Harvesting British Queen potatoes – learning from my mistakes

British Queen potatoes were the variety of second early potatoes I chose to grow in my Victory Garden. Around two weeks ago I took my fork and decided to harvest them from the ground. Sadly, I have to admit, I was a little bit disappointed. Like everything you grow at the allotment, you’re always hoping for the best and hoping that you get a good return on the hard work and effort that you put in.

Sadly, most of the potatoes (just over a quarter) were really small, almost marble like – which isn’t ideal when the number of potatoes you dig up isn’t very many as well. Overall – a poor yield.

The variety of potato I harvested was British Queen, which is a variety that’s over a 100 years old and described as…

This RHS AGM variety is over 100 years old and still highly prized for its yield, shape, floury texture and delicious flavour. Today, Potato ‘British Queen’ is Ireland’s favourite summer crop. The oval, white skinned, floury-fleshed tubers make excellent general purpose potatoes and are particularly good for roasting.

Source: Thompson Morgan – British Queen Potatoes 

So, with the above in mind – you can imagine my disappointment, however – I’m sure this is something that all growers have had to deal with at one time or another and this result has of course prompted me to take a step back and look at where I went wrong.

I’d not long since harvested my Red Duke of York first earlies and faced a similar fate with those spuds as well. So what have I discovered?

Spacing 
I’ve grown the potatoes in my Victory Garden this year, which means I’ve crammed the tubers into a small space.  This means that the plants were most likely competing for space and water, which really isn’t ideal.

Watering 
It’s been a particularly dry year at the allotment, and across the country (at one point I thought we were going to have the pleasure of a hosepipe ban!). Can I honestly say that I watered as frequently as I should have? The answer is probably not – a lack of water means the tubers are likely to struggle to swell.

Feeding
In one of the two beds of my Victory Garden I double dug in some compost material, in the bed that I didn’t, I grew my potatoes – I’ve always been warned that too much fertilisation can be a bad thing. Too much nitrogen can encourage too much vegetative growth. However, clearly, too little nitrogen can cause a low growth rate in your tubers.

Early frost damage
My potatoes were victim to early frost damage, which although didn’t decimate the plants, they did stump growth for a couple weeks. Next time, I’ll be sure to mound up sooner rather than later in order to keep everything to an optimum temperature.

I’m yet to harvest my Desiree main crop potatoes – it’ll be interesting to see how these turn out. If these are small like the British Queen potatoes, then I would say my estimations are correct.

Wish me luck!

British Queen potatoes

Chitting and planting British Queen Second Early Potatoes

So it’s time to plant my second early potatoes in the victory garden and the variety I’m growing is called British Queen.

The British Queen potato was bred by Archibald Findlay in 1894. Findlay was a potato breeder from Scotland who soon moved to the potato capital – Lincolnshire. Many of his varieties Findlay bred we promoted between 1891 – 1921. His most famous varieties are – Majestic, Up-to-Date and British Queen. If you’re in Scotland, you probably refer to these simply as ‘Queens’.

I’ve looked online and seen that British Queen is the mashing potato of choice as they boast light, fluffy flesh. Although Findlay pioneered the blight resistant spud – British Queen is susceptible to blight, but luckily matures quite early. This means that if there is blight in the air, it should avoid any diseases that are in the air.

As much as I love the prices you get in your local B&Q or Homebase, I did find myself with a lack of choice – so I ended up purchasing these seed potatoes from RHS Wisely. They have a number of different varieties available, each with their own attributes.

It’s essential that you chit your potatoes before you plant them in the ground – chitting is just another word for sprouting. To chit your potatoes, all you have to do is leave them in a tray in a sunny place and they’ll soon start to sprout. The trick is to not let them get to spaghetti like as these sprouts tend to fall off when you plant them into the ground.

 

I was on the look out for an old, well known variety of potato to plant into my Victory Garden and no sooner than I had planted them, they started poking through the ground. If you take a look at my Victory Garden plan, you’ll see that I haven’t given these spuds a lot of room – this is because I’m trying to aim for a high yield – ultimately, I’ll just have to wait and see how these turn out.

These seed potatoes were planted about a trowels depth into the ground – and I’ll probably end up mounding these spuds up with material from the compost bin – we’re not quite out of the woods yet frost wise!

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 Second Early Potatoes: Maris Peer

I’m planting the second early potatoes. I’ve chitted these a couple of weeks beforehand and now is the time to stick them in the ground.

Whereas I’ve dug trenches for my first early potatoes and my main crop – I’m, saving time by burying these potatoes in the ground a trowel’s depth.

Potatoes the size of ping-pong balls should be ready for harvesting around 10 to 11 weeks after planting. Second early potatoes can be dug up as and when you require them, with the other potatoes being left in the ground.

However, they must be protected from frost so it is worth covering them with a thick layer of straw and/or sacking.

Knowing when to plant potatoes and when to harvest them can be quite confusing, but the idea behind planting and then harvesting potatoes at different times of the year is to ensure that you have a healthy supply of potatoes throughout the year – providing that you store them well in a cool, dry and dark area (under the stairs or in the back of the shed).

I’ve written the table below as a bit of a guide – although I’ve left out early main crop potatoes, which can be left in the ground for around 20 weeks after planting and second cropping potatoes, which are planted in late August and dug up just 11 weeks after planting. I’ve left them out because generally, I don’t have the time or the space to grow these potatoes.

Potato crop Planting time Harvesting time
First Early End of February 10 weeks from planting
Second Early Mid March 13 weeks from planting
Main crop Late March 15 weeks from planting

Chitting Potatoes: Maris Peer (second early/salad)

Last week I planted my first early tubers for May and now it’s time to chit the second early potatoes to harvest at the end of July.  I’ve chosen to plant Maris Peer, salad potatoes that are said to have a light fresh flavour, as my second early potato.

Digging up salad potatoes to accompany that sizzling BBQ is something I look forward to every year – lightly boild and then garnished with button and fresh mint.

They’re quite a versatile variety and can be boiled, steamed or roasted.

Maris Peer has been around for years, but it’s being introduced into the market as a new variety because they’re best suited for the current UK climate. We have farmers in Suffolk, notably Matt Gregory for the Maris Peer potato hitting our shelves in the supermarkets.

Although, the term ‘Maris’ actually originates from Trumpington, Cambridgeshire which is a place steeped in agricultural history, even being recorded in the Doomsday book as being used for ‘ploughland’.  Following its first mention in the Doomsday, various ancient barons, lords and landlords took over large portions of Trumpington and gradually forged it into the agricultural producer that we see today.

As before, chitting potatoes is easy – just leave them in a tray on a windowsill and let nature do it’s thing. I’ll look to plant these in a couple of weeks.  I’ll give them a little less space than my main crop or my first early potatoes as I anticipate that I will be digging up these potatoes sooner than my main crop, meaning that I can make more use of the space to plant something else into the ground.