Exhibition Potatoes Part 1
18th Apr 2003
There's no doubt that the potatoes we see being exhibited at most of the top shows these days are of the highest quality that we have ever seen. They are consistently good and I very often feel sorry for the grower who comes nowhere amongst the cards with a quality exhibit that would easily win at smaller shows. With the growing techniques that we now possess it"s very infrequent that a winning set of potatoes will have been harvested directly from the soil in open rows. They are predominantly today grown in polythene pots or polypots as they are generally called which are 12 inches in diameter and hold 17 litres of compost.
Naturally the breeding work on potato varieties has also contributed greatly to the quality that we see today. Kestrel for instance when it first came on the show scene was unbelievable, nearly every dish in a coloured class would have been Kestrel. Sadly however it is not as dominant as it has been and seems to be breaking down even though I personally get fresh Scottish seed every year. It seems now to have been taken over by 'Amour' which is similar in shape but with a pink splash around the eyes. Another couple to look out for this year is 'Malin" and ‘Shannon', the former is again a pink eyed oval variety whilst Shannon is a long oval red skinned, both of these were bred in Ireland. If you want an early preview of these two varieties I am hoping to have a dish of both on my Chelsea display.
There's no doubt that Trevor Last from Stowmarket has been very consistent over the past few years with potatoes, he has won at the highest level and is rarely out of the cards, I therefore asked him to tell me how he goes about growing them. Trevor usually plants his potatoes from the end of April and he also uses 17 litre polypots. He also believes in using the best quality Moss peat and this passed through a shredder which breaks down any hard lumps that you very often get in peat bales with the result that the peat is very soft and fluffy. This means that the potato shape will be better as well as allowing plenty of air into the more open textured medium giving better growing conditions.
Chitting of the potatoes is also an important criteria, strong well developed shoots growing from the eyes are far more likely to make strong tops or haulms and thereby give you a much bigger crop. However, the number of shoots that are to be left on each different potato variety will vary according to that particular varieties ability to produce decent size show potatoes. Winston, even if left alone will grow quite large tubers, it's therefore essential to leave probably all the shoots on each potato. On the other hand ‘Maxine' is rather shy to produce top sized tubers so the sprouting shoots are better reduced to 2 per potato and with ‘Kestrel' leave 2- 3 per potato.
Always keep the bales in a warm place, Trevor stores them in his large greenhouse to get the peat temperature at a minimum of 50F. He is convinced that the condition of the peat is crucial to eventual success, It must be moist, but not wet or too dry. If you squeezed a handful in of it together you wouldn't have any moisture running out but it would feel moist in the palm of you hand which is the right condition to use it. If the bales are too wet when he gets them, they will be opened out to dry, conversely if they are too dry he will carefully moisten them to the correct condition.
Fill four large builders buckets (12 gallons) with this peat and put it into a mixer adding the following fertilisers - 6 ounces Vitax Q4, 6 ounces of John Innes Base, and 8 ounces of Calcified Seaweed this is the equivalent of 1 ounce per gallon of active fertiliser. Trevor varies his mix to suit the different variety of potato, for Winston, which grows quite large naturally, he adds 1 ounce of dried blood to the mix. With Maxine he adds 3 ounces as he finds it a bit more difficult to grow to a good size, 2 ounces for Kestrel and 1 ounce for Amour. Trevor incorporates the dried blood as he feels the plants need a quick early boost to their growing pattern. Finally he will add a small handful of slug pellets to every mixer full of compost to keep any keel slugs at bay.
Each bag is filled to within an inch or so of the rim and one potato is then pushed down through the mixture to the bottom of the bag. Trevor then, with his rotovator, turns over the plot where they are to grow having first added 2 ounces of Q4 to the soil. A shallow furrow is then opened across the plot which is 12 inches wide and 5 inches deep, a few more slug pellets are scattered along the bottom of the furrow before positioning the bags next to each other. The surrounding soil is then pushed in around the bags to anchor them into position, all rows are 2ft 6 inches apart.
This article will be continued next week.