Sunday 1 February 2015

Growing Potatoes for the show bench on Big Allotment Challenge

"Best in Show" Potatoes - Big Allotment Challenge "Grow" challenge (Photo courtesy of BBC) 

In The Big Allotment Challenge, we were tasked with growing new potatoes for the show bench for our first Grow challenge.

Here were some of the basics:
Timeframe: 12 weeks
The brief:To grow and present 5 equally sized NEW POTATOES appropriate to the variety
The technical criteria: Uniformity in size, shape, free from blemishes, shallow eyes

This was my first time growing potatoes for the show bench, and in fact, it was my very first time growing potatoes too!

Potato Varieties
I chose to grow 'Casablanca' as my main specimen variety and 'Lady Christl' as my back-up.

My original choice was 'Winston', as they are known to be good for showing, however, they were not available at my local garden centre and there was not enough time to order them online. Turns out 'Casablanca' were perfect - shallow eyes, smooth white skin and good resistance to common scab and blackleg.

After buying my seed potatoes, I removed them from their bags and laid them out on an egg tray in my kitchen, a process called “Chitting”. The sprouts that emerge should be dark (purple/green). If you leave them in their bags, you can end up with a tangled mess with the chits getting caught up in the netting. Similarly, if you store them for too long in the dark (eg: your shed or garage), you will end up with white bean sprout looking things which are fragile and prone to breaking.

Growing for the showbench
The first person I ever saw planting a potato was Toby Buckland in a video on the BBC gardening guide to growing potatoes. I enjoyed that video (thanks Toby!) and noticed he lay down chicken manure pellets before planting the seed potatoes.

Growing for show, however, is not quite as straightforward, as you have to be concerned about uniformity, blemishes and growing for a set date. Thankfully, a very knowledgeable gardener by the name of John Trim wrote this article on “Growing for Show – Potatoes cultivation”.

The article is enormously useful and I must have read through it over thirty times, making sure that I understood each and every sentence.

One thing that I’ve now learnt about growing for the showbench is that timing and coverage are key. By coverage I mean you really need to have a lot of potatoes to choose from to find five that are uniform in size and shape. In the end, I had potatoes planted in the ground, in poly bags and some in a large container (just to be on the safe side...).  

Timing is everything. I staggered the planting just in case they grew too big or too small.

Consistent watering is also crucial; not enough water and the tubers don’t form properly. John also suggests using rain water if you can, because tap water has a very high alkaline content and can encourage scab.

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