Thursday 8 February 2007


It's snowing in Newport Pagnell - heavily. Winter has arrived.

Anyway, yesterday I thought I'd better get to grips with the seed potato order. Last year in France I grew only two potato plants and one of those was so comprehensively diseased (and infected my entire tomato crop with blight as well) that it was a very unsuccessful experiment. The variety was Sarpo Mira, much lauded for its resistance to blight and the seed tuber for it was bought in the UK at a local garden centre from allegedly virus and disease tested stock. It may be I was unlucky, other seed tubers from the same batch, even the second plant in France, showed little sign of blight until the end of the season but this experience and others with cheap garden centre stock has made me determined to get hold of better grade seed for this year.

There is a nice chap in the potato enthusiast's crowd, Alan Romans. We've met him briefly and exchanged a few words at a potato day at HDRA in Coventry a few years back. He lives for spuds it seems and his knowledge has made him in great demand with the big commercial consumers like supermarkets to give them an edge when identifying heritage and speciality varieties for their top end sales. Now he's cashed in on this popularity and started his own online seed potato company in Fife. This is the place I've chosen to buy the bulk of my potato goods from this year.

The varieties chosen are a mix of our old favourites and some pin sticking by myself because as it's the first year we will try a serious planting in France we're not certain which types will do best in the conditions. So the favourites are Ambo and Stroma, with Swift as our first early. Then I got the pin out and picked Winston as a second early on the basis that Alan says it will make an early baker and Ratte because it's similar to one of our all time favourites Pink Fir Apple but a little earlier and I have an eye to minimising blight damage. It seems my pin was faulty because when the man got home I was informed we'd tried Winston before and it was no good and that he didn't rate Ratte anywhere near as good at PFA because it didn't peel well. All I can say to that is too late, mate.

In addition I bought a pack of potato microplantlets, just one each of the varieties Aura, Salad Blue, Highland Burgundy Red, Fortyfold and Shetland Black. We've grown all these in the past except Aura. Microplants are a way of distributing virus free clones of old varieties that are no longer in commercial production. It is usually impossible to get seed tubers of these varieties.

Salad Blue is a wonderful coloured potato, blue fleshed throughout. It's really quite early cropping and left makes huge tubers which unfortunately are very prone to slug damage. This is a hazard in a dark skinned and fleshed potato so I prefer to take them small before the slugs can get at them. Highland Burgundy Red (if that is in fact its true name) is beautifully crimson red fleshed, sometimes with a band of white just under the skin. It matures rather later than the Salad Blue. Both these sorts can be steamed, boiled or baked although the Blues are a bit mushy and tend to go grey if boiled hard. The Reds make an excellent roast potato and both sorts make great crisps - a huge bowl of red, white and blue crisps is an excellent accompaniment to pre-dinner drinks.

Fortyfold is a very old variety and does indeed produce a huge crop, but the potatoes are small with deep eyes which is a pain when peeling. We call them the soup potato because they cook down quickly in soup, making a rich thickness. This tendency makes them of little use as a boiled potato but with a bit of care good mash can be obtained.

Shetland Black is a black skinned, yellow fleshed potato from the islands. Again the tubers are quite small but the flavour is very good and the texture of the cooked potatoes appealing.

These five plantlets won't produce much to eat this year but will provide seed potatoes for crops next year.

Despite the problems last year, we've also found Sarpo Mira a good bet if not a great potato and would have bought some of those too but because of some arrangement between Mr. Romans and Thompson and Morgan he's not stocking these himself. Well, I tried, I followed the link to the T&M site and chose some spuds but the order seemed a little sparse and I thought I'd grab a few seeds to go with them. Imagine my surprise when I found that my e-shopping baskets couldn't be amalgamated (or no way that I could see). It was so annoying I dropped the lot. I was never a fan of T&M and their multiple shopping site experience was frustrating and unproductive. I shan't go back. Perhaps Alan, if you're reading, you could tip them the wink.

No comments: