For the Love of the Humble Spud – Day 5 NaBloPoMo 2016

Winter in southern Tasmania this year was a very mild affair (compared to 2015’s coldest winter in 50 years) and at the end of autumn I was given a present by a gardening friend. It was a Pink Fir Apple potato, considered by many to be the ultimate potato for salads.

Regular readers of my blog might remember that once this precious little beastie had started to sprout, I cut it up and planted it in a tub in the greenhouse to see if I could grow potatoes over winter here. You can see the original post here, which includes a link to Dan, who was my inspiration for this whole experiment. Though Pink Fir Apples aren’t without their problems, being quite susceptible to many common diseases, I thought it was worth a try.

Originally, my plan was to harvest them after roughly 100-120 days but I decided to let it go to about 140 days from planting. Space in the greenhouse is starting to tighten up and once I start potting up basil in the coming weeks, it will be at a premium so I decided today was the day!

img_20161105_103329

Pink Fir Apple Potatoes in a Pot

The yield wasn’t fabulous but I learned a lot from the experience, most notably that I should try this again with different types of potatoes – and that I really do need a bigger greenhouse! Pink Fir Apple are a very late cropping variety and in hindsight, I probably should’ve waited longer before harvesting these or used a different variety. Oh well, next time 😀

I also had a couple of Pink Eye seed potatoes that I planted at the same time. Pink Eye is a delicious, determinate early variety, beloved throughout Tasmania. The pot wasn’t as big but it’s yielded a nice little feed of lovely, fresh spuds for tonight’s dinner. Now I’m feeling better a simple dinner of potatoes, salad (from the garden of course) and a little grilled meat sounds really delicious!

img_20161105_113214

These aren’t the only potatoes I’ve got this year. There’s Pink Eyes and Nicola’s in the ground that are quite advanced and looking extremely healthy, and I recently planted a swag of seed potatoes that I bought from a local company Tasmanian Gourmet Potatoes. I’ve always had great results with their certified seed potatoes and they’re great to deal with. Also, they will post to anywhere in Australia, so worth checking out! This year I bought Red Norland, Pentland Dell, Patrones and Carlingford

My personal favourite is the Red Norland, a delicious potato with beautiful white flesh and gorgeous red skin. Lovely in salads, but equally good baked or boiled and they seem to keep quite well.

Red Norland Seed Potatoes

Red Norland Seed Potatoes

They’re all in the ground now and most have sprouted through their blanket of mulch. As you can see from the Red Norlands above, I allowed them to sprout or “chit” (I love that word!) in a brown paper bag before planting out. I’m hoping for a decent crop from all and determine which are the best varieties for storing over winter. Like the garlic crop, I’m trying to grow enough to cover my household’s needs through winter. This is reasonably demanding considering the amount of ground a crop of potatoes will tie up and the number of roasts we have through the colder months.

Not bad considering I wasn’t all that keen on potatoes when I was a kid! But as Sam said to Gollum in Lord of the Rings, “boil ’em, mash ’em, stick ’em in a stew”. In the years I’ve been living in Tasmania, I’ve become quite a convert to the charms of the humble spud ❤

And to finish, another completely unrelated cute bunny pic – because cute bunny 😀

img_20161103_095915

 

Winter Bits – Potatoes, Strawberries and Raspberries

Hi everyone,

It’s been a busy week in the garden despite (or because of) all the rain we’ve had down here in Tasmania. Last year because I was late getting my last crop in, I determined that despite the frosts we get in this garden, it could be possible to grow potatoes year round with careful preparation and the right site. So today I’m putting it to the test!

A few weeks ago, a dear friend gave me a Pink Fir Apple potato. She’d been given a handful of tubers by another gardener, who claimed this is the absolute, all time best waxy potato for boiling, steaming or salads. The long, knobbly, pinkish tuber is an heirloom variety that can be traced back to 1850’s France. It’s been sitting on the coffee table in my loungeroom for month or more, starting to get a few small buds from the multiple eyes.

IMG_20160610_110933

The Pink Fir Apple is a late season maincrop variety so I’m really stretching the boundaries planting it now but while I’ve been off work sick, I’ve been doing some research. I’ve been watching a lot of YouTube videos about wicking barrels in preparation for the dwarf fruit trees, which should be arriving next month.

Along the way, I discovered Dan and his Yorkshire Dales Allotment Diary and something I’d never thought about before – growing potatoes in plastic pots! I remember growing them in drums when I was a child with my father and a couple of times in grow bags over the years but I’d never considered putting one or two in a pot and gradually earthing up as the shoots appear. Now the greenhouse is gradually emptying – it is no longer the House of Basil 😦 – I’ve got room to put a few tubs in to overwinter.

Frost is the big issue for potato crops and every autumn I get “volunteer” spuds coming up in random spots. The first good frost of winter and they’re done. And there’s no denying it, potatoes take up a lot of garden bed space! But in the greenhouse they are protected from the 8-10 hard frosts we get here each winter and by the time spring comes I can move them outside to finish off.

So, I used spent potting mix from the basil crops, mixed it with a few handfuls of old mushroom and put some in a IMG_20160610_111227clean 30 liter pot. I cut the Pink Fir Apple into four pieces, each with an at least one active eye and covered with a layer of the potting mix. Importantly, I remembered to label the pot!

IMG_20160610_120641Then, I did a few more pots with the early Pink Eye, possibly Tasmania’s favourite potato. I’ll keep you up to date with the progress, but my aim is to grow potatoes year round, or as close as I can get to it. Potatoes take 100-140 days in summer depending on the crop, so I anticipate I’ll be testing the first of the pots in mid-late September.

While I was mucking about in the greenhouse today, I checked up on another of my gardening experiments. About a month ago, I took my three first year Tioga strawberry plants and trained their runners into prepared pots. Strawberries need to have their crowns above the soil, so I cut pieces of soft, flexible wire to pin them to the top of the soil. I’ll be reusing these in spring to layer herbs such as thyme, oregano and marjoram.

The results were impressive. I now have six more Tioga plants and about another eight or so that are just starting to put down roots.

IMG_20160609_110010

I grow my strawberries in pots because of slug problems and generally only keep plants for a few years as they produce less and less the older they get. Again, the key is making sure the pots always have a dated tag, it’s too confusing otherwise!

IMG_20160609_111344And yesterday, I discovered not only a ripe and utterly delicious strawberry but IMG_20160609_112056(for me) a first in my garden – ripe raspberries in June! While they were delectable, the flavour wasn’t as good as the summer berries. And no wonder really, these are (supposedly) a summer only variety! Along with the raspberries, there was a load more chilies – mostly Habaneros but there’s still Cayenne, the wrongly labelled Inferno and the last Jalepenos of the season. I’ve started cutting back a lot of the chilies now and retiring the weaker plants to make room for new plants in the spring.

Weirdly, the Poblano Ancho, Hot Portugal, Razzmatazz, Serrano and Rocoto are still ripening, which I suppose also underlines how mild overall the weather has been. While it’s been wonderful to have such a long extended growing season, it worries me too.

Many of the crops I grow – the brassicas, winter salad greens and especially the fruit trees – really need the cold weather. The apples, apricot, nectarine and even the espaliered peach need a certain number of chill hours in order to stimulate flower production at the end of winter.

Well, I won’t have long to wait for some cold weather – tomorrow’s forecast is for a possible thunderstorm, hail and snow on higher peaks. Maybe winter is here at last?

IMG_20160609_113128

Winter harvest!