Advances in Potatoes and Tips on Growing them
29th Oct 1997
One vegetable that I feel has improved immensely over the past few years is the potato, the standard which is being set at national level now is absolutely superb. One reason for this vast improvement in general has been the introduction by the breeders of newer and better varieties.
A few years ago the variety Kestrel came on the market and this has really left all the other coloured varieties standing with their beautiful purple splashed eyes on silky white skins making them a winner at the highest level.
Another excellent point with Kestrel is its consistency, it will always guarantee you an excellent crop of well shaped potatoes that have smooth skins which clean up easy. It is therefore a must and particularly so for the smaller exhibitor who should be able to stage a dish from very few haulms.
Another top variety is Winston, a silky white round to oval variety that is always my first choice of all the whites and a variety that cleans up so well that it really shines.
A recent introduction that I intend growing next year is the red round to oval Maxine, again a beautiful clear skinned potato that cleans up really well and produces plenty of well shaped tubers from a single haulm.
Mona Lisa has by now been around for years (introduced in 1982) and still well worth growing, a long white variety maturing as a second early with shallow eyes and uniform tubers. The flesh is yellow and has firm waxy texture but try and wash it at the last minute if you possibly can as it tends to have fine small spots on the skin as it ages after washing.
The catalogues selling seed potatoes will be with us soon and the potatoes mentioned above are certainly worth ordering as soon as you possibly can. Early ordering should mean that they will be with you before Christmas which means that you then have ample time to chit them. The process of breaking the potatoes dormancy is important in order to have strong shoots ready at planting time.
One interesting new development is the test tube potatoes from Mr Fothergills, this year you can buy 8 old varieties that have been micro propagated so they are all virus free. You can also buy them as micro plants in jiffy 84 and on receipt they should be gradually hardened off prior to planting. Interestingly one of the eight is the Bishop a real winner when grown well, but being a late Maincrop it needs a long season fro good sized tubers. The potatoes come in Blister packs containing 5 plants of one variety but there is a minimum order of 2 packs at £13.50
Most of the newer varieties will shoot easily, Winston is a very early sprouter and unless they have been stored properly for chitting with the rose end uppermost, it can chit before you know it which means that you end up poor, long, thin, straggly shoots. Egg trays are excellent for this job and fit nicely inside the old wooden tomato boxes that you can stack on top of each other. Some of the older varieties are very slow to chit, the Bishop is one such variety and often has to be kept in a warm room to break the dormancy. I know of a few growers who leave them in the airing cupboard which is the perfect temperature for them.
Once the shoots appear they must from that point, through to planting time, have plenty of light on them in order to achieve short stubby powerful shoots that can be as thick as your thumb.
Brython Stenner form South Wales was the undoubted master for years at growing potatoes a. he told me once that he would never chit potatoes that he had bought in without first washing them perfectly clean. Brython even went to the rouble of cleaning the eyes out using a pointed matchstick to make sure that he started off with no risk of any disease lurking anywhere. Nowadays I wash mine in a weak dilution of Armillatox which will also get rid of any lurking disease spores.
After my article earlier on last year on how to grow the potatoes in polythene pots in the same manner that Allister Gray grew them, I have had numerous letters and phone calls from growers who were over the moon with the result. Most commenting that they had never before been able to lift potatoes with such clean unblemished skins. The principle is that the potato is never in contact with soil, the bags are filled with peat and some fertiliser and sat in a trench with the soil underneath having been fertilised. The idea is that the roots get out of the pot and into the soil below whilst the potatoes remain in the bag and grow really clean.
A number have had trouble getting hold of these pots, as a result they are available this year in the sundries list of my current vegetable seed catalogue. Early on next year I shall once again explain how I grow them in greater detail.