Potatoes for Chelsea
11th May 2005
I dare say that many of you will have already planted your show potatoes but I have found that if I plant them this week, they grow away unchecked and I am still able to harvest top quality potatoes from mid August onwards. I have to admit that this date is also suitable for me as it fits into a relatively quite period just before the mad rush for The Chelsea Flower Show. Incidentally this will be my tenth and last Chelsea Show and I just hope that the raw material is there so that I a can create a display worthy of another RHS Gold medal which will be my tenth consecutively.
The potatoes for Chelsea are looking extremely good at the moment, the haulms have been tied three times to prevent them from falling over on to the concrete floor. There are a few new ones among them and one in particular I am looking forward to harvesting is the new variety from Marshalls called Pixie. This year it was given as a free sample if you ordered another quantity of potatoes. It appeared to me that it had a particularly good shape with some pink around the eyes that were very shallow and having a lovely long to oval shape. When they have been harvested I will let you know how they performed.
I have also kept back some of these to plant now together with my bankers for this year which are going to be as follows: Nadine, Kestrel, Mona Lisa, Harmony, Amour (I have dropped Malin in favour of Amour as it did particularly well for me at The Welsh Championships two years ago) and Winston. There are four whites and three coloureds including the Pixie. I do also have some new types to try out, I have six tubers of a variety called Cabaret, 2 of Pink lady and three of Evelyn to have ago at, who knows I might well, come up with a new top flight variety. The seed have all been chitting in trays in my greenhouses and there are some nice strong shoots developing on them now, particularly on Winston which is a relatively quick developer.
There is no doubt that Winston has one of the best skins of all the potatoes if you catch it in the right condition and particularly before it gets too big. It really can develop too large before you realise it and this is always the first potato that I check in the bags, first for size and then for skin condition. You can help towards controlling the eventual size of your potatoes through manipulating the shoots that develop from the eyes. As a general rule, if you leave all the shoots that grow from every eye then you will have a larger number of potatoes per bag but smaller in size. Each and every eye on the potato will develop a green shoot and from those shoot will develop several stems from which the stolon grows and from which the potato develops. It necessarily follows that the more shoots and stems you allow on the initial seed potato, the more the crop will be but the potatoes will be smaller. Conversely with potatoes that are a bit shy of producing a fairly large size such as Bishop and Purple Eyed Seedling as two examples, you should remove the shoots leaving just two on the shoulders. When I say remove the shoots, I don't mean simply rubbing them out, to do the job properly it"s better to cut them out removing a little of the flesh underneath as well. If you don't do this and simply rub them out, they will re grow once planted and these will develop later into spindly shoots that simply take up your nutrients with no reward from them.
Beds and Bags
I intend to grow the potatoes on the same four beds as last year, I shall cultivate the top layer adding some fertiliser underneath them to sustain any roots that permeate out of the holes in the bag. The bags are 17 litres capacity and it necessarily follows that they do swallow up a considerable amount of peat.
For my Chelsea potatoes the mix I used there is very simple indeed, It's a bag of Westland Multi Purpose Compost mixed half and half with Westlands Manure in a bag. I had some stunning results last year using this mixture with no added nutrients whatsoever, not even a foliar feed as they were growing. I will therefore tray a few bags with this mixture but the main mix will be as follows making sure that all the moss peat is passed through a shredder in order to really fluff it up. To every 4½ buckets of peat - 15 litres in each bucket, (that is the amount that fits inside my concrete mixer) I add the following 170 grams Vitax Q4, 170 gram John Innes base fertiliser, 200 gram fine grade calcified seaweed and 200 grams of Seaweed Meal. I also add about 10 ml of slug pellets to each mixer full. If the peat is dry, make sure to moisten it after you place it in the bag. I don't intend to cover my bags with polythene this year as they were burnt out last time. I shall cover them over with fleece to make sure that they get even temperatures at night which will make them grow away from day one.