Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Main crop Spuds stored for the winter

Digging out the Tibets
September has two strong memories for me, one is the absolute dread of going back to school to the psychotic principle, (God rest you P Burns, I will visit you shortly to check the grave and make sure you're dead), the other is of evenings after school picking spuds up the hill or in the glen meadow, depending on where the potato garden was that year. One thing about living on farms ,especially small farms is that every field has a name, often in Irish to describe exactly where it was (in the days before GPS) and often associated with it's geography or uses. So our "gleann tori" as we call it is a corruption of Gleann Toibreacha, "field of the wells", (the whole field was awash with water springs so hence the name). "Tobar" is a well in Irish as it is in Scots Gaelic too, both are originally derived from the old Irish word "topar". OK I'm finished going off piste now. I love history, especially language history, it's fascinating.

eel worms dining in a spud
 On the finer days we would come home to a warm kitchen and my mothers dinner with instructions to eat quickly and change, Dad was digging the spuds up the fields and we were needed to help. For all the giving out I do I must say my father is an extremely practical man. We had a purpose built block concrete shed, with a concrete floor and strong metal door, entirely at the disposal of the potato crop. No windows to let in light that would turn the potatoes green, no leaks in the roof that let water in, no extremes of temperature and best of all no way a rat could get in to help himself to the harvest. It was perfect.

Black Bog-like priests socks only blacker!
That was a hell of a lot more spuds than I am growing now. It was enough to see us through the winter and into early spring. I don't have a shed, well I do- but its entirely the wrong type, wooden, warm, bright, reacting to extremes of weather by being ass kicking cold in the frost and boiling hot in the sunshine. I don't have a light free place in the house, the hallway faces North but has glass around the door. Its the only place I can store pumpkins and squash for the winter (with the radiator knocked off) but will it do for spuds?

Inspired by the fine warm day last Friday I took to clearing the main crop potato beds. If nothing else I was curious about the yields from the different varieties that I had as yet untouched; Tibet, Toluca and Black Bog. One long bed had black bog, Tibet's, Maris pipers and King Edwards planted in allotments. The tolucas had their own bed. I started on the black bogs and ran into trouble straight away. They were so black I literally couldn't see them in the soil! ridiculous but true and very frustrating as well. I ended up digging the same ground several times more than necessary just to check in case I missed any. Either way I'm expecting plenty of volunteers next year-it was impossible to find them all.The spuds themselves were small and extremely squashed looking with deep eyes. The yields were small too. Once I wiped the soil off them their true delicious deep purple colour came through. After growing and loving Edzell blues last year I couldn't wait to try out these guys.

one stalk of Tibets on the left V's
FIVE of Black Bog on the right!
Next were the Tibets and it was obvious right from the off that the yields here were phenomenally better than the black bogs next to them. Even when I was cutting down the foliage in this bed the stems were a strong bright green, unyielding to the blight that peppered their leaves. Underground there was little evidence of blight, but I found later on that many of them had suffered the excess appetites of eel worms and slugs, much as the King Edwards and Maris Pipers had done next to them. It struck me that this bed in particular had suffered the worst of the snails and eel worms, but of all the spuds set here the black bogs had the least amount of damage-maybe purple spuds don't appeal as much to pests?

Down in the Toluca bed things were not good, the stench of rotting spuds hit me every where I dug, and the yields were incredibly poor. When I was finished one 8x4 bed had only yielded one third of a bucket of spuds, and despite some of the tubers being a really good size I could see plenty of blemishes, signs of blight and slugs in equal measure. Not the results I had been hoping for when I planted them months ago, but again maybe that's all you can expect in such a difficult growing season.

Spuds drying off in the afternoon sun
I laid out all the spuds I had dug on the tops of the beds and left them to dry out in the afternoon sun. A short spell of sunshine is fine for the first bit of drying but by the evenings end I gathered them all into buckets to go inside for "processing" next day.

Last year I bought some Hessian sacks and had been trying them out during the summer, storing first Earlie's for weeks at a time in the utility to see if they went green. The results were great-no green spuds! so next morning I lined up my sacks, sat at the back door in the sun and began the incredibly tedious job of cleaning(you must take all the excess soil off the skins), inspecting each spud and organising them into three categories; "for storage", "slightly damaged" and "for the compost heap". There really is no escaping this job. If I learnt one thing from my mother in law and her apple picking each autumn it's that you never store anything damaged long term, it only serves to rot the rest. So only the most perfect spuds can make the Hessian sack. All imperfect spuds go into the kitchen bucket to be used or given away in the coming weeks. While those blighted, rotting or tunnelled into oblivion must be cut up for the compost heap. Its funny I never remember doing this job at home, but in some shape or form we must have.

compost, keep and store long term-the processing plant
Isint it ironic that I worried where I would store all my main crop spuds for the winter when I was planting them and ended up using a third of one Hessian sack for long term spud storage?! As you can see from the photo most of the spuds need to be used up in the coming weeks and I feel I can't really pass them on to other people because they are so populated by eel worms and slugs that only another gardener wouldnt mind the inconvenience of digging them out before cooking! Imagine the horror of my inlaws having eel worms crawl out as they are peeling them?! It's almost worth doing-but only if I can stay around to watch.

PS; tried the black bogs, yes a fantastic purple colour with lovely markings on the inside, but sadly lacking really great flavour.

in the kitchen Black bog shows its true colour

beautiful white flesh on the inside

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