Digging up Maris Piper potatoes

Digging up Maris Piper potatoes

I can’t believe that it was seven months since I planted my main crop potatoes.

I will say one thing, what with my first early potatoes, second early potatoes and now these – I won’t be buying a potato from a supermarket at any time soon.  Growing up as a child, my mother would make a point of saying she was using Maris Piper potatoes if she was a putting together a roast dinner – which left the impression that Maris Piper potatoes are farmers choice of spud. She’s not wrong.

Maris Piper have to my favourite type of potato – which is a weird thing to say about a spud because you wouldn’t think there’s much of a difference between the types of potato that are available in your local supermarket. There totally is a difference and each variety of potato is better for one job or another.

Maris Pipers are my favourite because they’re good for everything, they’re excellent mashed, roasted or chipped.  The small ones will make for great new potatoes as well. Along with usage, they’re so reliable growing wise and have needed minimal care over the last few months. I think I weeded the patch once over the last seven months and even then it was to get rid of the bind weed and the larger of the weeds.

Digging up potatoes is easy as planting them. Even though at this time of year the tops of the plant has died off, you’ll still notice where the plants were in the patch.

Using a fork, you need to start digging about a foot or half a foot away from where you think the plant resided, this is to ensure that you don’t put your fork through a spud.  Alas, it’s inevitable that you’ll do this, and it’s a real pet hate of mine, but the spud will still be good to use – just be sure to wash and use this casualty as soon as you can to avoid rotting.

After I’ve dug out my potatoes, I tend to not wash them and leave them in a tray to dry out. I’ve read that the mud when dried, will help with storage. I’m currently storing my potatoes in the shed, and I have very little worries now that the temperature has dropped for the winter.  Try to keep your potatoes away from the light as you run the risk of them turning green, I usually keep mine covered with some black horticultural felt.

Hopefully, if we don’t experience a warmish winter, these potatoes will be good for the Christmas!

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 Main Crop Potatoes: Maris Piper

If you’ve read my article about chitting main crop potatoes, you’ll probably see that they have well and truly sprouted. Just after storm Katie hit we were blessed with a fantastic bout of sunshine – no better time to get the main crop potatoes in.

I had 28 potatoes to plant in total, which means that when I planted them 10cm deep and 25cm apart, I had enough for 4 rows, spaced around 60cm apart – much like the first early potatoes I planted a couple of weeks back.  Maris Piper potatoes are the nation’s favourite potato and I’ve put together a little bit of a brief history on them here.

When the shoots start to poke through, I’ll cover these with sifted soil to protect them from the frost. I’ll have to Weed between the rows and keep the potato plants well watered over the next 15 weeks.

Early maincrop varieties can be harvested approximately 15 weeks from planting, which is around the time when the foliage begins to turn yellow and die back – ready for those all important roast dinners in the winter.

Talking of which, if you need advice on how to create the perfect roast spud that is lovely and soft on the inside and golden and crunchy on the outside, then click here. Potatoes are generally a great thing to plant at an allotment as they clean the ground – what I mean about that is, they’re a good crop to have in a spot that hasn’t been dug over for a while, as you plant potatoes and dig over the land, you’ll inevitably pick out and dispose of any materials that shouldn’t be there.

Main Crop Potatoes also store well once they’ve been properly dried out.

 

Chitting Potatoes: Maris Piper (main crop)

The man we have to thank for the Maris Piper potato is none other than John Clarke who hails from Northern Island. John Clarke was responsible for 33 potato varieties with 30 of those carrying the Ulster prefix (such as the Ulster Monarch potato)

The Maris Piper is actually a ‘grandson’ of one his varieties and they’re grown more than any other type of potato in the UK. In 2012 19,000 hectares of potatoes were grown.

Maris Piper cropped up in the UK in 1966 (a particularly good year!) and was the result of a massive potato breeding initiative at the Plant Breeding Institute (PBI) in Cambridge.

This particular variety was produced because of the need to find a variety that was resistant to Potato Cyst Nematode (Globodera rostochiensis) commonly known as eelworm – thankfully it has kept that resistance throughout its lifetime.

The Belfast Telegraph published a great article on the history of John Clarke and the Maris Piper which you can read here.