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

Dealing with tomato blight

I thought I’d gotten from getting a touch of tomato blight this year, but it turns out that in the end I wasn’t so lucky.

I visited the allotment this week and I found that my Gardener’s Delight tomato plants were showing the early signs of blight – something I’ve not had now for about three years or so.

Getting blight on your crops is not a pretty experience. It all starts with the leaves beginning turn brown and shrivel. You’ll also notice that black and brown legions appear on the stem of the plant. Over the next few days (hours even) those legions will spread and soon the whole plant will begin to decay. The tomatoes also then begin to turn a brownish-yellow and fall off.

If you’re lucky enough to catch blight in the very early stages, you can pick the green tomatoes that are on the plant and hope for the best that they will ripen in a fruit bowl sitting next to a banana.

What is tomato blight?

According to the RHS…

The late blight pathogen is a microscopic, fungus-like organism whose sporangia (spore-bearing structures) easily break away from infected foliage and may be wind-blown for long distances. The actual infective spores are released from the sporangia into water and need to swim in a water film before settling on the plant surface and penetrating into leaf tissues; this is why the disease is so serious in wet summers. The pathogen then spreads rapidly, killing the cells. Under humid conditions, stalks bearing sporangia grow from freshly killed tissues and the disease can spread rapidly through the crop.

Source: Potato and Tomato Blight

Tomato blight can be a real pain because it can stay present if old tomatoes or foliage are left in the ground or if the remains are transferred to the compost bin. Typically, tomato plants that are planted outside are most at risk as they’re exposed to weather conditions that could bring on blight, or winds that are carrying blight from other locations.

The best ways to dispose of plants that have suffered from blight is to either bag them up and take them to the local dump or to have a bonfire and burn them.

Victory Garden: Six months in

OK so I’m six months into growing a Victory Garden, so I thought I would give you a little bit of an update to let you know how it’s all been going.  I’m at the stage whereby most of my time consists of watering and weeding, which is a nice position to be in overall.

About a month ago I did my first major bout of weeding on the two patches and I can’t help but admit that my body ached all over – it was like I’d had a yoga session for 5 whole hours. This told me two things… 1. my beds are too big and need to be scaled down. 2. I planted the plants too close together, I was so worried about treading on something that I am now a fully qualified contortionist.

Broad Bean – Karmazyn 

These have all germinated and seem to have grown without hindrance – however they haven’t been without their problems. At first they became victim to a flea beetle or weevil attack, which I suspect stunted their growth slightly, but not decimated the plants.

Brussels Sprouts – Darkmar , Savoy Cabbage – Winterking 

Oh my goodness, I can’t tell you the amount of disdain I have for the slugs right now. As soon as these germinated, they were eaten. As a result, I started these off in pots in the flat and I’m happy to report that I now have a set of around 10-20 plants of each. I should have followed my own advice when it comes to combating slug attacks, which you can read here.

Red Duke of York First Earlies

This very weekend I dug up the first earlies, in the hope of being loaded down with firm, red skinned new potatoes. So you can imagine the massive disappointment I experienced when I dug up around two three portions, considering the number of tubers I planted into the ground. I’ve done a search online on what causes poor yields and in general, a lack of potassium and a lack of water can cause a pitiful display. One thing I did notice was that the original tubers I dug out were swollen and large, almost as big as a baked potato – this tells me that a lack of water is probably the main issue.

Sadly, they also suffered a little bit of frost damage.

Turnip – Snowball

These are by far the most successful plant in the Victory garden. The tubers were practically leaping out of the ground this weekend. Needless to say, I’ve picked them and they’re so tasty that I can see me and the missus eating them like apples – they offer such a tangy tasty flavour that’s full of energy, vitamins and roughage.  I’ll be growing these again, mainly because they’ve been so easy.

Gardener’s Delight , Tomato Beefmaster 

These are the tomatoes plants that I’ve chosen to grow in the Victory Garden. The varieties differ in the fact the Gardener’s Delight produce trusses of cherry tomatoes, where as Beefmaster produce – as the name suggests bunches of large tomatoes that are perfect with a steak or beefburger. I sowed the seeds in pots at the suggested time on the packet, and just as the cabbages and sprouts, they became victim to a slug attack which more or less wiped out the entire sowing. I then sowed them again around three weeks later, but kept them inside the flat, under my watchful eye. I now think I have more tomato plants than ever!

According to my plan – I’m yet to sow cauliflowers and French beans into the two beds. That said, as I harvest more, I’ll be looking to sow more, maybe something that’s not one the list. Who knows!

There you, this is where we are six months into a Victory Garden! If you’ve grown a Victory Garden before, I’d love to know how you got on and read any hints or tips you may have to keep everything on a self sufficient level as possible.

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!

Victory Garden March/April: Sowing seeds outdoors

The Saturday before last – the weather was absolutely fantastic and I found myself (like so many other people with gardens and allotments) getting my hands dirty and getting stuck in. I’ve been itching to get things sowed into the ground and it was a good opportunity to get all the seeds I’d purchased into one of the beds I’d prepared earlier.

My main focus of the day was to sow or plant at least half of my Victory Garden and then see what happens over the next couple of weeks.

Broad Bean – Karmazyn 

I’ve never grown Karmazyn before and this particular broad bean is a heritage variety which produces pink beans –  a bit different from the Exhibitions.  Because I’m growing these straight outdoors, in a bed that’s quite large with very little shelter this type of broad bean is great for exposed areas. They’re also said to produce high yeilds, so great for feeding a family of four.

Brussels Sprouts – Darkmar

The brussels sprouts I grew last year were a massive disappointment – I didn’t end up picking any at all! Darkmar produces a bountiful crop toward the end of the season. This means I’ll be harvesting from the end of autumn and well into Christmas.

Turnip – Snowball

No sooner than I started sowing these seeds that they started to germinate and poke through the ground. As the name suggests, Snowball produces white globe shape tender turnips and are an early variety, meaning I can pick them quite early on in the year. Perhaps when they’ve all been picked I can grow something else there! The question I have now is, do I need to thin them out?

Carrot – Berlicum

This is one of many types of carrot that I’m growing this year. This type of carrot can reach up to 20cm in length in sifted soil (I’ve done my best to keep the ground as free as possible!).  This is carrot that stores well and can overwintered for a maincrop.

Beetroot – Cylindra 

It feels like years since I’ve grown beetroot! I usually grow the round versions, but this has cylindrical roots. Cylindra is quite a slow growing variety and will bolt later on in the year, but luckily has a good resistance to disease.  These will be great to use in a Barszcz soup. (Yes I know I spelt Barszcz wrong in my original recipe – my apologies to the Polish nation!)

Savoy Cabbage – Winterking 

I tried to grow a savoy cabbage last year and failed miserably – I suspect that the seeds were out of date! The Winterking just sounds like a total don of a cabbage.  Savoys are a traditional hearty variety which as far as I know can be used in just about anything. They’re also hard as nails and will survive the winter.

Pea – Hurst Greenshaft 

Make peas not way! The Pea Hurst Greenshaft is said to be a prolific early maincrop variety producing a healthy amount of peas per pod. These are meant to freeze well, which means they’ll be great to use in the winter.  I’ve sown quite a few seeds, more than what I need as last year I didn’t sow enough, and so I just ended up eating the one or two pods straight away.

I have no idea how my Victory garden will turnout, or what problems I will face – as with most things in life you have to tackle these sorts of things head on.