I was at the garden centre the other day and noticed the craziest thing. There were loads and loads of seed potatoes on sale. Now I’m pretty sure this isn’t the season for potatoes, but I had my judgement questioned. I mean come late summer when I want to put in a sneaky crop to harvest before the frost, there is hardly any to be found anywhere. So if they aren’t available in a time that is marginal for getting a late crop then it confounded me that they were available now – so early in the winter, where they are most likely to rot in the wet soil and if they survive that the frost will wilt the leaves as they try to push through into the crisp winter air.
So I did what anyone self respecting gardener would do – I bought some. A quick search on the great big internet for “90 days from today” told me I should expect some lovely new Rocket potatoes some time in September.
It turns out spuds can be planted in as early as July provided they can be protected from the frost. It would seem I have been missing out. I am a creature driven by ritual and tradition and I have always planted my potatoes 100 days before Christmas with my eye on the Jersey Bennes for Christmas day. I must have read somewhere that this was the day and it stuck. But it also suited my microclimate. Any earlier is wholly unsuitable and no amount of phaffing about would saving them from the hearty spring showers soaking already wet soil and not to mention the crop and soul destroying late frosts. So if it’s working for me then don’t fix what ain’t broken I say. Spud planting day will forever more be September 16 in my garden.
Undeterred I pushed on and put the spuds in a warm shady spot in the greenhouse, to try and bring on some fat sprouts. I want to make sure they are beginning to grow before I make them disappear beneath the soil in this adventure of trial and error. I’m hoping for less of the error as I have great expectations for these seasonally early treats slathered in melted butter with a hint of mint.
Of course I won’t be planting them out into the great wide open and abandoning them to their chances. Not in my soggy, boggy soil. There would be no trial in that – just all error! The rotting would commence within the week and my crop would be doomed and my money wasted. No I shall be planted them in the snug warmth of my greenhouse in large pots. They will have the best of everything.
I will make sure the soil I put in the pots will be exactly what the spuds need. A nice crumbly friable soil full of all the nutrients and organic material essential for a fabulous potato harvest to, blended in. I will even ensure the temperature remains a warm (ish) consistency so as not to shock them. This will mean going out to the greenhouse each evening before dusk and setting up my little heater if it looks like it will get really cold and shutting the door. Having to do this every night for 90 days will really test my memory.
You will love my wee heater it is so simple – a tea light candle placed under two terracotta pots, one quite smaller than the other and balanced on an old cake tin so I don’t burn down my greenhouse. It does a fabulous job at keeping the temperature above freezing.
I’ll bury the plant as it grows through the soil, and this always seems weird to be burying a perfectly healthy looking plant. But having seen the way tubers form along the stem, I don’t want to miss out on any through a misguided perception I was hurting the plant, or the sheer laziness of ‘I can’t be bothered’. I’m in this for the mash!
And come September when the main crop goes in, these babies will be coming out and it will be all good.
Come again soon – gardening against the odds is all the rage in winter.
Sarah the Gardener : o )