Potato blight has been threatening for weeks. There have been a few patches of suspicious discoloured leaf for a while but the weather has been generally dry so I was not too worried, and I have been digging the potatoes as needed. But yesterday things looked a lot worse, as the weather has been more showery, and with rain forecast for the next few days it was time to take action.
I usually only grow early potatoes (new potatoes) for various reasons. They are in the ground for less time, they are generally more compact plants, they cost more to buy than maincrop potatoes and they always seem more of a treat. They also have the advantage that they can be harvested before the main ‘blight season’ of August. Blight strikes when the nights are warm and the leaves remain wet for more than 24 hours – allowing the spores to grow. When the leaves start to die the spores can be washed down into the soil where they reach the tubers and cause rot. So I wanted to dig up my crop before the rain started. In addition, digging them up when the soil is dry is less messy and dry tubers are less likely to rot when stored.
I only grew two varieties this year: red-skinned ‘Cherie’ and pink and white ‘Miss Blush’. Both are waxy, salad-type potatoes and both have cropped well. They were planted in the new raised beds. The soil was compacted and heavy but I added as much compost and leafmould as I could and I tried to give them a chance. Potatoes are often recommended as a crop for ‘new’ plots. It is not really that they can cope with awful soil but their cultivation requires lots of digging – so at the end of the crop you will have done a lot of cultivation. The leafy canopy of potatoes also suppresses a lot of annual weeds. I am sure that the rather lumpy nature of the soil has produced some misshapen tubers but, overall, they are fine.
‘Cherie’ has elongated tubers and yellow flesh. It is supposed to have some resistance to blight on the tubers. From my point of view I do like the oval tubers which are supposed to be small but some got quite large. They have very shallow eyes, making prep easy and I had very little slug damage. There was a little scab – odd since the soil is acid – but not bad.
‘Miss Blush’ is red-skinned but with white patches around the eyes. The tubers are round and the eyes are rather deep but what I liked about this variety is that the tubers were all clustered around the base of the stems. This meant that I didn’t damage any tubers when they were lifted. Neither flowered much.
I always get annoyed with myself when it is always the biggest tuber that gets speared with the fork! This is supposed to be a low-yielding variety but I was happy with the crop. The tubers cook well without breaking up much and they do not go grey when cooked and kept for use the next day. There was no slug damage, no scab and very little waste.
I now have to think about how to use them! The plan is to make and freeze wedges and Dauphinoise – time will tell.
If blight strikes it is essential to lilft the crop as soon as possible and keep the tubers dry – do not wash them. When it comes to maincrops I suggest planting the Sarpo varieties – I have written about them before. They are very resitant.