July: of Onions and Potatoes
Charlie Heasman; 12th July 2017
It’s been a funny old growing year so far – but then aren’t they all? – and in our allotment we’ve so far had our usual mix of successes and failures.
I’m blaming the cold, wet early summer which only came right a couple of weeks ago.
For instance, the courgettes I planted out in late May just sat there and refused to budge an inch. Just as I was thinking I’d have to start some more the weather improved and now they’re flying. Soon we’ll be back to the usual problem, familiar to all allotment growers, of how to give them away. Eventually people start crossing the street when they see you coming.
BTW, if you’ve alienated all your friends and still have some left (courgettes that is; not friends) try them on the barbecue (again, courgettes: not friends). Slice in half lengthwise, score the fleshy side with a knife and rub in salt, pepper and olive oil. After ten minutes of the charcoal treatment they are the absolute melt in the mouth experience.
Our garlic did okay again this year and is now dried and plaited for winter storage. The winter onions grew well and we were pleased with them also – up until mid-June.
Onions are supposed to grow and swell up until the longest day. At this point they decide that the job’s done and the necks fall over and start to wither; time to pull and dry them. But by mid-June we’d noticed that the stalks were developing neck rot while still standing, we put this down to the incessantly wet weather and decided to pull them early.
Unfortunately we were probably too late. Best guess: we’ll lose half of them in storage. Every year we manage to grow and store a year’s supply; I’ve a feeling that by early 2020 we’ll be back down the supermarket.
Other crops fared better.
The winter broad beans grew profusely and yielded well, swelling the contents of the freezer in so doing. We also had a few plants volunteer in odd parts of the allotment; these are currently providing a later fresh crop.
To me that’s one of the little extra pleasures of gardening: something pops up, you leave it to its own devices and reap the reward. Lazy gardening made even lazier.
But so far this year we are best pleased with our potatoes.
In the first few years we didn’t much bother with them; they seemed like too much work. Dig the ground, make trenches, plant the spuds, earth them up. A heck of a lot of spadework and earth moving.
Then we discovered ‘No Dig’.
Any regular reader of this blog will know that we are trialling it for the first time this year. We have scarcely stuck a fork into the soil at all. The beans responded well (as did our peas), the onions did well until they developed the dreaded neck rot on account of the weather, but how on Earth (or indeed, in earth) do you grow potatoes without digging?
Answer: dib holes into the soil at the appropriate spacing. Drop in the potatoes. Cover with 4″ of homemade compost and leave to grow. When the plants have reached the stage where they would normally be ridged, apply another 2″ to keep the light off the tubers. Sit back and enjoy a glass of wine. Repeat last stage if and when necessary.
When it is time for harvest follow the steps below:
It really is as simple as that.
Because the tubers have developed in the compost as opposed to the soil below they are really easy to get out. Who out there remembers as a kid ‘lucky dip’ in a barrel of sawdust? Pulling potatoes proves to be an evocative memory.
The spuds in question are Sarpo Mira, and more about them in a moment; but this year we grew four different varieties. Here they are:
King Teds are self explanatory: an oldie but a goody. Pink Fir are one of our personal favourites: a small knobbly potato that looks like the ancestor of all potatoes which you simply wash and cook (don’t even think about peeling them). Sarpo Mira: more about them to come. Blue potatoes: no idea, a friend gave us four seeds and that’s as much as we know.
Actually, from the outside they look more black than blue; cut into them and they look like this:
What’s more, they stay that colour when cooked. We know this because we tried them for the first time this evening. It would be nice to report that they are as delicious as they are exotic, but sadly this is not the case. For flavour go to any of the other three.
On the other hand we have a family barbecue scheduled for tomorrow evening and blue potato salad should at least prove to be a conversation point.
So what about these Sarpo Mira?
I must confess that I’d never heard of them before this year, but when I did I did what I always do and looked them up on the internet. This is what I learned:
Circa 1940 the Communist Regime in Hungary were looking for a high yielding, blight resistant, low maintenance potato which did not require a plethora of sprays to feed the masses. They came up with this.
It was quite probably incidental, but actually it also has the extra advantage of good texture and taste (my opinion). We like it because it has a waxy texture; the internet tells me that if you leave it in the ground (and I’m sure that ours will yield even heavier if left), it will become floury. Truly a potato for all people.
Those Crafty Commies might have done the world some good after all.
Leaving Communist Hungary and returning to Skerries Allotments it was our friend and neighbour, Norman Scott, who in a roundabout way introduced us to them. Last year he gave some seed to another neighbour who grew them, didn’t earth them up properly, and dumped the resultant green potatoes in the bottom car park.
I saw this and, being the parsimonious person that I am, retrieved them and kept them for seed. The progeny are in the pictures; free seed grown in free compost. Couldn’t be better.
So it’s nice to be able to write about something nice.
It’s also nice to be able to report that the dumping of plastics and other non-biodegradables in the allotments has slowed significantly. Not stopped; slowed. Fair play to those who now segregate, but there are still some eejits that (and I use the word ‘that’ as opposed to ‘who’ advisedly) haven’t yet got the message, and if it were not for the efforts of one or two people who clear up behind them the problem would be worse.
They’re quite content to have someone else wipe their backside for them and they know who they are.
I will not mention by name one of those who currently does most of the clearing up because (s)he would not thank me for it, but D**** ****e, you know who you are too.
Also sprays. Why do a significant minority insist on spraying outside and around their allotments? Is there a practical or an aesthetic preference for the dead, scorched look or is there some other reason?