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Spud Grubbing

Posted by Guy Barter on 24 Sep 2007 at 04:46 PM

The last of the potatoes are gathered in.  ‘Fleur Pecher', a French maincrop with pink-red skin gave a fair yield of blemish free tubers.  Slugs seem to have left it alone and there were no rots. 

‘Bleu D'Auvergne', another French maincrop with pale purple skin came in well too.  Not a heavy yield, but you don't expect heavy crops of these unusual cultivars. 

Some more ‘Vitelotte' were lifted - I would have done nearly as well to eat the seed of this purple salad cultivar.  Although, when I did try an earlier 'lift' they were unrewarding to eat to say the least. 

Finally, ‘Robinta', of which several rows are grown and is relied on the fill the potato store for the winter.  These succumbed to blight very early and had their foliage removed in July.  Robinta was harvested last after all the less blighted potatoes so that if blight had infected the tubers they would start to rot by now and could be discarded before going into store.  A few rotting tubers were found, some slug damaged tubers were also discarded, but the crop was remarkably free of troubles under the circumstances. 

My potato culture is to buy seed tubers as early as I can and chit them very well.  This ‘ages' the seed so that the subsequent plants mature in late summer rather than autumn.  Farmers like their spuds to mature in autumn - there is a significant yield gain from allowing potatoes to grow deep into September or even October.  But without powerful commercial fungicides we gardeners would find it difficult to keep the potatoes blight free, so it is better to get them out of the ground early, forgo the extra yield and be content with gathering disease and slug free tubers with good storage potential from dry, easy-to-dig soil. Therefore I hoped that the ‘Robinta' would be on the cusp of maturing naturally when it fell victim to blight.  This seems to be partially the case.  There was a good yield of ‘ware' size tubers such as you might see in a supermarket prepack, a few bakers and many rather small tubers.  On roasting some little ones for the Sunday roast dinner the small tubers seem a lacking in dry matter.  

On balance the yield of ‘Robinta' was good but I have doubts about its storage potential. 

The blight resistant potatoes on the other hand have continued growing right up to this weekend and ‘Sarpo Axona' in particular cropped very heavily, although ‘Sarpo Mira' did well enough.  The future of allotment maincrop potato growing seems to belong to these cultivars - high yields; fair quality that seems to suit many tastes and no need for any fungicides. 

The potato store was then given attention.  Lifted potatoes were transferred from the lifting containers into their long-term storage bins and sacks.  No rots were detected and the crop is now safely stored away in dark, frost-proof rat and mouse resistant containers. 

The potato ground was raked level twice to firm and smooth the surface ready for sowing and planting over-wintered crops.  Compacted areas were loosened with a fork to try and ensure perfect rooting conditions. The soil was so dry that clouds of dust rose from the rake.  Despite this ground raked last week already had a thin film of green from germinating weed seeds.  This is not a serious matter. 

Onion sets, ‘Electric' (red), ‘Radar', ‘Shakespeare' and ‘Senshyu Yellow' were then planted into the levelled and firmed, very dusty soil.  Groundcover fabric was spread over the soil and sets inserted through holes in the plastic.  The fabric used for broad beans last winter was reused for onions.  Last winter's onion sheet being potentially contaminated with downy mildew spores will be used for garlic in November. 

As the potatoes were very heavily fed with fertiliser and because generous amounts of compost were rotovated into the plot in March there is no need to feed the onions.  In fact the soil may well be a tad too rich, and by holding off planting until late September I hope to avoid them growing too lush as they did last winter.  As high winds are expected the sheets were weighted by pebbles raked from my very stony soil strewn over the fabric and also fence posts laid on the fabric as well.  Unfortunately the deer love to lie on black plastic.  It is dry and warm and is probably very comfy. Although they leave quite a lot of droppings as ‘payment' it would be better if they lay elsewhere.  So brushwood was laid on the onion planting as a temporary deterrent to the cloven hoofed ones.  There is plenty of unobstructed black plastic elsewhere to lie on so I hope they choose that. 

Then on to the tomatoes:  After ‘earthing' them up a few weeks ago a flush of weeds had sprung up in the disturbed soil and these had to be pulled out.  The tomatoes are now cropping reasonably and are in fact some of the only tomatoes left on the allotment site.  A combination of repeated fungicide treatment and the use of the partially tolerant ‘Ferline' seems to have done the trick.  With rain expected another good coating of fungicide was applied.  This seems to make them less palatable to birds as well. 

Harvesting is still a major activity.  More squashes were taken home. The spent French beans ‘Classic' were pulled up for seed to sow in 2008 and are now hanging in a bundle from a tree in my back garden.  Courgettes continue to pour in and I am finding it hard to keep up with the French beans.  Black bean aphid has broken out in the crop but with cooler wetter weather on the way and with more beans than I can handle it is not worth attempting to treat them.  The aphids will soon disperse naturally to lay eggs on their winter hosts; shrubs such as mock orange.  

Runner beans sown in July are now coming into full crop and were watered well to keep them setting pods. 

With rain expected light watering was applied to beetroot, cabbage, celery, celeriac, leeks, swedes and turnips ready for the rain to ‘wash it in' and relieve dry conditions.  This might well be the last watering of the year as the allotment water is turned off this week until April.

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