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Gathering potatoes

Posted by Guy Barter on 10 Sep 2007 at 01:14 PM

Gathering potatoes 

Dry soil, wind and bright sun make for perfect potato lifting weather.  The spuds are eased out of the soil using a five pronged fork found in a junk shop that is ideal for the task in my light sandy soil .  Where the ridges have been covered with black plastic after foliage removal last month the soil is much looser and more friable than the ridges left uncovered where the soil has dried to a hard crust making lifting very demanding on my delicate back.  However, the dry soil means that I can dispense with the drying period usually recommended before storing tubers. 

After the wet summer I expected many rots, much slug damage and splitting and knobbly second growths.  In fact none of these are much in evidence and the yield is very good indeed.  I just hope that the tubers do not rot in store.  To keep the stored crop healthy I have discarded anything with greening and any trace of rot or slug damage.  As the crop is heavy there is no need to mess about with small tubers and these are discarded too.  No tubers are left in the ground as they can carry disease to future crops as well as become intractable weeds.  The soil is left rough, after digging the tubers, to dry out, and then I will rake it level and uncover any missed tubers. 

The new Canadian cultivar, ‘Sunrise' yielded a moderate to heavy crop of netted golden tubers free of blemish and disease. 

The French salad cultivar ‘Juliette' yielded slightly less, but very respectably.  The tubers are yellow, elongated and were largely free of blemish.  'Pink fir apple' another salad cultivar did fairly well.  It only forms tubers late in growth and is very susceptible to blight.  However it stayed in leaf quite well with the help of regular fungicide treatments and the tubers were largely free of damage.  It is difficult potato to keep from greening but there were relatively few losses. 

One of my funnies was also lifted ‘Vitelotte' a maincrop salad with purple skin, with very poor results, light yield, rots, blemishes - I won't grow this again. 

‘Ambo' however proved to be a real ‘barn-buster' with a huge crop of baking sized tubers, but there were some common scab lesions on the skin that won't impair storage or culinary qualities but do make the tubers look a bit coarse. 

The tubers are now in plastic tubs in my shed with some old sheets covering them to exclude light but allowing the tubers to breathe. 

Potato lifting is hard work but refreshing snacks of autumn raspberries and intervals of light picking, watering and weeding kept me going. 

A late sowing of peas was cleared.  After the attentions of deer and pigeons there was not much leaf and less pod.  Worse, the browsing left the crop vulnerable to weeds so it was most disappointing.  The canes and netting have been re-used to strengthen the stockades protecting later crops of peas and beans. 

I am leaving the remnants of earliest sowings of French bean and runner beans to set seed for next year.  This sunny dry weather is ideal and with luck a good crop will be gathered.  The haricot beans are ripening well.  All these beans are now infested with weeds that are sneaking up through the thinning yellowing, maturing foliage and careful hand-weeding and removal of weed flowers is needed to prevent weed seeds being shed. 

Courgettes, French beans, peppers and sweetcorn are still abundant, but tomatoes are suffering from bird damage, being pecked as soon as they approach ripeness.  I am picking before the fruits get soft enough to attract attention. Squirrels are attacking the squashes, gnawing at the skins, so any that have a hard skin and ring hollow suggesting ripeness are gathered and taken home to finish ripening in a sunny spot on the patio under the protection of the neighbourhood cats. 

Dry weather has brought an abrupt and very welcome end to foliage diseases although fungicide is still being applied to tomatoes to limit blight infections. 

Watering is now needed. Celery, celeriac, leeks and newly planted cabbages are being watered to keep them growing.  The leeks in particular are swelling very fast indeed and even the late ones will soon be usable.  Swedes don't appreciate dry spells so they have had a drink.  Newly sown beetroot is looking a bit peaky so that was watered too.  Runner beans sown in late July for a (speculative) October crop were also watered as they are now coming into flower and moist soil usually means a good set of pods. 

Dry weather is ideal for weed control and glyphosate based weedkillers are being applied to abandoned allotment plots to clear them up for the next tenants.  On my plot the paths and uncropped areas have been treated already and weeds are now largely removed.  The weedy backlog left after a summer of wet weather is mostly eliminated now.  

The plot is groaning with produce, as it should at this time of year, and my winter veg supplies look pretty secure.

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