Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Potato Planting Rambling

The February question has shown its face again! Every February I can guarantee someone will ask me if they really do have to chit their potatoes? I was always told by my allotment peers to just chit my first earlies. This I did, and always had good crops. So why gamble, it works so I'll stick with it, I thought. But you always think you know better!

A couple of years ago I took it upon myself to chit not only first, but also second and main-crop. After all, if you buy them all together, by main-crop planting time you might find they chitted themselves in the bag anyway. I also started my earlies off in 4inch pots of compost. Why not get a head start by planting a potato that has already started growing in the greenhouse or good coldframe? I half filled the pot and pushed the potato into the compost. After a couple of weeks the potato roots well into the pot just as any plant would and starts to grow typical potato top growth. At this point I top up the 4inch pot, up to the top with compost. After another week you can then plant out as usual, knowing you are a month ahead of the game.

I always grow my first earlies in large 60litre plastic plant pots. I do this for a couple of reasons. Firstly, earlies are always at the risk of frost damage. Secondly, it allows me to maximise my growing space. I can grow potatoes on concrete this way!

The fact they are in a pot means I can bring them into the greenhouse when the weather is looking frosty. With just 6inches of compost in the bottom I can plant in my pre-started potato plants. As the growth increases I add more growing media, to just below the leaf tops, until the pot is full.

Now, when it comes to topping up, I must confess this is where I am inconsistent. I usually mix a bit of home compost with some weed-free garden soil, or some finely crumbled old horse manure and soil mixed. I've just always done it. No science involved! Just my way.

For planting second earlies and main-crop, I plant in the usual rows. I do have my own tried and tested way though! The entire potato plot is dug over in late winter/early spring, incorporating growmore and chicken manure pellets at the recommended rate. When it comes to planting the seed potato, I dig a small planting hole, 6inches round by 10 inches deep. Then I put a good handful of compost or manure in the bottom and place the potato on it and cover with soil. Job done, until earthing up is required.

See, there's more than one way to grow a spud!

Just wanted to mention varieties. Because of good results year on year, and good storing properties, I always grow Rocket(1st early), Charlotte(2nd early), Picasso(Main) and Rooster(RedMain). I would like to suggest you grow some Charlotte for mains too, they grow large enough for roasting/baking if you leave them in! This year I have traded with a friend to get some Swift and Cara to try also. (Coloured pots in photo denotes the different varieties. Again, just my way!)

Monday, 21 February 2011

Lighter nights and seedlings

Now that the evenings are staying lighter for an extra hour or so, I have become more enthusiastic in my garden plans. My enthusiasm has inspired my little 2yr old who has beaten me to the first emerging seedling of the year (beaten at my own game godammit!). I have planned my sowing better this year too. Sweet peas are now well on their way, ready for pinching out at about 3 inches for bushier growth. Planted in my usual loo roll tubes, I can plant tube into ground, so as not to disturb roots. This is a method I have used for years now for all my peas, beans and sweetcorn. Broad beans, loo roll tube planted, are being hardened off now ready for planting out.

My normal sweet pea planting, up a few canes somewhere, will also be moved to the bean row this year. This will encourage some more bumble bee activity, thus getting some extra set on my runner beans too. My onion and shallot sets (usual Setton, Red Baron and Golden Gourmet) are shooting well in the coldframe. I start them into 20 &12 cells to get a head start. This method also stops the birds pulling up the sets, as the root-ball holds them in the ground stronger. Brassicas and Leeks are all at pricking out point too. It has been a busy few weeks at Blackgates! Ground is all dug ready for the off, manure added where required.

I have also sown some Parsnip into 20cells. This is part of a trial I decided to do, to overcome irregular germination in ground sown Parsnips. By doing them into cells, I can put them into the propagator to germinate. Hopefully they will transplant to final growing place ok. Time will tell!

I spent most of Sunday undoing the poor landscaping that had been done on the garden. The previous owner had a unhealthy desire for Conifers, Heathers, trellis and gravel (as in picture). Low maintenance they called it, no maintenance more like. Jungle look and no lawn! All along side a tarmac drive for a couple of caravans and a lorry! Not enough controlled horticulture for my liking.

We are planning a 'micro orchard' as I like to call it, with chickens running about beneath the tree canopy. Some vegetable garden has to be sacrificed to enable this, but it just means I will have to plan my crop successions better.

Off now to ponder Greenhouse catalogues.