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.
I’m so excited! (Sad middle-aged woman, doesn’t get out much.) I’ve bought a large heated propagator and David has fixed up my smaller ones so I now have 5 on the go! The perennials must be quaking in their boots as I have been prowling around, secateurs in hand, eyes narrowed, snipping off as many non-flowering shoots as I could find. I have even dug out (haha, no pun intended) some (stale) organic rooting powder and added vermiculite to my potting compost to give them the best start in life.
Still looking lush & ricinus still growing
First though I had to clean the greenhouse and covert it from summer to autumn function: Everything out, chillies, tomatoes and cucamelons harvested, plants composted (that’s a lie, they will be composted, but by the council, am ashamed to admit I don’t have a compost heap – I AM NOT A REAL GARDENER). Plant food, seed tins, storage boxes and general detritus out, staging and flooring swept. Someone please tell me why it is only now that the curcuma bulbs have sent up new growth, stuffed as they are into a dark corner, as no amount of encouragement during the summer had any effect?
So there I was pottering about when out of the corner of my eye a creature, at first thought a frog, threw itself against the greenhouse door before beating a hasty retreat to safety. As I suspected, the mice are back! Small burrows are appearing in the soil of the raised tomato trough, surrounded by straw and bird seed. (You have to admire their tenacity; they have gnawed a serrated circle and a mouse hole through the lid of the plastic storage bin – he who dares wins, I say.) In honour of their return I have even bought a small resin statue of a mouse.
My shed (not really!) & St. Michael on the Mount
It’s all change on the patio too. I got bored waiting for the begonias to die down so I pulled them up to dry their corms for overwintering. Turfed out the spent soil as mulch onto the back of the dry border where the cornus go to die. Crammed T & M Jonquilla daffs into every pot: Martinette, Pipit, Pueblo and Green Eyed Lady. Don’t think I have bought enough! Must have more, more, more! Breath…………..Without the colourful annuals the patio has transformed from exotic terrace to shady glen; the ferns really come into their own at this time of year, and I’ve added T & M Blechnum brasiliense Volcano to the mix, which has been growing on in the greenhouse since The Triallist’s Open Day, waiting for its new home. Sadly most of the heucheras have come away in my hands, their roots eaten by the dreaded vine weevil (Note to self, try nematodes next year, the chemical drench lied.) I’ve put all five FUCHSIA fuchsiaberries together in one huge pot in the hope that they will establish and make more of an impact next summer, as they never really got going this year. More sun I think.
Talking of sun (good link, huh!) David and I did actually manage to have a holiday last month after all. We went to stay with our old friends-&-neighbours who have moved to Manaccan, a village – in the middle of nowhere, sorry B & P – on the Lizard peninsula in south Cornwall. (And just as fellow blogger Amanda found with her bedfellows in hospital, one of the first people we were introduced to was a keen gardener who buys from T & M and reads the blogs!) First thing I noticed was how echium are growing en masse in Bob’n’Patti’s garden, so much so that their gardener pulls’em up like weeds! They have a patch of ginger 6ft tall and 5ft round and perennial aeoniums the size of dinner plates. All of which they inherited from the previous owners.
Trebah – September 2016
We visited Helston Museum, one of the largest folk museums in the South West, with a vast social history collection dating from the 18th to the 20th century. My attention was naturally drawn to the gardening exhibits, some of which looked eerily like the contents of my shed, the implication being that I too am a relic!
Tremenheere Sculpture Gardens could have been on Madeira, if it wasn’t for the tell-tale view of St Michael’s Mount in the bay. Trebah Gardens was a revelation! A grand colonial style whitewashed mansion sits on the brow of the hill, overlooking the panoramic sweep of Hydrangea Valley, full of blue hydrangeas, towering palms, gunnera, tree ferns (also growing like weeds) and towering bamboo, as it slopes down to the sea. You could be forgiven for thinking you were in some sub-tropical paradise. It reminded me of a tea plantation (not that I’ve ever been to one you understand but I have watched Indian Summers).
New T&M bidens still flowering its head off! & LGS Best Small Back Garden 2016
Having visited RHS Hyde Hall in Essex shortly after our return (needed another horticultural fix before the winter) I was bowled over by the swathes of grasses and prairie planting. All three gardens are breath-taking in their scale, but completely contrasting in environmental conditions and planting styles. England certainly punches above its weight when it comes to its wealth of different terrains! (My uncle used to say I had swallowed a dictionary when he read my A level essays.)
So back at Chez Broome autumn has taken hold, but nobody has told the hanging baskets! The new T&M bidens is having a late flush (know how it feels) although for some strange reason the flowers are all white this time, instead of pink tinged. Petunia ‘Crazytunia Mandevilla’ and Minitunia calibrachoa ‘Crackerjack’ just keep on going so I just keep on feeding. The lime green, black and caramel coloured foliage of ipomaea are going for it in the shade so I’ll just leave them all to it!
Oh, and reader, we won: London Gardens Society Best Small Back Garden 2016. How about that!
Autumn is the time of year to think about cleaning and maintenance. To help with this, we have listed a number of tasks and tools to use. This is not an exhaustative list but includes some hints and tips to get you started.
Greenhouse, gardening & all-purpose cleaner
Greenhouse: The greenhouse is an important part of your autumn/winter plans. If you don’t already have one, now is the time to invest. If you are lucky enough, then it is time to have a cleanup. When most of your plants have died back, it is the perfect time to give the greenhouse a sweep. This removes any unwanted old compost, and decayed plant matter, making sure you keep those garden pests, such as wood lice, at bay. Get a good broom, and strong handle, lift all the old pots and containers off the floor, and sweep around. Give the floor and windows a good clean with a strong cleaning agent or disinfectant. This will rid your greenhouse of anything unwanted from the previous season. If you have completely cleared out the greenhouse, you could even use a pressure washer. When the greenhouse is empty, put in some insulation to keep everything warm over the autumn and winter seasons. If you have pots lying around, give them a wash and any old and broken pots can be used for drainage in new pots. For a treat, why not add a potting bench or bench tidy to the greenhouse for when you start sowing seeds.
Potting bench & bench tidy
Tidy Borders: Prune any late-flowering shrubs, or climbing roses, unless they are repeat flowerers, then prune when finished. Either sharpen secateurs and pruning shears, or invest in new, they perform better the sharper they are. After tidying borders, add well rotted manure to add nutrients to the ground, spent mushroom compost to insulate plant roots. Add a mulch with bark chips to suppress weeds during winter and the coming season. Clear overhanging plants from pathways to maintain access routes. Make time to trim evergreen hedges before winter sets in completely. This will keep them neat and tidy through the season. You could even install solar lighting to see your garden in the dark evenings.
Lawn mower & garden fork
Lawn Maintenance: Initially invest in a suitable lawn mower for your garden. Mow any long grass, ensuring you raise the height of the mower blades as grass growth is slowing down at this time of year. Try aerating your lawn with a garden fork, as this helps to improve drainage and aeration. Remove any thatch from the surface with a garden rake, and repair dead patches with grass seed. Use a lawn scarifier if you have a large area to cover. In January, try adding lawn edging to create a neat and tidy appearance, making maintenance easier during the coming months.
Secateurs & solar lighting
Compost bin: In preparation for all the fallen leaves and dead plant material to come over the coming months, buy a compost bin. Autumn leaves are a good addition to compost bins and ideal for leaf mould. However don’t compost rose leaves in case they have diseases such as black spot. If you are adding woody pruning to compost bins, shred or chop it first as they are slow to decompose.
Pond wizard & netting for brassicas
Fish and Bird Care: It is a good idea to add netting to your ponds to prevent leaves from falling in. Clean pond weed, and lay it out next to the pond for a couple of days to allow the wildlife to get back into the water. Add a bird bath, keeping it topped up with fresh water all through autumn and winter. Consider adding a bird feeder in the garden, keeping it topped up with bird seed and fat balls. Birds are real friends to the gardener keeping pest numbers down.
We hope these hints and tips help you to get your autumn and winter gardening underway. For more ideas, visit our What To Do In The Garden This Month, or our Top 10 Winter Tips.
I hope you have had a wonderful summer and are enjoying the fruits of your harvest. I have had the most successful year ever thanks to the reliable and strong seeds from Thompson & Morgan. I wish I had thought to count how many Tomato ‘Magic Mountain’ seeds we had. We had such a glut we were giving them to friends, neighbours, family and hospital staff. My mum has made me pasta sauce and tomato soup on a regular basis and my brother took some to make me a chutney although I have yet to see it!
Unfortunately, I can’t take the credit for looking after the watering and feeding of the plants as I haven’t been well enough It’s thanks to Mark and mum that the greenhouses have been kept going. The only thing I did was prune the tomato vines down to five foot, pinch out the side shoots and cut off the lower leaves as the fruits were forming.
My Uncle Vince who lives in Solva says he’s had the worst tomato crop ever. He thinks they’ve not had enough sun and they have been affected by blight. My Tomato ‘Magic Mountain’ have certainly lived up to the claim that they are blight resistant as so far there is no disease in our greenhouse and the weather is unpredictable at the moment.
Huge haul of tomatoes & delicious pasta sauce
Blogger Jean Willis who grows wonderful petunia displays sent me a few packets of seeds, the chillies didn’t take, they germinated well but a sudden hike in temperature when I was in hospital meant they were put under stress as they were on the hottest shelf in the greenhouse, all day. When they were watered intermittently at dusk the compost had dried out far too much,and they couldn’t recover. Mark had so much to do in the mornings I had to occasionally remind him by text to open the greenhouse doors and windows and damp down the floor. However, the Pepper ‘Sweet Bonita’ has been the best plant I have ever grown! They have even beaten the plug plants that I usually buy in terms of numbers of fruit, taste and size. Again I’m not sure if this is down to Mark looking after them, or that I have set the greenhouse planting up better than last year, by choosing the side closest to the house for the tomato vines so the heavy leaves and vigorous growth don’t shade out the sun for the slower and lower growing crops.
After carefully growing aubergines for my other brother, who still hasn’t managed to build his greenhouse (2nd year of having it) I ended up with too many plants, and I used up the last of my precious seeds. I gave a plant each to my auntie and mum, but both of them say that there are no fruits on theirs. Mum’s is outdoors as she does not have a greenhouse, and my Auntie Mary’s aubergine is in a pot in the greenhouse, but comes out to sit on the path in the day. Mum lives three miles away from me, and my auntie lives twenty odd miles away from me. I think it may be because the Enorma seeds tend to do better undercover.
I bought some cucamelons and they cropped really well, but due to having excess aubergine plants I could only grow them in a pot with a string frame in the greenhouse. They would have been better in the borders with a strong mesh support, however they did grow and fruit really well. It’s not something I will grow again though as I wasn’t keen on the taste, although it was funny watching people’s faces as they bit into the fruits and decided on what they tasted like or whether they liked them or not. Surprisingly it was my oldest niece Ffion who loved them. She even asked if she could take some home for her lunch box, I told her to take as many as she liked. This then led to her sisters Hattie and Gracie asking very sweetly if they could take some peppers, tomatoes and aubergines home to make a fruity rice dish for tea. I am glad I had more than enough for them to go home with.
This is the time of the year when I would be planning my winter crops, things like cauliflower, broccoli, onions turnip, spinach and Christmas Potatoes. I would be sowing seeds, sifting compost, and keeping an eye for spaces in the greenhouses to pop the plants into. However, the way it’s going I will still be eating summer fruits in the winter. The aubergines are still fruiting, as are the peppers and cucamelons, although I think the tomatoes will be finished by the end of the month. I also have been now banned from working with compost, and am not allowed into the greenhouses or garden without gloves on as I have started Chemotherapy. My treatment is weekly and for a possibility of eighteen weeks, with an operation after, so all I can do at the moment is delegate tasks to mum and Mark.
Just because I am having this treatment doesn’t mean that my gardening life has stopped, it’s just changed down a gear. For my birthday Mark bought me some Primula Vialii plug plants and they have been transplanted into individual three inch pots to overwinter on the shelves. These are in the small greenhouse along with three aubergines in pots, a massive begonia which is in the aloe borders. A squash plant is also in the small greenhouse, that I thought wouldn’t make it and the money tree which has put on loads of growth through the summer.
The big greenhouse has the tomato plants, aubergines, peppers, cucamelons and the basils. I also seem to
have a woodlice invasion too! But it’s my fault they are there as I didn’t tell Mark and mum to pick up all the dead material from the borders. Yesterday I had poor mum picking up the odd split tomato, dead leaves, spent trusses and random snails all in order to keep the greenhouse as clean as possible to help prevent diseases forming. I don’t mind the woodlice, but I occasionally heard a startled squeak from mum when she uncovered them under a leaf. I have stopped using slug pellets in the greenhouses as the plants are strong enough to cope with the irregular munch. I felt quite empowered saying snip this, cut that, compost that bit. Poor mum, but I did pay her in fresh raspberries and apples from the garden, and another tub of tomatoes.
Another great garden haul
The strangest thing to happen since I’ve being diagnosed with Cancer is that I’ve met some wonderful Thompson & Morgan customers in the three hospitals I have been in, and one of them a lovely lady called Lynne said she always reads my blogs. I was really shocked at this, because I only ever expect family or friends to read them I did say I still am as surprised as anyone else when things grow, as I’m still learning how to garden. I also had good advice from another great lady called Sally-Anne (aka Purple Pip) who insisted I get out in the fresh air as much as possible. I’ve made friends for life with Hazel, Kelly and Monica, and the support from Bloggers Geoff, Caroline and Jean has been incredible.
I am really hoping that I will have something to blog about in the next month or two if not I might just do a short winter blog, if not I will just have to rely on Geoff, Caroline, Jean and all of the other writers for my gardening fix.
Until next time, Take care, and Happy Gardening,
So anyway, after two weeks of tropical 30c heat, here we are in mid-September, the rain finally came and the temperature’s dropped to a respectably dull 20c. Great, I think, I can start tidying up for the autumn, and then go on holiday. But when I get outside everything has started greening up and growing again!
Anyone for cucamelon? & cucamelon and Tomato ‘Tutti Fruiti’
All very confusing, for me as well as the plants! Summer: The cucamelons are overtaking the greenhouse and have taken the tomatoes hostage, the cucumber vine isn’t even mildewed yet, and the peppers are ripening. Autumn: Salvia cuttings and strawberry runners are potted up. Winter: Colocasias have been brought undercover. Spring: My T&M bulbs have arrived.
Talking of which, I‘ve gone all delicate for next spring: I’ve bought jonquilla daffs Martinette, Pueblo & Pipit, and Green Eyed Lady for the patio containers. For the raised bed out front I’ve bought scilla, aconite and puschkinia; lots and lots of them. I’m into naturalising from now on, partly to let nature increase its stocks and partly because I hate planting bulbs. Tulips are off – by the time they come into flower I’ve got bored waiting, and the minute they start to look off colour I pull’em up because I’m impatient to start planting out for summer. No point planting them in pots as Fred the Oriental eats the leaves! Alliums get on my nerves too, all those floppy leaves lying around amongst the pristine perennials. Oh didn’t I tell you? I’m a neat freak.
Poinsonous ricinus seed heads & minitunia Calibrachoa ‘Crackerjack’
However, I digress. Actually I‘ve had a lovely morning in the garden. Been around all the borders deadheading & cutting back, planting up some divisions I took earlier this year to bulk up their parent plants, reducing clumps of thugs like achillea The Pearl, and relocating perennials to rebalance displays. I’ve even pushed the boundaries of taste (my taste anyway) and planted very garish (plant label refers to them as Bold) but stunning Rudbeckia ‘Summertime Orange‘ and Helenium autumnale ‘Red Shades’. Sedums seem to be very in vogue at the moment with several new varieties on offer. I have bought Jose Aubergine, a deep burgundy type with dusky pink flowers. (Why I have bothered to plant late summer colour is a mystery to me as I‘m only likely to see it on my way to the greenhouse and back these days.)
Since our last Open Day for this year on Sept 4th I’ve barely been in the garden for more than a few minutes at a time – too hot or too busy – other than to water. The auto-watering system keeps exploding from a key joint in the pipe on the patio. (As a result, frogs have been gravitating to the cool shady moisture of the patio from the scorching heat of the borders, straight into the jaws of Winky the Sphynx. One such happy incident resulted in seven cats staking out the sofa with frog in hiding underneath. David applied the glass jar and plate method of capture, frog relocated to pond and all was well.) Back to the matter at hand, consequently the irrigation system was rendered useless during the hottest September temperatures for the last 40 years so watering had to be done with hose and sprinkler twice a day for nearly a fortnight. A heated debate ensued amongst friends, as to the relative merits of watering as a means of relaxation as opposed to deadheading. My money’s on deadheading every time!
Petunia ‘Mandevilla’ & Today’s Catch!
Since the summer holidays ended there has been a distinct change of pace (traffic, talks of Christmas) but my thoughts are naturally turning to Garden 2017. The summer house, currently decorated in the style of a 1930s tea room, is going to be transformed into a beach hut. On the patio we are going to fix mirrors along the boundary fence to reflect more light in and make it look bigger.
It’s time to reflect on the winners and losers of the season, now that this summer’s T&M trial period has concluded. Definitely to be repeated next summer are Petunia ‘Cremissimo’, minitunia Calabrachoa ‘Crackerjack’, Bidens ‘Bee Dance Painted Red’ and the un-named bidens which is being launched in T&M 2017 catalogue. Petunia ‘Crazytunia Mandevilla’ is not for the faint hearted, although stunningly beautiful and still going strong, it needs watering and deadheading twice a day at the height of the season and sulks if you don’t feed it every week. Although Fuchsia FUCHSIABERRY never really got going I am hopeful that it will come into its own next summer. Patti Pans ‘Summer Mixed’ have been great fun to grow and are very versatile in recipes for stir fry, roasted, in soups and pie fillings. Having initially been disappointed in Tomato ‘Tutti Frutti’, suddenly, overnight it seems, the trusses have ripened to produce colourful little fruits, not my favourites but very pretty.
Ricinus communis ‘Impala’ has been a revelation, three magnificent specimens grown from seed, admired by all, and great fun to see people’s faces when you tell them that’s where the poisonous ricin comes from! But my absolute favourite product has got to be Cucamelon ‘Melothria’: A real curiosity on Garden Open Days, and second prize in the Any Other Fruits category at our Horticultural Society Autumn Show. (Hmm, David won first prize and Best In show for his Dinner Plate Aeonium, judged by the one and only Jim Butress no less.) So easy to grow from seed, three vines have produced dozens, no hundreds, of fruits that look like mini watermelons and taste like lemon flavoured cucumbers. They are delicious in salads dressed with raspberry vinegar or thrown into a gin and tonic (with lime juice ice-cubes) or Pimms. Anyone got any other recipes for cucamelon?
My next blog will be after the London Gardens Society awards in October; we have been shortlisted for Best Small Garden so fingers crossed…..In the meantime I intend to make the most of the autumn as it’s a long old winter ahead. Hope you do too!