It is that time of year when we reap the rewards of our labours in the veg garden, if we are lucky. It is a bit early but I dug some spuds the other day. Maincrop potatoes do not have to be dug so early but the plants have died down because of the dry soil so I thought I would lift some to see how they had got on. These were in some awful soil that had been dug and improved but still had some quite large ‘lumps’ in it. This is not so stupid because potatoes are often recommended as a first crop on new soil. This is largely because they don’t need soil that has been broken down to a fine tilth for sowing and their dense foliage will smother weeds. The big disadvantage is that the tubers can then be attacked by wireworm and slugs prevalent in the previously uncultivated soil. My soil for these ‘Burbank Russet’ was ‘primitive’ but not that awful.
I chose ‘Burbank Russet’ because I had not grown it before and was interested because it is the preferred spud in the production of a large fast food company (with golden arches) for French fries. The ‘Burbank’ potato was bred by the amazing Luther Burbank in California and introduced in 1870 but it was the mutation ‘Burbank Russet’, that arose in 1902 that took America by storm and is still the most commonly cultivated potato in the USA. It was originally called ‘Netted Gem’. Luther Burbank developed his potato using the ‘Rough Purple Chili’ potato in an effort to improve the resistance of American potatoes to blight. It is most valued for chips and baking. It is not especially resistant to disease apart from scab but there was no sign of blight this year – but then it has been dry. It is alleged to have high water need. As I have been using the tubers I have found that many of the larger ones have ‘brown centre’ often associated with ‘hollow heart’. Brown centre is as it sounds and the heart of the tuber is brown. Both are caused by excessive temperatures or drought so not exactly unexpected. It does mean that the largest tubers, which might have been good for baking, are not!
The tubers are slightly odd shapes and rather ‘square’ because of the lumpy soil. The flesh is sparkling white and I have used them for mash so far. They need careful boiling because they break up easily but the mash is fine. A known issue is for early lifted tubers to have delicate skins and I would confirm that. Yields have not been great and lots of the tubers are small, which is a pain to peel. If I had a deep fat fryer I would grow this again but at the moment it is not necessarily a keeper. I will have to see how they roast. I would suspect that they will be good for that. I did try wedges and they were OK but you have to watch the pre-boil like a hawk or you end up with potato soup. They are supposed to store well.
In contrast, it has been a good year for apples. The caveat is that the fruit are small because of the lack of water and the good set in spring. I did not thin the fruits as well as I should have done, partly because I over-thinned the peaches and was worried and was worried about ‘June drop’. Thinning is essential, if there is a good set of fruits, not just so that each fruit can reach a good size but also to prevent the spread of brown rot. This fungal disease often starts when a bird pecks a fruit or a wasp breaks the skin. It starts as a small, brown spot but rapidly spreads, with spores produced in concentric rings of pustules, and spreads to adjacent fruit. It is also very common on plums. It must be prevented because it will spread to every adjacent fruit and will spread into the stems and kill branches. Often the fruit are ‘mummified’ and remain on the tree and then provide a source of infection the next year.
But back to the positives. The apples are in year 4 now and virtually all have cropped well. It is still early to assess them because most will be picked this month. A few fruits have ripened slightly prematurely and dropped off so I have tasted a few. Wind is forecast for the weekend so we will see how many more drop off. The ‘Irish Peach’ have all been picked. They were, so far, the most attacked by wasps and birds. This may be because I was late hanging up the CDs.
The best apple, so far, is ‘Scrumptious’. I had not realised that this was as early as it is and it follows on from other earlies. It is the first year it has cropped. The tree has not grown as fast as some others but there is a good crop. The apples are beautiful but they do have some scab spots that spoil the skins – inevitable if you don’t spray, perhaps. The skins are bright red apart from very pale green where the skin is shaded. The flesh is crunchy and melting and white. You don’t end up with a mouthful of chewy flesh. They are really juicy and sweet and very tasty. I sometimes think there is a hint of aniseed at the first bite and this is a characteristic. This is a modern apple, (1980) and a cross between ‘Discovery’ and ‘Golden Delicious’ that is better than either parent. It is a really delicious apple and although there are others starting to ripen this is the only one I want to eat. I almost wish I planted two of these! But as early apples do not store well it is probably just as well I didn’t. It has the RHS Award of Garden Merit.