Catching Up With the Potatoes

Back in June we planted our yearly potato crop, since 2014 we have opted for Isle of Jura, one of those varieties with a foothold in the wartime garden. They're pretty blight resistant, and they do incredibly well in containers, we use tyres for this. This does mean we have to heft in compost to fill these tyres up, but Carol doesn't mind doing this, because she loves the joy the harvest brings to Little D. This isn't because Andrew is lazy, as you remember, Andrew has a missing disc at lumbar four, that's not a hip night club, it's just painful and prevents him from lifting.

potato growing, gardening, life on pig row

We've been growing potatoes at Pig Row from the start, we've had our fair share of blackleg; again, not a Pirate nightclub: #arrrbethatblackleg. We've gone through several varieties, Red Duke of York, Rudolph (which were fabulous but you can't get them easily anymore), Shetland Black, Cara, Pink Fir Apple and probably the worst of them all, King Edward. King Edward was one the most contrary spuds we've ever grown, gallons of water and then the yield was beyond pathetic, they also got blight easily. As in, sneeze near them and they get blight. Sneeze inside the house, they keel over and die. The wartime garden showed us the importance and dangers of too many potatoes. It is never a good idea to give a vast part of your plot over to spuds due to disease and pirates (another blackleg joke). The problem is though that spuds take up a lot of space until we came across tales of potato growers in the war, in the cities, growing in tyres, old wash dollies and boxes in the yard, one story we came across was a mill worker growing her spuds in her backyard in a fallen chimney pot. The basic idea is this, if it is a container and can take a spud, try it: old compost bags, broken waterbutts, old baths or even a raised bed made out of bricks, it all works.

gardening, life on pig row

We didn't look back after we plumped for tyres. There's a lot of worry around tyres and the contamination they can give crops but as long as the tyres show no wire and are used, then we think they're a good container. The tyre system allowed us to get quite high yields in a controlled environment, it meant that we introduced more compost to our soil at the end of the year as the tyres were emptied and the compost used in situ as a mulch. Potato foliage grew higher, we added another tyre, and more compost.

gardening, growing potatoes, life on pig row

This technique means the actual bed space taken over is reduced by two thirds, we don't have the inherent problem of open ground, the build up of diseases (even in rotation you can quite easily build up problems in the soil if you don't mulch or add manure) and water logging. We have added lots of compost to our soil over the years, people comment on it regularly on our Instragram page and Facebook Page: 'Oooh, you've got lovely soil'. The tyre stacking system is one of the main reasons we have lovely soil, the compost being reused after harvest to protect the soil. We used to have an acidic soil and we're now pushing towards neutral. Rather than have the faff of having to pull out missed potatoes sprouting the following season in open ground, we get a whole clean crop by simply pulling off a tyre at a time and brushing away the compost. It's not gardening, it's like being an archaeologist with a craze for potatoes.

gardening, how to grow potatoes, spuds, life on pig row

In what is effectively a space less than 20 foot by 6 foot (6 metres by 2 metres approximately), that's the size of most modern front gardens, you can get higher yields than in one large open bed. The tyres make watering easy, we switch on a hose and forget about it, when we pass from another job, we'll look to see if the water pours out the bottom of the stack and then move the hose on to the next stack of tyres. There is no wastage of water on foliage as you don't have to stoop to water. Which is great if you have a bad back like Andrew.

gardening, growing potatoes, life on pig row

They may not be pretty but the tyres insulate the crops early in the season, especially if you put two down at once, leaving one empty of compost. The tyres allow for free drainage and are soon hidden by the growing potato foliage. We find in tyres that our maincrop grows faster and remains healthier, giving us larger crops than in open ground, and finally they work out cheaper than growing in open ground. The simple reason being, that the space given over to them in open ground is now be taken over by summer crops with a limited shelf life, like lettuces and courgettes (zucchini).

gardening, small space gardening, life on pig row

We don't miss having to dig up spuds and the resulting effect on our soil has been wonderful. Now it's time for some specials.


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