Roots and perennials planting days from tomorrow through to Thursday. It is way too hot today to plant out, but rain is predicted for tomorrow and cooler weather later in the week. So I’ll stick to sowing seed in the shadehouse today and save planting out for later in the week.
My last tray of parsnip seed failed to germinate. It was the last of the seed and getting on a bit – parsnips can be finicky like that – the seed has a short life. It is a pity. Parsnips planted now would get the benefit of a blast of cold weather just before harvest to sweeten them up. I shall try starting off a new tray today. I’ll also put in another tray of mixed carrots and spring onions, and tomorrow I shall be planting out last month’s tray of mixed carrots and spring onions, plus half a dozen beetroot seedlings.
The exciting crop this week though is potatoes. I plant potatoes in August and February. The autumn ones planted this time of year do much better than the August planted spring ones. Potatoes originated in the high country of the Peru Bolivia border area. They like cooler temperatures, especially cooler nights, than we get here in summer. Any that I plant from mid Spring to late Summer grow ok and look healthy but bear abysmally. They use up all the kilojoules they produce in the daytime by staying metabolically active all night. Any that I plant over from late Autumn to mid-Winter fail to thrive in the too-short days, and if we happen to get even a near-frost that’s the end of them.
But potatoes planted now get the benefit of long days while they put on all their leaf, cooler nights that allow them to conserve energy, and shortening days that convince them that storing food is a good idea. Spud heaven.
I don’t grow a lot of potatoes. They are more a luxury food than a staple in my household. We’re not active enough to need the kind of concentrated carbohydrates that they provide, and we don’t need to grow any more (!) But new potatoes are as much of a treat as chocolate. I buy certified seed potatoes, usually from a catalogue but this time from my local produce store. It is rarely worthwhile planting my own saved spuds – the best seed potato growing areas are higher, cooler, and more isolated than here.
Planting is really simple. I make a little burrow in the 15 cm of mulch covering the garden bed. Using a small fork, I break up the soil a little and just place the seed potato on the disturbed soil. I cover it with 10 cm of composty soil, then put the mulch back. I generally plant a dozen or so seed potatoes in a patch, about 30 cm apart. That way, I can hill up the entire patch as the plants grow.
As soon as the potato plants are 20 cm or so tall, I start hilling up – piling soil, compost, and/or mulch up around the stem, leaving just the top leaves exposed. Potatoes are not really a root crop – the tubers grow off the stem, not the roots, so the more mulch and compost I am willing to devote to surrounding the stem and making them grow taller, the more potatoes I will get.
They will flower with little purple flowers, and from then on I can start stealing potatoes. Once the plant yellows, I’ll demolish the mound and harvest the spuds. I’ve just finished eating the last of the spring-planted spuds, so there’s a break of a couple of months now. By then, I shall be really looking forward to these.