smith Period) I watch my potato leaves very carefully and take the tops off if blight strikes.
I guess this year I will keep an eye out when the weather is warm and slightly muggy (A Hutton Period).
Never good - the first signs of blight on potato leaves
I grow enough potatoes that even if blight strikes early, as it did last year, I still get enough spuds to last us through the year. Key to this are Second Earlies (Charlottes, Kestrels) which should still produce a decent crop before blight strikes and which store well enough through the winter.
If we get a good year then the geese and sheep do very well for potatoes too.

In addition, I grow a few First Earlies in the polytunnel, direct in the soil. In fact, just last week I harvested the first of these. I could have harvested a little earlier but I wanted a good crop so they go through till the first of the outdoor grown spuds are ready.

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