Chitting and planting Red Duke of York First Earlies

OK so this is the first thing I’m growing in my Victory Garden – a reliable staple for the kitchen and one of the most versatile natural ingredients you can get. The humble potato.   The first early variety I’m growing is called the Red Duke of York – which as the name suggests is a red skinned potato.

The Red Duke of York is a heritage early potato variety bred in 1942 – so just before WW2. This potato is said to have a wonderful strong flavour and is good for pretty much every purpose.  It can be roasted, mashed, baked or used to make chips.  The Red Duke of York hides pale, yellowish flesh under it’s thick red skin.

I believe (but don’t quote me on it) that the Red Duke of York was bred from the Duke of York, and is said to be an improvement in terms cooking, vigour and flavour – but I’ll be the judge of that!

I managed to pick these up at B&Q and I had to admit, I thought what terrific luck that I’ve found such an historical tuber in the most unlikely of places. The Red Duke of York was grown extensively by amateur gardeners towards the end of World War II and during the very austere post war period.

As you can see from the images I’m trying my best to stick with the plan I’ve put together as much as possible. I first dug over the patch and marked out the area with a piece of string.  A technique I’ve adopted is to use my trowel to measure how far apart I plant the tubers, I then plant them about a trowel depth into the ground.

When they start poking through the ground I’ll be covering the tops with sifted soil from the compost heap.

Have you ever grown Red Duke of York? If so, let me know how you got on!

Digging out First Early Potatoes: Pentland Javelin

I’m finally digging out some lovely, fresh first early potatoes!  Potatoes are a great staple in the kitchen and they’re so easy to grow and they are so delicious.  When digging up potatoes, it’s often the case that you stick your fork into the ground and you end up with a potato at the end of it – this does happen from time to time and depending on your preference, this potato will be find if you were to just rinse it under the tap.

To avoid this, start digging about a foot away from the plant and dig deep. If you’re unsure as to whether you’ve managed to find all of the potatoes, dig and dig again – you won’t believe how many strays managed to grow through from last year.

I have to say that digging up potatoes is quite exciting and quite a tangible experience, all of that planting, weeding and mounding up has paid off – but the thing that has struck me about Pentland Javelin is the colour, they’re a bright, white potato that shines through the mud.

Growing potatoes is a great way of cleaning the ground – if you have a patch of ground that hasn’t been touched, is hard and just needs to be worked then planting potatoes is THE plant to grow. Mounding your crop and then subsequently digging them out will achieve all of the above for you.  The patch that I’ve grown my first early potatoes in admittedly is now in need of some nutrients – once the potatoes have been dug out, I will look to empty the compost bin and pile in some freshly sifted soil.

The other great thing about growing first, second and main crop potatoes is that by the time I’ve dug out the first early potatoes, the second early crop will be ready to dig out and so fourth!

I can not wait to get these in the kitchen and cook these with butter and mint. I’ll keep you posted on what recipe I come up with.

Mounding potatoes

No matter what variety of potato you’re growing, the chances are, at some point, you’re going to need to mound up your potatoes. What that means is that you cover the shoots that are poking through the ground with soil. People call this process different things – so you may hear people refer to this as “earthing up”, “covering over” or simply “burying”, but they all mean exactly the same thing.

Mounding up the potato plant helps to encourage as much growth of potatoes along the stem of the plant while also protecting the potatoes from being exposed to light. Nobody wants green potatoes! If your potatoes are exposed to sunlight, the bulb will start to produce a chemical called solanine and become inedible. When potatoes are left out in the sun too long they also produce chlorophyll, as a way to turn the energy from the sun into food.

 

This year, I’ve started earthing up my potatoes a little bit earlier because of the unpredictable weather, one minute we’re getting frost, hail, sleet and in the next we’re basking in glorious sunshine. The tops of the plant are around 12″-15″ tall, and this is about the time that you want to start earthing potatoes. I try not to cover the entire plant, and leaving some of the foliage exposed to the sun so that they can photosynthesize. Depending on how productive they are, I’ll look to repeat this every couple of weeks. In the past, my potato mounds have crept up to about one and a half feet high.

As I’ve mentioned before, mounding up or covering the potatoes also helps to protect to the shoots from the harshness of the frost. You can tell if your potatoes have been the subject to the cold conditions because the tops of the plant will look brownish and crinkly – if you see that, earth them up fast! I’ve seen people at the allotment over the tops with grass cuttings, newspaper clippings and even plastic – whatever you decide to use, make sure that you don’t compromise the plants access to water.

Planting First Early Potatoes: Pentland Javelin

I’ve now reached the stage where I can plant my Pentland Javelin potato sets – which will hopefully lead on to me digging up gloriously fresh potatoes to eat. A few weeks ago, you may have seen my post about chitting potatoes, which give details on what you should try to do before you’re at the planting stage.

The bed I’ve chosen to plant these Pentland Javelin potatoes in hasn’t been dug over for several months, so I was sure to dig down at least a spades depth to get air into the ground – oxygen will encourage germination. I also done a spot of weeding too.

Pentland Javelin potatoes can be planted when the risk of frost has passed – so I think I’m taking a bit of a chance by planting them at this time year.

I had 28 tubers, which means that when I planted them 10cm deep and 25cm apart, I had enough for 4 rows, spaced 60cm apart.

 

When the sprouts shoot through, I’ll look to mound up the rows, and cover the shoots to protect the plants from any frost that may be lingering. Because they’re first earlies I look to harvest these in small doses as early as May.

I first dug the trenches and then covered them with the excess soil and then gave the bed a rake over.

 

First early potatoes make for a great new potato and I can’t wait to smother these in butter and mint.   I’ve written a little bit of history about Pentland Javelin, which you can read here.

Chitting Potatoes: Pentland Javelin (first early)

Chitting Potatoes: Pentland Javelin (first early)

Pentland Javelin is the first early variety of potato that I’m going to give a go growing this year. Chitting is another word for sprouting.

To chit your seed potatoes, simply place them in a shallow tray or an egg carton with any shoots that may be showing, facing upwards. Keep the seed potatoes away from the frost and make sure they have access to sunlight.

Chitting your potatoes in a greenhouse, shed or porch is ideal as this will protect them from the frost, let in the light and keep them at a temperature that will allow them to sprout.

The reason why you should chit the seed potatoes is because it will give them a headstart before you plant them into the ground, they’ll grow quicker and you’ll end up with a bigger harvest (hopefully!).

After around three to six weeks, or maybe sooner depending on the amount of sunlight they’re exposed to, you should look to plant them in the ground. The shoots should be 2-3cms long.

Try and avoid letting them chit for too long, otherwise you’ll end up with long spaghetti like shoots, which typically isn’t ideal as these shoots could break off when you plant them.

chitting-first-early-potatoes

History of Pentland Javelin

The first early variety I’m going for this year is Pentland Javelin. Pentland Javelin (first early) was bred by Dr. Jack Dunnett MBE of Caithness Potatoes Limited. Dr. Jack Dunnett is quite the name in the potato world – and you can read up on him here.

From what I’ve read online, Pentland Javelin (first early) is a fairly average looking new potato which is bursting with flavour. This particular first early seed potato is fairly disease resistant and not a slug’s first meal choice. Pentland Javelin bulks up slightly later to produce a larger amount of crop than other first early potatoes.