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Spuds in

Posted by Guy Barter on 28 Apr 2008 at 08:17 AM

All the spuds are now in the ground.  A deep groove or drill was pulled in the finely cultivated soil with a mattock, a light dressing of sulphate of potash (20g per square metre equivalent) and chicken manure pellets (100g per square metre equivalent) was dusted along the bottom of the drill and covered with a sweep of a three prong cultivator.  Tubers were placed over this fertile strip every 35-45cm depending on the size of tuber and number of sprouted eyes and covered with 8cm of soil.  Placing the fertiliser in the drill saves fertiliser and money and helps reduce weed problems.

Many allotment growers have taken to making huge ridges at planting time, but I prefer to leave the soil more or less flat and draw up the ridge over several weeks as the spuds grow killing weeds as I go and at some stage sprinkling general fertiliser over the entire plot so that this too is mixed into the ridge making a fertile finely divided environment for roots and tubers to form.  I don’t suppose it matters much which method is used as long as the tubers are not set too deep (>15cm).

Potatoes respond to heavy feeding and as a high proportion of bakers is my aim plenty of nitrogen is used.  This year much of that will come from the very heavy manuring given to the potato patch over the winter, and therefore fertiliser rates will be halved.  The residues of the manuring will go on feeding crops for at least three years so although the manure was expensive (we are talking about Surrey here) it is not as expensive as it seems especially when you consider the improved water holding capacity of the soil brought about by manuring.

Plenty of first-earlies were planted – ‘Premier’ for the earliest crop, ‘Vanessa’, because I prefer red potatoes best of all and ‘Accent’ that is very slightly later, but tasty and heavy cropping to be followed by second-earlies especially the very rewarding ‘Charlotte’ and a few each of other ones I have never tried before – ‘Claret’, ‘Mozart’ and ‘Vivaldi’ for example.  Surplus seed tubers were given to the scavengers in the Wisley staff room who will apparently grow anything as long as it is free. 

Maincrops include big baking tuber cultivars such as ‘Ambo’ (red and white) and ‘Cosmos’(white), and I am having another go with ‘Cara’, since ‘Ambo’, derived from ‘Cara’(red and white), does so well for me. For those important reds, ‘Robinta’ is the best of a rather unsatisfactory choice for my dry soil. Only small amounts of  ‘funnies’ including salad potatoes such as ‘Juliette’ and ‘Pink Fir Apple’ have been planted – I find a little goes a long way with these. Again surplus seed was distributed.

The seed trays used to chit the potatoes were then used to hold pots of cabbage family transplants.  Cabbages, cauliflowers and Brussels sprouts were set out in individual pots and stood down on concrete in a sunny part of the back garden.  Because the cabbage root fly is about to start egg-laying these are very carefully covered with fleece to exclude this pest.  Potted transplants are used because a potted plant has a head-start against club root disease and in any case I have no reliably clubroot free soil in which to raise bareroot transplants.  Celeriac has also been potted up. Other plants sown direct in modules, calabrese, kohl rabi and lettuces, are growing well and have been removed from under glass and are also ‘hardening off’ beneath fleece after a generous feed with balanced liquid fertiliser.  Last year plagues of greenfly, or more precisely mealy cabbage aphid struck, but this year the cold weather has kept them at bay so far, but with warming air they will soon be on the wing.

Warming weather has brought soil conditions to perfection for sowing.  All the early sowings of beetroot, early peas, broad beans, lettuce, radish, parsnips, spinach, spring onions and turnips are emerging with great vigour.  Despite wet weather slugs have kept away from all but some wet spots where I have had to be pitiless.  Timely cultivation to expose, bury and destroy cover for slugs has probably brought about this happy state of affairs.

The sowing schedule is no longer dictated by rain and soil temperature but by when I want crops to mature.  Looking ahead I am making guesses when what are seedlings now will be ready for harvest and planning the next round of sowings for follow on crops trying to avoid under or over production.  The freezer crops of broad beans are already growing, so only follow-on sowings are needed.  Three large sowings of quick maturing (‘Ambassador’), slower-maturing (‘Balmorel’) and snap peas (‘Cascadia’) have been made for the freezer with this spread of maturity times there should be no glut or rush to pick.  Lettuces and other salads are now sown little and often using lettuces with different periods to hearting – ‘Tom Thumb’(miniature butterhead); very quick, ‘Little Gem’(small cos); nearly as quick, ‘Cobham Green’(butterhead); quite quick and ‘Pinares’(large cos); rather slow.  I cannot work up any enthusiasm for the rather tasteless coloured lettuces, but rocket is not neglected.





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