I’m Growing New Potatoes for Christmas.

New potatoes are more than just a treat for early summer, you can enjoy them into the winter too. Started now, they will be ready to eat by Christmas. Here’s how I’m growing mine.

Special seed potatoes are available online, in catalogues and in garden centres now. I’m growing Charlotte and Pentland Javelin which are favourites for taste. You can also buy Nicola and Maris Peer. These are cold stored potatoes, primed ready to plant in August. You can also hold back some of your spring-bought seed potatoes, but you have to keep them in the bottom of the fridge until now, before planting.

Royal Horticultural Trials at Wisley showed that potatoes grow best in bags rather than rigid-sided plastic plant pots. You can buy special potato sacks, but I’m re-using compost bags. It’s a good way to recycle them.

I’m using Dalefoot salad and vegetable compost. Roll the tops down to form a collar, spike the bags to give good drainage, and fill them with 30cm of loosened compost.

Sit the seed potatoes on top of the compost. Ensure they are not touching, place them about 20cm apart.

Cover the potatoes with 5cm compost and water well. Place outdoors on a sunny patio. As the shoots start to grow, cover them with more compost and roll up the compost collar. Keep doing this until there is a 5cm gap left at the top for watering. What you are doing is “earthing up” the potatoes, without all the effort involved on growing them in the ground.

Move the bags, before the first frosts, into a greenhouse, porch or conservatory. By now the top growth will have died back and can be removed. Stop watering and keep the potatoes stored in the dry compost until you want to cook them. Because they have not been harvested and exposed to sunlight and air, the potatoes will not form hard skins and will retain that new potato taste and texture. In the past growers would have stored them in damp sand. My grandfather used to make “clamps” for vegetables such as potatoes and carrots, when vegetables had to last right through the winter without the availability of fridges and freezers.

I use soil association-approved Dalefoot Compost which is made from sheeps wool and bracken. It gives farmers in the Lake District an income for their wool which might otherwise go into landfill. It’s 100 percent natural and peat free, and contains a source of potash which makes fruit and flowers grow well.

My summer potatoes did well this year. I’m hoping for a small but tasty crop of new potatoes just in time for my Christmas dinner.

After planting my potatoes, I am sitting in my summerhouse with Grace cat, enjoying sunny weather and 23C temperatures, thinking of winter days ahead. I’m sure those tasty treats will be so welcome when the days are cold and wet.

You can listen in to my 10 minute gardening tips during BBC Gardens Hour today at 1.40.47 on the timeline on Sounds https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p07hst9m Each week we try something new, do pruning, take cuttings, grow something from seed, help wildlife. Sometimes our projects work, sometimes they fail, but it’s a lot of fun trying, aiming to get the best from our garden plots.

Links: Seed potatoes https://www.amazon.co.uk/Taylors-Autumn-Planting-Potatoes-Christmas/dp/B008M4MHFC

Dalefoot compost : https://www.dalefootcomposts.co.uk/

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You might also like to read: https://bramblegarden.com/about/

And : https://bramblegarden.com/2019/08/04/dancing-with-bees-a-journey-back-to-nature/

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Products on Trial- Bloomin’ Amazing Soil Enricher

As we are in August now, it might seem odd starting with a photo taken on the 5th March. There’s scented spring bulbs in pots, and root trainers contain broad beans. Summer days full of flowers, fruit and veg are months away.

But I’ve been carrying out a six month trial of new soil improver, Bloomin’ Amazing. So I needed to re-wind back to spring, where it all started. I sowed broad bean De Monica on February 25th, but half were eaten by mice. I re-sowed the root trainers March 1st, and you can just see they sprouted by March 5th.

On March 25th I weeded the plot and spread the soil improver. I have 10 beds, 1.3m wide by 3m long, with little slab paths between. It’s a no-dig garden following the system of growing made famous by Charles Dowding. No-dig means no heavy double digging over the winter. Basically, after harvesting crops, you just add a few inches of compost and plant through. Not digging the soil means weed seeds are not brought to the surface to germinate. And soil creatures such as worms and black beetles are not damaged. Worms are left in peace to aerate the soil, and beetles eat the slugs.

Bloomin’ Amazing is a by-product of a renewable energy business, following from a joint venture between the Duchy of Cornwall and three farmers. It’s made from farm crops, maize and rye.

I found it easy to handle. It’s fairly light, I didn’t have any difficulty manoeuvring the bag, and the product is dry and easy to spread.

I set out my broad beans in two rows along the bed, and then drew the soil improver around them as a mulch.

The plants thrived and grew strongly. The mulch seemed to deter slugs. I didn’t use any other slug killers or deterrents and the plants were hardly touched. I realise this might be partly down to the weather. It was a cold spring and few slugs were about initially.

I started off with really good, healthy plants using the Haxnicks root trainers. Although they are plastic, I will carefully wash and re-use them. They are strong enough to last for years. I must admit, I ordered them before we all became aware of the problems with plastic.

I didn’t have time to weed or work on this bed again until July 12th when these photos were taken. I’m really delighted with the weed -control element of the mulch, and it must have fed the beans because they are the best I’ve ever had. No other fertilisers were used on this bed.

We’ve been eating broad beans for weeks, and I’ve filled the freezer too so there will be a little taste of summer in the middle of winter.

In amongst the beans I grew Lady Christl and Charlotte potatoes. I didn’t have time to earth them up, just relying on the mulch to keep in the moisture and exclude the light. And again, none of the potatoes were munched by slugs. Usually a few have holes in them.

Links : Blooming Amazing and supplier info: https://www.bloominamazing.com/

De Monica broad beans: Mr Fothergill’s : https://www.mr-fothergills.co.uk/Vegetable-Seeds/Broad-Bean-De-Monica-Seeds.html#.XUmuNmfTWfA

Charlotte potatoes: https://www.marshalls-seeds.co.uk/charlotte-seed-potatoes-pid1890.html

Lady Christl potatoes : https://www.mr-fothergills.co.uk/Potatoes/Early-Seed-Potatoes/Potato-Extra-Early-Lady-Christl.html#.XUmvL2fTWfA

Charles Dowding no dig courses: http://www.charlesdowding.co.uk/courses/

End of the Month View – March 2nd 2018

Thank goodness there’s some colour in the greenhouse right now. I planted these Iris reticulata last October. And just when I need something cheerful to look at, they’ve sprung open like a jack-in-a-box. As soon as the sun hit the greenhouse glass, they pinged open. A lovely moment. Glad I was there to see it.

Such an inky blue. I planted Iris Pixie and Harmony, and then somehow lost the labels. A common occurrence in my garden. I must address the problem of how to keep labels this year.

I’ve no need to tell you what the temperatures are like at the moment. One look out of the window and you can see for yourself. We are white over in the UK. So today I’ve been mooching in the potting shed and greenhouse.

Planted last September, these Carnegie hyacinths are a joy for months. The buds are pretty, with just the green tips showing. I think there’s as much pleasure in anticipating what’s to come, as there is when the buds finally burst into bloom. The scent fills the whole greenhouse and makes it a pleasure to work in there on a freezing cold day. I heat the greenhouse to between 5 and 7 degrees. It is an old Alton Cedar greenhouse -second hand, renovated and painted black. Being cedar, the wood swells in the winter and cuts off any draughts – keeping it warm and cosy in there.

Prepared -or temperature treated bulbs – are planted in September in individual 3″ pots. The bulbs are given a cold period to fool them into thinking they have been through winter. We then put them in a cool, dark cupboard in the potting shed or garage for 20 weeks which finishes the treatment. Then, the bulbs are gradually brought out into a cool greenhouse and grown on. You can delay development by just keeping them cold and on the dry side, which is how I’ve managed to keep them flowering right through winter.

Choose bulbs that have flowers roughly the same size to plant into bowls and create displays for the house.

Today, I’m looking out at a snow, right across the back fields, and there’s icicles dangling from the greenhouse roof.

All along the top shelves are succulents and cacti- which need virtually no water between November and mid-March. These Echeverias have grey -blue leaves and striking orange flowers in summer.

The potatoes are starting to chit. Hard to believe, I will be planting them in a few weeks. I’m growing Charlotte and Lady Christl- both delicious. These varieties are on the RHS recommended list for growing in containers. If you are thinking of growing in containers, you need 8 litres of compost per potato. So put five in a 40 litre bag or 16″ -18″pot. Start off filling the bags with 20 litres of compost and 125g organic potato fertiliser. Sink the potatoes into the compost, and water. As the haulms or stems grow, add more compost to cover them and gradually fill up the pots. The secret to success is not to overwater. Soggy compost deprives the plants of oxygen and leads to stunted growth. Start feeding with potash when the leaves are out of the top of the pots. Other varieties I’ve tried and are RHS recommended include Casablanca, Golden Nugget, Sharpes Express, Maris Bard, Jazzy and Vales Emerald. I don’t grow Sharpes Express as much though, as it tends to disintegrate when it’s cooked and you end up with a pan full of soupy water.

Just behind the potatoes and bedding plant cuttings is a pot of wild rocket. I sowed the seed in autumn and now have lots of little pots like these from which I can pick a few leaves each day. Pick from the outer leaves, leaving the centre of the plants to keep growing.

Here’s a quick peek in the potting shed at dusk. The last of the Paper White narcissi are cheering up the potting bench. Another fabulous scented flower.

And in the potting shed window there’s snowdrops. This one is a very pretty Galanthus Viridapiece which has delicate green-tipped flowers. A favourite of mine.

Thank you to Helen at Patient Gardener for hosting this EOMV meme.

How are you coping with the weather? Get in touch and let me know how your garden is faring in the snow. Keep warm everyone.