Seed potatoes, onion sets, and shallots are now available in the shop.
If you didn't order potatoes last year there are still some available for sale in the shop.
In the March edition of Grow Your Own magazine (why are they always published a month early), Guy Barter, who is the RHS chief horticulturist, has an article on growing potatoes. Seeing as Guy visited us last June as part of the RHS visit, I'm sure he wouldn't mind me nicking part of his article.
"Potatoes have been grown for 7,000-10,000 in South America, in present day Peru and Bolivia, and are now an increasingly important global crop. The plants produce heavy yields of energy rich tubers, with good level of minerals, vitamin C and some high quality protein. In global terms it is the fifth most important food crop behind sugar cane, maize, paddy rice, and wheat and ahead of soya beans, and third in the UK behind wheat, barley, and sugar beat and ahead of oilseed rape.
Consumption of fresh potatoes has fallen in the UK. Not only do we eat less but almost half are processed as crisps, oven chips and other products. In contrast garden potatoes seems as popular as ever with great interest in this nutritious and easy-to-grow crop, but perhaps in different ways with current interest high in salad and 'heirloom' potatoes.
Although potatoes can be raised from 'true potato seed' this is rare and almost all are grown from 'seed' tubers bought in winter and stored cool until needed. Tubers are grown to be free of viruses, particularly in the hill farms in Scotland where the cool climate deters the virus-laden greenfly that spread disease in the lowlands.
Seed can be planted unsprouted but there are good reasons to chit or sprout seed tubers, including an earlier crop, higher earlier yields and faster maturity so harvests can be gathered before blight or slugs ruin them. 'Chitting' is merely the placing of tubers 'rose' end up (the end with many small buds) uppermost in trays in the light in late winter and allowing sprouts to grow. A bright unheated room is ideal, neither too hot nor too dark which lead to leggy weak sprouts. Frost kills potatoes, so regularly keep an eye on temperatures.
Once the sprouts are about 5cm long the 'seed' is ready to plant."
Onion sets and shallots are also available in the shop. I'm trying Turbo onion sets this year. A quick google tells me that they keep slightly longer then Sturon which I normally plant. I've started mine in compost filled modules. The 12 cell modules sold in the shop are excellent quality and good value at just 15p each. If you can't start them early I would recommend leaving planting them just yet. The soil is far too cold and wet, and the birds seem to love playing with the set tops poking out of the soil. Maybe just spread the sets out in a tray to stop them getting mildew and keep them in a cool place ready for planting out in a month or so time.
Incidentally the price of the sets in the shop are 30p for 100g. I thought this price was the cheapest by a long way, but I notice that wilko sells 500g for £1.50, exactly the same price. The advantage of buying from the shop is they are sold loose, so you only buy as many as you want. 500g is a lot of onions.
And lastly, talking of cooking celeriac (see last blog) Louise in the office recommends cooking celeriac dauphinoise, something I'll be trying soon.