The Cottage Smallholder


stumbling self sufficiency in a small space

Ordering seed potatoes

 

A few of last year's potato plants to tempt you

A few of last year's potato plants to tempt you

“So what potato varieties did your father grow on his five acres when you were growing up?”
David was intelligent, Welsh, fairly left wing and intrigued that he had met a potato connoisseur.
After a long pause Danny replied:
“King Edwards, British Queens, Kerr’s Pinks and Home Guard.”
Danny grew up in the Republic of Ireland. David chortled loudly at the imperialistic names of the potatoes and ever after never let him forget the paradox between Irish independence and the names of his dad’s favourite varieties.

It became a running joke.

Although I like to think that I fulfil Danny’s hopes, up until last year I now realise that I failed dismally on the potato front. Between you and me I’ve always thought that all varieties of spuds taste largely the same.

Apart from Jersey Royals, the superb new potatoes that arrive in the shops with a hefty price tag that is soon forgotten when they are served with butter and a sprinkle of mint. I have discovered that the seed potatoes for Jersey Royals are in fact called International Kidney. This variety has been bred on and nurtured by Jersey growers. The combination of rich soil and a temperate climate make Jersey Royals special. I’ve invested in some of the International Kidney seed potatoes – £3.99 from Thompson and Morgan  and will try my luck this year. Although these are waxy Danny loves the flavour of these and another favourite of mine, Maris Piper. The latter is a staple in the cottage.

D did consider bringing back a bag of spuds from Ireland when he visited his family. But as he only travels with cabin baggage this was virtually impossible unless he wore the same clothes for three weeks.

It wasn’t until I discovered Rooster potatoes a year or so ago that I could finally understand where D was coming from. My first foray with these red skinned ‘new to me spuds’ was a disaster. I peeled them and they split apart within minutes into a mush at the bottom of the saucepan. Then I remembered that D’s family dogs always ate the potato skins as part of their diet. And that’s the trick, floury potatoes need to be cooked in their skins – even chopped into slices the skin holds the flesh and is delicious too. Min Pins don’t get a look in as far as skins are concerned. Baked Roosters are a potato that we’ll be toying with in heaven – they just melt in the mouth and the skins are as crisp as an icy winter morning.

Last year our farming friend JP gave us some amazing seed potatoes that grew huge with husbandry borrowed from Australian farmers and lots of effort to improve the soil and growing conditions. They fed us for months. We have supplemented this terrific store with other spuds. Danny takes his potatoes very seriously; he likes to graze the different varieties. He gave Lady Balfour the thumbs down and the very early Swift didn’t pass the acid Danny taste test. I’d picked these up in the garden centre – just a choice of five varieties.

So this year I decided to finally try and find some floury seed potatoes for us. Rooster seed potatoes are available on a few websites (I bought our Rooster seed potatoes from Thompson and Morgan)  – but imagine my joy when I found British Queens for sale in the new Otter Farm online shop. These were joined in my basket by two other varieties of floury seed potatoes, Edzell Blue and Sharpe’s Express. I just had to buy the last lot as D is a big fan of Bernard Cornwall’s Sharpe series of books.

Since then I have spotted British Queens on other websites and even Home Guard!

We will be growing some of these in a 16 square m. border and in a number of bags dotted around the garden. We had great success last year using leaves as a growing medium in the bags. Put a 6cm layer of stones and old crocks at the bottom (don’t waste money on gravel), followed by a 6cm layer of compost and a handful of bonemeal. Place the seed potatoes on the compost with a few handfuls of compost followed by a thick layer of leaves. Top up with leaves as the potatoes grow and keep well watered. When the potatoes are ready to be harvested the leaves will have broken down and can be spread on your borders as a conditioning mulch.

Apparently I had a much better harvest than the spuds grown by a gardening expert in a bag using compost. Steve Ott of Kitchen Garden magazine came to lunch and we compared notes! I was so pleased that he wanted to examine the bag and questioned me closely on the method. I’m no expert just keen to find out the easiest way to achieve the best crops with the minimum of effort. This idea was generously shared on our blog by Paula who writes the excellent blog Weeding for Godot and lives in Oregon, USA. And that’s what our blog is all about – sharing can direct us all to the easiest and most productive future.


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13 Comments

  1. denis hayes

    Hi Fiona, i live in Germany and miss a real flowery spud, I hope you can help me find one we used to call “Leagers” on the west Coast of Clare. I think they may go by the name of ” Edzell Blue ” these days. You can make us happy if we can order some from you, i still have time to plant because the ground is still fairley cold here.
    Very best regards…

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