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Wales, United Kingdom
In autumn 2010, my husband Ian and I both quit our jobs, sold our house and left the flatlands of the east for the mountains of Wales. Our goal is to create a more self-sufficient lifestyle in a place we actually like living. Whilst Ian will continue to earn some money as a freelancer, my part of the project is to reduce how much we spend by growing and making as much of what we need as possible. The purpose of this blog is to keep friends updated with how the grand project is progressing, but all are welcome here. If you're not a friend already, well perhaps you might become one.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Blighted spuds

I'd been warned by neighbours that we're very vulnerable to potato blight here. This isn't catastrophic if you get it, provided you notice fairly quickly. If you spot it at this stage...


Early signs of blight in a potato plant. At least, the higher leaves have early signs - I'd say it was a bit more advanced in the lower leaves.

... you just dig up the spuds quick and dispose of the leaves, preferably by burning and definitely not on the compost heap. This one, on the other hand...


Much blighted spud

... may have gone a bit far - oops.

Surveying the potato patch, I saw that the telltale yellowing leaves were pretty widespread. Oh dear, I'd better get digging, then. I started off by digging only those that had signs of blight, but fairly soon realised that the number of first earlies that needed lifting was, All of them. I got that done yesterday, and one of the maincrop, just to see how it was doing. All the potatoes looked pretty healthy, even the ones from the seriously blighted plant in the photo above. Here's what I harvested:


Blight-stricken first earlies, all safely harvested, plus one King Edward's worth of spuds (those are the ones loose on the table)

I couldn't believe how many potatoes I got from that King Edward: That's two and a half pounds from just one plant! It's no wonder they're so popular with gardeners.

Having lifted all the first earlies, I was able to tot up the total harvest: I lifted just over 19 lb yesterday, making the total harvest just shy of 29 lb. The cost works out at 30p/kg, which compares favourably with around £1.35 for new potatoes from the supermarket, and I'm not even looking at the organic ones for that comparison.

I was planning to save some of them as seed potatoes for next year, and I've put aside 15 of the biggest (the seeds I bought were pretty big) for that purpose. Now I'm wondering whether that's a good idea, as I know these plants have been affected by blight. There's no sign of blight in the tubers, but could it be lurking there unseen? Will I get early and vigorous blight wiping out the whole crop if I try to grow from these?

Today I tackled the maincrop. Encouraged by the quantity I got from the King Edward I dug yesterday, I did think I'd lift the whole lot today. On the other hand, it would be nice to leave them to grow for a while longer (and not have to dig the whole lot in one day!) What I actually did was to dig up all those that had clear signs of blight, which was quite a lot of them. These were mostly in the middle of the bed, so taking them out will allow a lot more airflow around those that remain. I'm hoping this will be enough to discourage the blight from advancing too aggressively, but this is probably wishful thinking. I'll be monitoring it closely now, and may well be digging the rest of them within a week or so.


After today's digging

The next question I have to think about is storage. The first step is to let the skins harden. Common advice is to leave them out in the sun for a few days for this purpose, but I'm not sure this is such a good idea. I've noticed the skins hardening on spuds I've stored in the cupboard for a few days, so sunshine can't be critical. Also, we all know what too much sunlight does to potatoes*. In any case, dry weather can hardly be guaranteed round here.

I've left them out in the sun for a few hours to dry out, but now I'm going to bring them in, and try to figure out what to do with them next. Spreading them out somewhere dark seems like a good idea, I'm just not sure quite how to achieve it. For long-term storage, I had thought about a press, which is a big box full of sand or dry soil. However, I'm not sure I'm up to organizing one of those in the time available. I did buy a couple of hessian sacks with the seed potatoes, so I think I'll be using those instead.

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* It turns them green and toxic, in case you didn't know.

9 comments:

  1. I've read somewhere (but typically now can't find!) that if you cut off all the greenery, you can leave the spuds in the ground for their skins to toughen over a few days. Marking where the greenery was with a stake/cane/stone probably a good plan though!

    C x

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  2. Ah, thanks. That'll be what I do with the rest of them, then. As you say, mustn't forget to mark where the plants were!

    In the meantime, what on earth have I done with those sacks?!

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  3. I bought some spuds from the grocery store the other day and they were freakishly green below the skin. Um, did I just eat some toxic taters? That'll teach me to miss the farmers market! gah! gah!

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  4. If your insides aren't complaining then you got away with it this time but, yeah, eating green taters isn't the best idea.

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  5. Hmmm... Now that my potato plants all got totally pummeled in the hail, I'm wondering if I should try to let them recover, or just dig up the potatoes now. What do you think?

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  6. I saw your post about hail and thought my problems with blight seem pretty trivial in comparison! Why not try digging one up to see what you've got? I don't really know, but I wonder whether plants trying to recover might draw on their reserves, i.e. the tubers, in which case the potatoes might get smaller before they got bigger.

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  7. I think you're probably right about the plant putting its resources into recovering rather than into the potatoes. Soooo... I dug up the most badly damaged plants today and got a decent amount of spuds. They're basically like new potatoes rather than full sized ones, but that's ok. I had one for dinner and it was mighty tasty!

    I'll probably dig up a few more of the most damaged plants over the next week or so and see how the others do.

    In the meantime I stuck some zucchini and green bean seeds in the ground in the spots where I dug up the potatoes... there might be enough time for a harvest if we don't have an early snow.

    Too bad roofs won't grow back!

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  8. Ah, King Eddies - never mind the yield, and all of that bunny-huggy nonsense. They're by far and away the best spuds for roasting! Mmm. Our mouths are watering just at the thought of proper roast spuds. We want proper roast spuds, and we want 'em now...

    Probably "introductory egg-sucking for grannies", but we've always found the best roasties come from using the biggest ones you can - roasties from spuds that don't need cutting into at least three biggish chunks never really worked for us - so might as well eat the little 'uns new. Par-boil until the outside's just starting to soften, then be brutal with the draining and shaking so they get all nice and floury on the outside. Then roast, roast, roast. And eat, eat, eat.

    Even Ian will eat 'em. Probably.

    Lots of love,
    Adrian & Ellie, from a van in Portugal, starting to head towards the 2cv world meeting.

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  9. Hi Adrian and Ellie,

    For some reason Blogger thought your comment was spam - maybe vans in Portugal are dubious sources of blog comments!

    Aha, good for roasting, eh? Excellent news! Yes, Ian does like roasties cooked that way. The only downside is that he no longer likes them cooked any other way. I agree with you that the cut edges are better than just peeled, for some reason. My roasties tend to be small and numerous.

    What is it with grannies and egg sucking, anyway? I'm sure my grandmother never sucked eggs.

    Good to hear from you.

    Love,

    Rachel

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