Exhibition Potatoes Part 2
25th Apr 2003
Last week I explained how Trevor Last from Stowmarket plants his show winning potatoes with a method that has allowed him to be consistently among the Red cards at most top shows. We now come to probably the most important bit, at this stage do not apply any water at all to the bags, hence the importance of making sure that the compost is nice and moist to start with. Cover the bags over with fleece which in turn is covered over clear polythene, both well anchored down. Trevor firmly believes that it's vitally important to get good quick growth from day one. The fleece and the polythene on top will keep them nice and warm, even at night. Each potato, provided they have been well chitted, will, within a month or so, be pushing up the fleece and polythene at which point, provided the weather is fine, both materials are removed.
From this point on water on a regular basis and never let the compost dry out, that could almost certainly prove to be your downfall. There is no extra feeding required during the growing season, keep your eyes open for any aphid attacks and spray with Ready to use Polisect from Scotts should the plants be a target for them. Spray also with either Dithane 945 from PBI; Murphy Traditional Copper Fungicide from Scotts or the old Bordeaux Mixture from Vitax, these, unfortunately, are now the only fungicides available to the amateur grower for the control of blight. Don"t leave the spraying until it's too late, never forget the old saying 'a stitch in time saves nine' therefore spray from early June if the weather is warm and humid. Once the haulms are approaching a foot high, commence to erect a supporting structure with canes and string to hold up what will soon become very heavy haulms. It is time consuming to do the job properly but it does allow the foliage to be sprayed easier and more effectively as well as leaving every leaf exposed to sunlight creating further opportunity for optimum tuber development.
Knowing when the potatoes are at the right stage for harvesting is important, leave them in the bags for too long and the skin condition will be affected by netting as the tubers mature. Harvest them too early and you will not have a good choice of suitable size tubers. Towards the end of July it pays to sacrifice a bag of each variety, remove a bag near to the middle of the row and empty them out, based on their size at that time you make a decision whether to harvest or not. If you think they could do with another week, then stop watering from that point. If it's going to rain, throw a polythene sheet over the haulms and bags; it doesn't really matter if the haulms fall down under the polythene as the purpose is to dry out as much moisture as possible by leaving the haulms to continue transpiring water from the bags.
After a week, cut the haulms off and then either remove the bags from the trenches and take them under cover, a polytunnel is fine but a garage would be even better as it would be cooler. If you store them inside a polytunnel, cover the pots completely with Black and white polythene, white side up to keep the pots cool. If you have nowhere to store them, leave the pots where they are and replace the polythene over them.
The pots now need a further a week before harvesting, during which time the compost will further dry out and the skin on the tubers will also set. This means that when it's time to wash them, you can rub the potatoes in a circular motion using a soft sponge with no fear of the skin being removed. Trevor, like myself, harvests all his potatoes in one go, one variety at a time. After you have emptied all of them from the bags, sort them out into those that are too large for the show bench but still excellent for eating as well as those that have marks on them or are misshapen.
When you are satisfied that all the tubers in front of you have a potential for showing, grade them into groups of differing sizes and quality, this will generally follow the importance that you give to each show. Your most important show will usually have your best potatoes and these are then stored away in containers such as spare deep wooden boxes, deep drawers or even buckets. The remaining tubers will also be stored away in the same manner and graded into different classes and different shows. Make sure you store at least a couple of spares with each set in case you find a fault when washing them. Don't wash any of them yet, store them all in the same compost that came out of the bags, to make sure that no light can get at them, cover the receptacles over with black polythene. Wash the selected tubers when required for each show, wash them as late as you can leave it prior to staging so that they remain as fresh and clean as possible. I have actually washed and staged tubers in October which were harvested during the first week in August.
Winning that Red Card
Well there you have it, it's not easy and it will probably cost you a few pounds in material, but at the end of the day there is nothing like winning that Red card, ask Sherie Plumb, she won it at the highest level last year with her collection of potatoes when she won the UK potato championship at Port Talbot as part of the Welsh Branch Championships. Trevor's' banker varieties for this coming season are ‘Winston' ‘Amour' ‘Maxine' and ‘Kestrel'.