August – Potatoes, Carrots….. and Elephants!

Theresa's Garden in August

Hello, it’s been a long time since I had the time to sit down and let you know how the garden has been progressing through August.

We have been harvesting everyday in the vegetable patch. I can’t remember a year where we have had such a good potato crop, both early and main crops have grown very well and to date no blight.  Carrots are abundant and no carrot fly, they have been well protected behind insect mesh along with our lovely crop of brassicas.  We have managed to keep the dreaded white butterflies and local wood pigeons off with netting.

Runner beans are all in the freezer as are the surplus Victoria Plums and we are busy cooking and freezing the cooking apples to see us through the year.

The tomatoes have proved very abundant and all varieties have ripened well.  They are being skinned and frozen in readiness for pasta sauce using all home grown garlic, basil and onions. This is then bottled for use throughout the year.

elephant hawk moth caterpillar in August

In the flower garden the baskets tubs and bedding are all full of colour. The large hardy fuchsia that has been in the garden for twenty years has been completely de-foliated by the biggest caterpillars of the beautiful Elephant Hawk Moth. Not a problem for the plant and a big boost for the moths.

 

Theresa Bloomfield
I have had my hands in soil ever since I could crawl. I remember well going out into the garden and watching my Father double digging the vegetable plot and being shown how to pick caterpillars off the brassicas. You could say he was an early organic gardener. There was something nice about sneaking round behind the outhouse and pulling rhubarb and dipping it in sugar, picking raspberries and stuffing handfuls into my mouth. It is these memories of taste and smell that never leave you and make you want to grow your own fresh fruit and vegetables.

It has been something of a treat then, to find myself working for Thompson and Morgan for the past 13 years and being able to help customers to solve their gardening problems

Finally, some rain!

Theresa vegetable garden after the rain

After several weeks without any significant rain last night we had 21mm enough to create puddles and fill all the water tanks.  The potatoes have visibly grown during the day and everything looks green and healthy.

The spring onion White Lisbon and the Radish Bacchus only sown 6 days ago are up as are the Little Gem lettuce and the Lollo Rosso.  We’re looking forward already to fresh salad from the garden.

I have sown the first Parsnip Tender and True; this seems to do very well here and overwinters nicely in the ground.  I shall do another row in a couple of weeks.  The cabbage Hispi and Red Jewel and beetroot Boltardy seeds sowed in cells will be ready to go out  in about a week, then I shall do a second sowing of them as well.   The runner beans are out as they were growing very quickly, the second sowing will go out a in a few weeks to stagger the crop a little.

Peonies

The spring garden is all finished and everything is growing very fast now for the summer. Bearded iris, Peony, Alliums and Perennial wallflowers are all colouring up.  Soon it will be planting out for the bedding and tubs.  Have bought some colourful pots today and will fill them with Garden Ready plants as I do not have enough greenhouse space to grow on small plugs. The pots are destined for decorating a wedding venue in August so I have got to get that right!

Theresa Bloomfield
I have had my hands in soil ever since I could crawl. I remember well going out into the garden and watching my Father double digging the vegetable plot and being shown how to pick caterpillars off the brassicas. You could say he was an early organic gardener. There was something nice about sneaking round behind the outhouse and pulling rhubarb and dipping it in sugar, picking raspberries and stuffing handfuls into my mouth. It is these memories of taste and smell that never leave you and make you want to grow your own fresh fruit and vegetables.

It has been something of a treat then, to find myself working for Thompson and Morgan for the past 13 years and being able to help customers to solve their gardening problems

Tomatoes, potatoes and yoghurt pots

 

Theresa's vegetable garden

tomatoes in growing bag

The tomato plants in the conservatory have started to produce their first flowers so it is time to move them into their growing space.  I use re- useable Tomato growing bags and fill them with good quality compost mixed with some home grown compost, I like them because they give plenty of depth to plant deeply. This encourages the plants to put down extra roots which in turn makes for a stronger more productive plant. I also use collars around each plant this acts as a reservoir when you water and allows the water to seep into the bag slowly. I can fit 12 plants in the greenhouse and then have pots outside with about five more plants including my favourite bush tomato Red Alert.

The cucumbers, squash and courgettes have all germinated over the last week. I use large yoghurt pots for sowing in; this gives them plenty of depth to get a good root system going. They can stay indoors for a bit longer, until at least the end of May when we can be sure there will not be hard frost.

Having covered the potatoes last week because of the expected cold spell, they needed uncovering today, plenty of new growth so I shall be out there tomorrow ‘earthing up’.  There was a little frost damage on a few of the leaves but nothing serious.

 

We are eating fresh asparagus almost every day, if you have the patience to wait for two years it is a very rewarding crop to grow. A little weeding feeding and mulching in the winter and it will be growing for the next 15- years.

The flower beds are looking lovely, the Perennial Wallflowers with the Forget me Nots are one of my favourite sights. Two years ago I started off a Wisteria to grow into a free standing tree.  It has flowered this year for the first time and looks a picture.  When it has reached a respectable size I shall transfer it to the garden, maybe near the replacement pond we are constructing but that is another story……

Theresa Bloomfield
I have had my hands in soil ever since I could crawl. I remember well going out into the garden and watching my Father double digging the vegetable plot and being shown how to pick caterpillars off the brassicas. You could say he was an early organic gardener. There was something nice about sneaking round behind the outhouse and pulling rhubarb and dipping it in sugar, picking raspberries and stuffing handfuls into my mouth. It is these memories of taste and smell that never leave you and make you want to grow your own fresh fruit and vegetables.

It has been something of a treat then, to find myself working for Thompson and Morgan for the past 13 years and being able to help customers to solve their gardening problems

Spuds up? T&M’s are down!

charlotte potato

With spud prices set to soar for retailers and consumers, Thompson & Morgan brings down the price of seed potatoes and repeats its mantra to ‘grow your own’.

According to sources such as the Financial Times (Feb. 3 2017) and London-based data firm, Mintec (30 Jan. 2017), UK potato prices are up 30% year-on-year due to a decline in production.  Their figures show a reduction in UK potato output for 2016/17 of 5%, whilst yields for the 2016/17 season are estimated to be down 8% on last year due to adverse weather conditions seen throughout the growing season.  At 5.2 million tonnes, the total UK potato crop was the fourth smallest on records going back to the 1960s. (AHDB Potatoes analysis)

However, while retailers and consumers keep a keen eye on rising potato prices, horticultural mail order company, Thompson & Morgan has brought its seed potato prices DOWN for the 2017 season. As an example, the firm cites one of its most popular potato varieties, Lady Christl. Last year, a bag of 60 tubers of this favourite, creamy-fleshed, easy-to-grow variety was selling for £12.99; this year a 4kg bag containing 64-72 tubers is selling for £9.99 – that’s a per tuber drop in price of 23%!

potatoes being harvested“I really urge people – gardeners or not – to have a go at growing their own potatoes”, says Colin Randel, Thompson & Morgan’s resident potato expert. “Not only does it look likely that potato prices will go up in the shops, but you know what you’re eating when you grow your own. There’s no need to worry about the pesticides, the food miles, the months spent piled up in storage – you just dig up tasty, wholesome spuds from your garden or allotment”.

And you don’t even need a garden or an allotment; you can easily grow potatoes on your patio or balcony. There really is nothing like the satisfaction of tipping a crop of home-grown potatoes out of a handy grow bag just in time for supper.

 

 

 

For Thompson & Morgan’s full range of potatoes, go to http://www.thompson-morgan.com/potatoes-inspiration and for tips on growing potatoes at home, look at T&M’s handy guides How to grow potatoes in the ground, How to grow potatoes in bags and Potato Selector Guide.

Sonia Mermagen
Sonia has recently returned to Thompson & Morgan in the role of marketing copy writer. She is a self-proclaimed ‘reluctant’ gardener and is generally amazed if anything flourishes in her garden. Sonia is a big fan of plants marked ‘easy to grow’, ‘drought tolerant’ and ‘no pruning necessary’. In her own garden, Sonia has a ‘hands off’ approach and believes that this encourages bees, butterflies and other wildlife. (That’s her excuse anyway!)

Potatoes – First earlies are great for beginners?

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Wendie Alexander
I have worked for Thompson & Morgan for nearly four years. In that time I have learnt lots about gardening, but consider myself very much a novice. I have started growing veg on a colleague’s allotment and also growing windowsill seeds such as Salad Leaves and Rocket. I love gaining more knowledge about horticulture and am lucky enough to work here.

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