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.


  Leave a reply

14 Comments

  1. Pauline Schaffer

    Just read your blog on Jersey Royals. I’m a Brit….longing for the taste of my favorite new potato. How did you order them? Couldn’t find them, or International Kidney on the US Thompson and Morgan site. Are they available here? Are Irish Cobblers similar in taste? Please help…..I worked manure into the soil last year, so I’m all ready for them!

    • Hello Pauline,

      Of course, it’s much easier to source seed potatoes for varieties like Jersey Royals / International Kidney in the UK than in N. America, so I don’t know how to help you.

      Also, I guess customs agencies are probably very strict about importing organic produce because of the obvious risk of disease.

      These are some of the sites that appear on UK Google searches for “buy international kidney seed potatoes”:
      http://www.jerseyplantsdirect.com/jersey-royals
      http://www.the-organic-gardener.com/potato-varieties.html
      http://www.suttons.co.uk/Gardening/Gift+Ideas/Christmas+Gifts/All+Christmas+Gifts/Seed+Potatoes+-+International+Kidney+1kg_234285.htm

  2. Due to limited space I’m going to grow in bags for the 1st time.
    What a choice, don’t know what to choose now.
    Always opted for Maris Piper & King Edwards in the past, fancy trying some earlier producers this year, it will be great if I can harvest two lots of spuds.
    Love the idea of Jerseys, Roosters, I can go on & on, how can I possibly decide on which to plant!
    Decisions, decisions…..I love the perfect potato also, so makes it more difficult, any ideas?….!!!
    Odelle.

  3. I am now wondering where I will put all the tubers I have now ordered!

    Gillie

  4. Tamar@StarvingofftheLand

    I’m convinced. Between you and Paula, I’m sold on the potato-in-a-bag technique. Although I have to fess up that, when it comes to spuds, I have a tin palate. There’s the waxy kind and the mealy kind, and that’s about where it ends. My Irish husband, though, finds infinite variation – and could eat potatoes every day.

    Good luck with your Imperialist varieties!

  5. Cluedocat

    Oh yes, and i perhaps should say, I grow my potatoes in dustbins as my space is very limited!

    Works very well for me!

  6. Cluedocat

    I tried the Rooster potatoes too!!! Waste of time aren’t they!!!! Went from raw to mush in about 30 seconds!!!!

    My father always recommends Maris Peer and I’ve always used the in the past with some success but decided on a change and because they were cheap!!!!

    You certainly learn by your mistakes!!!

  7. Hi, I found you via Lindsay on Ruralvillager.
    I remember the big floury spuds steaming in their skins in a big pot in the middle of the table during my childhood holidays with family in Ireland, always eaten on a side plate after being peeled.
    On the farm here in Orkney we have had great success with the new Sarpo blight-resistant varieties. Sarpo Mira is an excellent all-rounder in the kitchen. For earlies we planted Cara – delicious.

  8. Michelle in NZ

    My Mother remember’s that her Irish Gran (from the opposite end of the Irish Isle) always boiled the spuds in their skins – you had to skin your own once cooked. I confess that I loathe Mum’s own plain, peeled and over boiled potatoes.

    This summer I’ve found a new (probably old and rediscovered)waxy type that cook in water quickly and taste delicious. Mum likes Jersey Bennies but I find them very bitter under the skin – these new ones, branded as Perlas aren’t. The best floury spuds here are the Agria breed.

    Wishing you both a happy time growing, cooking and eating all these spud varieties, Michelle xxx

    • Tom King

      Cannot but agree. Discovered Agria when on holiday in NZ a few months ago and have been searching for a source of seed potatoes here in UK, so far without success. But, all is not yet lost. I went to a fish and chip shop in Southsea (Portsmouth) the other day and their notice board announced that they were frying Agria grown somewhere over in Suffolk. The hunt continues!

  9. Isn’t it funny how the potatoes our fathers grew is still such an important consideration? I grow Pentland Javelin for that reason and tried, but rejected in my soil, Arran Pilot for the same reason.
    I think it is probably a life’s work to find the ideal potato for your own conditions, given how different the weather is every year but it is fun trying. Good luck with your chosen varieties.

  10. Thanks for the nice plug, Fiona! I just ordered my seed potatoes last night: Sangre for earlies, Nicola for mains, and German Butterball for late mains. It sounds like you folks in Britain have much more varied and interesting choices!

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