Being a plant breeder and having a young family doesn’t leave me a lot of time for leisure gardening, but still, as an unashamed plant geek, I can’t resist indulging in a few plants and veg. This month is all about a humble potato.
In early February I started chitting tubers of a very special potato on my windowsill: La Bonnotte. Being French you may think I am a bit biased, but of all the potato varieties I have ever had the chance of tasting, this definitely tops my gourmet list. Sautéed whole in their skin, simply with salted butter and herbes de Provence, they are truly divine, with an unforgettable sea-like, sweet, citrusy and chestnutty note. It’s important to cook them in their skins to keep the taste, but the inward eyes would make peeling almost impossible anyway. I had ordered 2kg of seed potato and when they arrived, I was very tempted to cook some straight away… This was far worse than the Stanford marshmallow experiment, but I shall wait until harvest time!
La Bonnotte is normally grown on the small island of Noirmoutier, where the light sandy soil, oceanic microclimate and the addition of seaweed all participate in developing the unique flavour. It may also have to do with the absolute TLC every plant receives: La Bonnotte is planted by hand using the old technique of lazy beds – definitely not for the lazy gardener – which are essentially wide, parallel raised beds without any wooden borders. On the mere 5 hectares where they are grown, the tubers are planted on the 2nd of February and harvested before maturity 90 days later. The backbreaking job of harvesting and severing the growing tubers from the mother plant is again all done manually; machine harvest would just ruin the soft skins and delicate aromas.
With the mechanisation of agriculture in the 60s, La Bonnotte very nearly became extinct, but it was saved in extremis by passionate Noirmoutier growers and the INRA in the 90s. By April 1996, it was ready to go back on the market to the delight of chefs and gourmets alike. The first hand-harvested crop of 5 kg was auctioned and fetched the incredible price of €2,300, making La Bonnotte the most expensive potato in the world. Nowadays the price is more like €10 a kilo for the very first ones, still a high price for a spud!
Now back to reality. I very much doubt I’ll have the time and dedication to build lazy beds and add Irish moss seaweed when my own La Bonnotte tubers are finally ready for planting. I think I’ll plant some in the ground and some in bags. I’ll also be growing some tasty Jazzy as backup and comparison. Suffolk is a tad colder than Noirmoutier so I plan on planting in early March and won’t be able to taste them until the end of May. By then I’ll know if La Bonnotte tastes just as good without the influence of the sea, even if in Noirmoutier it has been nicknamed pomme de mer.
Potatoes are one of the easiest things to grow when you get your first plot of land for cropping. The early potatoes grow fairly quickly, in approximately 10 weeks. Check our Potato Selector Guide to find out which variety is the best one for you, and don’t forget it depends on the time of year you are growing them too. You also need to decide if you want to grow in bags, or in the ground. Potato ‘Rocket’ is a good first early. It has good all round disease resistance and can be grown in bags or in the ground.
Potato growing kit & T&M potash fertiliser
Once you have decided where you are planting your potatoes, you need to prepare the ground or get the bags and compost, you can buy a Patio Potato Growing Kit which has all you will need for this choice. For comprehensive instruction on growing potatoes in bags, see our guide. If you want to see the difference between growing in the ground or bags then read Sue’s (very unscientific) potato trials.
Potato ‘Rocket’ grown & cooked
When growing in the ground potatoes are not too fussy on soil type. An acidic soil is preferable but not essential; add sulphur to the tops of the potato ridge if the soil is alkaline. This will deter skin blemishes like Common Scab that is a problem in alkaline conditions. You can get a kit to tell you the type of soil you have. Choose an open position in full sun on fertile, well drained soil. Avoid soil where potatoes have grown for two years in succession, as this will increase the risk of disease. Begin preparing the planting site well in advance. A couple of months before planting is ideal to allow the soil to settle. Remove all weeds and dig the site thoroughly and deeply, lifting out any large stones, and incorporating plenty of well rotted organic matter like leaf mould and high potash fertiliser.
Ph tester kit & potato growing bags
When your potatoes arrive you will need to ‘chit’ them. This is essentially just growing shoots out of the tubers prior to planting. The benefit is they will produce faster growth and heavier crops. Do it as soon as you get them. Remove packaging; lay them out in a cool bright, frost-free position. Pop them in egg boxes or seed trays; you will notice that the immature shoots are all at one end (called the rose end). Place the potatoes with this end facing upwards. By the time that you are ready to plant them, they will have produced shoots up to 25mm (1″) in length.
Remember seed potatoes (tubers) can be cut if they have shoots at both ends, this will make 2 tubers, so you will get more potatoes from your crop.
Plant your first earlies in February; you will need to dig a trench to a depth of about 10cm (4″) and place the seed potatoes into the trench with the rose end facing upwards. Fill the trench with soil to cover the potatoes. The potash fertiliser purchased at the beginning of the year, which you added to the ground, is fine to put over the top of the trench.
Potato sacks – paper & hessian
It is important to ‘earth up’ potato crops as the shoots emerge above ground, to protect them from frosts which blacken the shoots and delays production. Simply draw some soil over the top of the shoots to cover them again. first early crops need plenty of water during prolonged dry weather especially when tubers are starting to form. When the stems reach a height of 23cm (9″) above ground they should be earthed up again to prevent tubers near to the soil surface from turning green.
Plannting and lifting guide times
Start to harvest first earlies as ‘new potatoes;’ when the plants begin to flower, approximately 10 weeks from planting around late May. Tubers will generally become larger the longer their growing period. It is worth having a gentle dig below the surface to check the potato sizes – if they’re too small simply leave them for another week or so, otherwise lift them and enjoy!
After harvesting, leave the tubers on the soil surface for a few hours to dry and cure the skin. Once dry store them in paper or hessian sacks in a dark, cool but frost free place. Avoid storing in polythene bags as potatoes will ‘sweat’ and rot.
Then all you have to do is enjoy them!
Pack size info: 1kg equates to approximately 15 potato tubers of grade 35:55.
Innovative Egg & Chips® plant makes the finals in two of gardening’s most prestigious floral awards
Thompson & Morgan is celebrating a second time in as many weeks, following the industry success of its latest dual cropping creation, Egg & Chips®.
The innovative potato and aubergine graft has been well received by all sectors of the industry and customers alike, with strong sales in its first season on the market. Already an announced finalist in the RHS Chelsea Flower Show Plant of the Year, the Ipswich-based seed and plant specialist has just been informed that Egg & Chips® has also been shortlisted as one of the five finalists in the prestigious Fleuroselect Fleurostar awards.
Egg & Chips®
Traditionally a bedding plant event, organisers where so impressed with the unique attributes of Egg & Chips® that it is being pitted against four new floral creations in this year’s ceremony; Argyranthemum ‘Grandaisy’, Dahlia x hybrida ‘Dahlegria Red Yellow Bicolor’, Dianthus caryophyllus ‘Capitán Colón’ and Begonia hybrid ‘Miss Malibu’.
Thompson & Morgan new product development manager, Michael Perry said; “We’re really pleased to see recognition being given to this very special creation. Previous finalists of these two prestigious awards, such as Petunia ‘Night Sky’ and Viburnum ‘Kilimanjaro Sunrise’, have gone on to become top-sellers for the industry, so expect to see Egg & Chips® widely grown on allotments, patios and gardens across the UK. Our recent focus on dual cropping vegetable plants has opened up home growing to everyone. Both our Egg & Chips® and Tomtato® plants allow home grown crops to be produced in the smallest of spaces. As long as you have room for a large patio pot, you have the space to grow your own potatoes and aubergines or potatoes and tomatoes.”
Egg & Chips®
Michael says these quirky plants could be the answer to encouraging the next generation of gardeners too. He adds: “These plants really capture the imagination of children. Grow Egg & Chips® with your kids or grandkids this summer and see their amazement as they harvest large shiny aubergines from the top and a crop of large white potatoes from the pot below.”
Egg & Chips®
The FleuroStar Contest will be held at nine locations in The Netherlands and Germany as part of the annual Flower Trials open days. More than 30 professionals working in plant breeding, production and retail, as well as trade journalists and marketing specialists, will choose the ‘Winner with the Wow Factor’ based on the highest average score on commercial potential and point of sale attractiveness. The winner will be announced on 16th June at the Green Inspiration Event at RAI Amsterdam, Netherlands.
Egg and Chips® can be grown outside in a sunny sheltered spot and will crop right through to the first frosts of autumn – even longer if you can bring the pot indoors later in the season. So there is still time to grow Egg & Chips® this season. Visit www.thompson-morgan.com and search ‘Egg & Chips®’ to order yours.
I hope you are all well.
These last few weeks have been really busy, April is an inspiring month. Before I set out to write this I had a quick read of my April 2015 diary and last years blog, as I was convinced that I was lagging behind in the greenhouse. However, according to my journal we had only just finished constructing the big greenhouse and we only had potatoes growing in sacks, onions and strawberry plants in the greenhouse so it turns out I’m actually a little ahead this year.
It’s hard to know where to start so I will begin by saying that my plug plants from Thompson & Morgan arrived, they include a Barnsley Baby Mallow, Nicotianas and Petunias. They have been potted on and are growing rapidly. To make room for my ever increasing seedlings, last September I sowed Yarrow, Californian poppies and nigella which have been hardened-off and planted either straight into the borders or into decorative pots. I have saved a few for mum as I like to share my plants with her in return for cookery lessons.
The September sown sweet peas have been pinched out and I would recommend reading Kris Collins sweetpea diary for some really good tips on successful sweet pea growing. The geraniums have germinated and are taking on that distinct leaf shape that makes them so identifiable. Before long they will be transplanted into pots of their own so they can establish into healthy specimens before being moved outdoors. I thought I planted a pot of red and a pot of green basil but one pot has nothing in it whilst the other has both in it! The variety shown looks really pretty together and I’m wondering if I have stumbled across a new summer taste sensation Basil Lemonade and Rubin mixed with fresh tomatoes. Has anyone else combined two basil tastes together?
Only one sunflower has germinated I’m not sure why this would be as they are in the same small greenhouse. I have sown more as these are one of my favourite plants. I’m still waiting for Malvin Mystic Merlin. I am also waiting for the Dahlia Cactus Flower, the Hot Chilli Peppers Prairie Fire, the Cycads, most of the Squashes and the Perennial Sunflower Helianthas Maximilian.
I have very recently sown two cucumber seeds, two pots of Baby Leave Lettuces, more Spencer Sweet peas, five pots of Everlasting Strawflowers, five pots of the half-hardy annual Bells of Ireland, three pots of Snapdragons, as well as several pots of Verbena Bonarienses as although this hardy perennial will happily self seed in our garden, last year the Blue Tits stripped the seeds and we have only two or three plants left out of the many we grew from an original seed packet at least six years ago. I have also sown some Asters as I love that it flowers mid summer to late autumn so it’s perfect for pollinating insects. In addition I have also taken the Begonia bulbs out of storage and put them in individual pots of compost to bring into growth.
We are really impressed with the Tomato ‘Magic Mountain’, all the seeds have germinated and there is rapid growth. I decided to plant a whole packet on the basis that they might not all grow, but I should of had more faith. Luckily I can give some plants to family and friends as well as keeping three for myself. The Aubergines have germinated and so has the Sweet Bonita Pepper. These have been moved onto the hanging shelves in the big greenhouse and they are loving their new position. Also on the shelves are the Aloes, Cactuses and Spider plants, as well as a germinated Banksia Hookerenia, I can’t wait to see how long it takes for this to grow into a decent sized plant, at the moment they have a pair of leaves that seem to be opening wider apart and getting bigger each day. I have trays of germinating seeds on the shelves too, a mixture mostly of the flowers mentioned above. What has surprised me most is that as the shelves are nearer the roof the plastic tubs stay hotter for longer, meaning that the compost warms up quicker hopefully giving the seeds a more temperate state. One drawback is though that they do dry out a lot quicker.
Also in the bigger greenhouse are the Charlotte Potatoes. They have, in the last month, grown so rapidly I cannot earth them up any more as the sacks are full. The leaves are strong and vibrant, although I am tempted to put them outside I always wait until the farmers in our neighbourhood take the plastic off their crops before I even think of hardening them off.
As I mentioned I am waiting for most of the squashes but I do have one Patty’s Pan that has grown, albeit a little weedy. Not everything has worked out unfortunately. My direct sown two dozen radishes shot up for about two weeks then died. I don’t know if it was the rapid change of temperature from cold to very warm and then back to very cold again or the fluctuating light levels. Either way they are no more. I don’t know if I will grow any more of them. I don’t have a specific veg patch in the garden so perhaps I will wait until early autumn and try them in the bigger greenhouse in pots on the shelves.
The final job we did before I wrote this blog was to decide what to do with my massive Peace Lily, Money Plant and Aloe Vera. They had outgrown their pots, and last summer I let them live outside, and apart from the Peace Lily the others successfully overwintered in the large greenhouse. Unfortunately they are now too big for the windowsills in my bungalow. My home is compact so we try not to have too many pots or ornaments cluttering the shelves. So I asked Mark if I could dig up the expired radishes in the border in the small greenhouse and settle them in the soil in there. I have no idea if this is a good idea or not, but I really didn’t know what to do with them. I didn’t want to give them away or plant them outside. I am hoping that it might make my small greenhouse look tropical and provide evergreen foliage throughout the year. I am hoping the heat they may generate will keep the seedlings warmer at night. I’m hoping it’s not a decision I live to regret!
I still have plenty of other jobs to do. I need to build my cane and string wigwam for my eating peas, keep an eye on the long term weather, as believe it or not there are sleet and snow showers forecast as well as frosty nights. I have to find and wash the bigger pots for the next stage of transplanting. If that’s not enough, I also want to keep up with all of the other cracking blogs on the T&M community page, and take a look at some of the growing guides. Whilst sorting out some DVD’s last weekend I came across the T&M E-zee Guide to planting Flower Pouches, I must watch this again as I would like to be able to gaze up at my ‘Night Sky’ Petunias.
Soon it will be May, another busy month, what with watering, thinning out, and repotting. But for now, I’m going to continue to enjoy the longer lighter evenings, pottering about after work with sieving, sowing and settling plants, sitting on a stool listening to the blackbird singing his evening song. The best things in life are definitely free.
Until next month,
Love Amanda X
Spring is on its way! Every farmer, gardener and outdoor working person will be able to identify with this, there is something in the air. One day we just step outside and the air feels and smells different. Bulbs are flowering, birds are singing and there is more heat in the sun. But it’s more than that, it’s an essence of things to come.
Amanda’s Potato Sacks & T&M Potato Sacks
My greenhouses are now filling up with fruit, veg and flower seeds that have been recently set. I love this time of year. I started out by asking Mark to find my potato sacks and give them a cold shower, so that there was no risk over overwintering pests or diseases in them that could affect my crop. After leaving the sacks to dry out in the big greenhouse until the weekend, I then set about choosing which seeds to grow. I did plan in January what I wanted, but then I changed my mind again. I do understand why garden designers say to just plant a few types of seeds with the same colour palette as it gives the garden uniformity, but I don’t like this style. I agree that it looks really effective, but to me, life is too short to just grow one type or colour of something.
So come Saturday, I sowed my potatoes and put them on the path of the large greenhouse where they will stay until the frosts have passed and they have been earthed up maybe once or twice. I also potted up some hot chillies and some mild peppers.
On Sunday I emptied everything out of the smaller greenhouse and gave it a good brush out. Mark then dug the greenhouse border over for me, pulling up a few weeds that had germinated in there over winter. Whilst he did this I took a variety of different sized pots into the house to give them a warm soapy wash in readiness for refilling.
Potato ‘Charlotte’ & Chilli Pepper ‘Poblana Ancho’
While the pots were drying I then set about sieving the garden centre compost. I enjoy doing this as its a great workout for my upper body. I place about three to five scoops of soil into the sieve and then shake it like mad until I have a fine potting compost in the tray below. The rougher stuff that is left in the sieve then gets thrown into the large borders in the bigger greenhouse, as its still good stuff just not great for the seeds. Sieving the compost also shows me what quality the shop bought stuff is like. I have bought what I thought was good value compost only to find out that it’s full of twigs and hard material and vey occasionally some clippings that seeds would not be able to push through. T&M sell incredicompost® but I have not used this as yet.
It takes me at least an hour to sieve about thirty litres of compost, it thirsty work but it’s nice in the sun. Mark is cutting the lawns so I sneak off to put the kettle on. Once inside I then look through my three tins of seeds. I am banned for buying seeds, according to Mark I have enough seeds to last me a few years. I like to have a choice though, and I always grow something new each year. Although I do have my favourites that I grow each year. These include sunflowers, peas and tomatoes.
Cycad seeds, Sunflower ‘Russian Giant’ & Pea ‘Aderman’
I am probably too methodical, but once my compost is sieved, I three-quarter fill all of the clean pots, this way I can see if I have enough compost, as it annoys me when I get to the last three or so pots at the end of the day only to find I have to drag everything back out and start sieving again.
I then put my seeds packets in order and using my seed sower device that looks a bit like a syringe I plant the number of required seeds into the pots. Sometimes I will sow the whole packet, but occasionally I just like to try a few seeds, this way if they fail the first time around, or an unforeseen change in weather kills them. I can always make a second sowing.
I start by planting three pots of Geraniums, I have not grown these from seed before so am excited to see how they differ from shop bought ones. There are eleven seeds in the packet so I put three per pot. Then I plant a single pot of Basil ‘Lemonade’, I love this herb, it’s so versatile. I also do a single pot of Basil ‘Rubin’, this is a very strong burgundy basil that I want to share with my friends and family. The Sunflower ‘Russian Giant’ are next, I plant five pots, two seeds per pot. Next is another plant I have not grown before, it’s called Malvin ‘Mystic Merlin‘ and it’s a mallow. The packet says its good for cottage style gardens and back of the borders, the flowers are lilac, purple and blue. This pack of seeds was part of a gift that I had for being blogger of the month towards the end of last year. I don’t think I have ever seen this plant before, so I can’t wait to see what it looks like. The tomatoes are next on the list. I am growing the Vegetable of the Year (2016) Tomato ‘Magic Mountain’ variety. It’s the best for blight resistance and as we had blight last year because of the warm wet summer, I am hoping I will have a much better crop. It’s also Year of the Cosmos so I plant up three pots with these seeds. Summer isn’t summer without going out into the garden and eating peas from their pods so I sow ten Pea ‘Alderman’ Heritage, they go into individual one inch pots. I never grow rows of peas, I train them up a wigwam and do succession sowing during the year. This way I can avoid the pests and crop for longer in the year.
Tomato ‘Magic Mountain’ & Cosmos ‘Xanthos’
I am eager to try a new vegetable too, so I sow three pots of Patty Plum Squash. These green skinned ones look like they would be nice stuffed and roasted. They also look good for a squash soup.
Finally I plant up my Cycads Species Mixed, again a free gift from T&M, there are only three seeds in this pack and one of them is huge as large as a fifty pence. It says they take one to three months to germinate, this is another new plant for me. I have seen them growing in botanical garden greenhouses, and I am a bit dubious about how big they are going to grow, but like I stated earlier, life’s too short to just grow one type of seed. I have a plan, that if they do grow they can stay in my small greenhouse turning it into a nursery and tropical space, whilst the bigger one can be for my fruit and veg. Mark did say if it gets too big it can always go outside, but being a greenhouse plant I don’t think it will survive. The Cycads are slow growing though so hopefully I will have few years to think about what to do with them if they actually grow.
After writing out a set labels on the back of old lolly sticks for each set of seeds, I then placed the tubs in wicker baskets and cover them with cling film to help retain heat and moisture during germination. I need to find my Dymo Machine so I can make individual labels for each pot, as I can guarantee things will grow at different times and I will move things around on the staging, and before I know it, my tomatoes will be in the garden borders and peas will be in the greenhouse, as I will have muddled the labels, or worse Mark will knock the labels off whilst watering and then I will have no idea what is what.
Just when I thought I had finished, I decided I would direct sow two dozen radish into the small greenhouse border. After all the soil was looking bare.
The above list might sound excessive but in all I only planted about thirty five pots and four sacks of potatoes. This will give me a good start and add to the plants that are now recovering from last month. It also leaves me with the opportunity to sow again later in the spring.
Petunia ‘Anna’ & Petunia ‘Night Sky’
Greenhouses aren’t just for germinating seeds though, they are a great place for bringing on plug plants, I am expecting a delivery soon from T&M of Petunia ‘Anna’, Petunia ‘Night Sky’ and my favourite Nicotiana ‘Eau d’ Cologne’. I have also ordered the shrub Barnsley Baby a Lavatera x clementii I have always fancied one of these and as it was on a special offer I could not resist. It comes in a seven centimetre pot so I might need to bring it on before it gets planted in the garden.
Greenhouses come in all shapes, sizes and prices, I started out with the plastic pop up ones many years ago, and I would recommend starting with these before investing in a horticultural one as this is a great test to see if you have the time and energy to devote to gardening whilst on a budget. My brother bought a lean to greenhouse last year, but as yet he hasn’t even built it, although he says its definitely going up this year and please can I supply him and the girls with some plants including aubergines. I hadn’t got around to sowing the aubergines.
So I now have another list of other plants that I have to grow for myself and the family, Aubergines, for my brother Sweet Peas and more Cosmos for mum, and a selection of herbs for someone at work. I usually grow loads of plants anyway so what’s a few more?
Do you end up growing more than what’s on your original gardening list or is it just me?
Until next month, Happy Gardening,
At Thompson & Morgan we know our customers demand high quality with exceptional value, which is why we have worked hard to produce a range of products which exceeds the high standards our customers have come to expect from us.
We have awarded our ‘Grow the Best’ rosette to some of our highest performing plants.
Our horticulturalists and customer trial panel carried out extensive field tests and put the plants through their paces in a variety of environments. Once the testing is completed we are given a considerable amount of feedback from our customer trial panel which without, we could not guarantee our ‘Grow the Best’ varieties with such confidence.
Potato ‘Jazzy’ & Begonia ‘Inferno’™
With this confidence we are able to offer a DOUBLE your money back guarantee if you are unhappy with any of our ‘Grow the Best’ products.
In this range of ‘Grow the Best’ we have both flowers and vegetables, with our Potato ‘Jazzy’ providing enormous yields both in the ground and in potato bags. These really exceptional second early potatoes are full of flavour and have been awarded the RHS AGM for their fantastic garden performance.
Customer favourite Petunia ‘Frills and Spills’™ Mixed’, is grown in the British climate for the British climate which means these delightful fragrant double bloomed petunias are completely weather tolerant and resilient to whatever the British weather can throw at them. The blooms are larger than normal petunia blooms, so when they cascade over the side of window boxes or hanging baskets they will provide a stunning summer display.
Fuchsia Giant Collection & Fuchsia ‘Bella Collection’
We have three varieties of fuchsias in our ‘Grow the Best’ range, the Fuchsia ‘Giant Collection’ which is our best value fuchsia. With giant frilled blooms which can flower up to 10cm (4”) across these eye-catching fuchsias will fill baskets and containers and last right through summer. Fuchsia ‘Bella Collection’ includes a range of five different varieties with some upright and bushy and others ideal for cascading; making these beautiful fuchsias perfect for almost any type of container. Our final fuchsia in this exceptional range is Fuchsia ‘Pink Fizz’ which produces in excess of 2,000 blooms from the beginning of summer right through until November. Outlasting almost everything else in the summer garden, this hardy shrub can tolerate temperatures down to -10C (14F), which means it can be planted to cover unsightly walls or frames and will perform better and better year after year.
Fuchsia ‘Pink Fizz’
Out of all the begonias we produce, Begonia ‘Inferno’™ is one of our customer favourites. Bred to perform whatever the weather it offers colour, vigour and unstoppable flower power! Perfect for low maintenance gardens and fast growing, this is one for those who don’t have much time but still want to enjoy an awesome display.
Why not peruse the ‘Grow the Best’ range as we are sure you will find plenty of the varieties are already your favourites.