Lifting the Maincrop

There was a problem at the outbreak of war and for the remaining duration of the National Growmore campaign (which is where Growmore feed comes from) and the subsequent Dig For Victory campaign that ran for the rest of the war.

Lifting potatoes, why you need to select good varieties to work for you.

The British have always loved spuds. At the start of the war there was a fear that the nation would just turn to potatoes and that blight would run rampant through the Isles again. This was seen in the National Growmore campaign and the original planting plans that were released by the Ministry of Agriculture. These growing plans had more emphasis on cabbages, greens and other brassicas, and gave over little space to the potato. It was hoped that people would see the benefits of greens, the vitamins within, and the hardiness of them. Then the winter of 1939/40 rolled in and those early growers of the War had a rather nasty shock. Britain, as in the winter of 2011/12 turned to ice, the same conditions we suffered that winter and had a taste of in 2009/2010 winter, spread across the country and the greens, cabbages and brassicas froze, died and as the ground warmed up turned to mush. It was, at the time, a national disaster. The National Growmore campaign never tripped off the tongue, and that early planting plan along with a disastrous start meant that it was relaunched as the Dig For Victory Leaflet No1: Grow for Winter as well as Summer. Spuds were back on the menu and in larger quantities. Yet, throughout the War, the Ministry of Agriculture were concerned about those gardeners who turned over their entire plot to potatoes. Throughout the War, a series of pamphlets and News Flashes were distributed to boost the public image of other vegetables, including the infamous lie, 'Carrots help you see in the dark'. Throughout and after the War, the love affair with the British spud continued, and we saw monumental harvests during the period of the war and post-war. The Potato Pete character ran throughout the war years and the song was a hit and sung by Betty Driver, who later became the hotpot queen of Coronation Street's Rovers Return. She could never get away from spuds.

Maincrop drying on the ground before bagging up.

Now the science bit. It has been known for a long time that potatoes contain large amounts of Vitamin C and B6. It also houses some interesting minerals, that we know about today, phytochemicals, such as carotenoids and natural phenols, which are at the forefront of tackling illness and boost our immune system. So a chip butty will actually combat that cold.  Chlorogenic acid can also be found in there which aids the release of glucose into your bloodstream. All the Vitamin C though can be found in or just under the skin, and the value of potato skins were known during the war and any waste of them was met with fines and in several cases, of those who continued to waste and/or not recycle, ended with a jail term. The fiber content of a potato eaten in its skin is the same as many whole grain breads and pastas. We know which one we prefer because we can grow spuds here.

Harvesting spuds from our wartime garden.

From one row alone we picked around 5-6lbs per plant, filling around two potato sacks with large potatoes that were clean. You can find the complete list of what we've grown here. We have another row left to lift of the maincrop spuds but we reckon that we have in access of 30lbs from this one row at the top of the garden. We pierced a few, even with a potato fork, but these have been eaten first. The good thing about large potatoes is that the soil is easier to clean, unlike some varieties that leave behind small spuds that shoot the following season. The taste of the Rudolph spud, which is a modern variety that we selected to see whether modern cultivars would hack it beside heritage ones, was a pleasant surprise. The problem with many modern bred spuds has been a decline in taste, in favour of a rise in resistance to scab and blight. Rudolph though owes much to the pre-war varieties, there were some signs of blight though in a couple of tubers but the rest of the crop was clean*. The taste is great, a floury spud that barely needs any oil to crisp. Likewise, when we mashed them and added them as a topping on a Shepherd's Pie the taste was out of this world. The lift was also easy, but we have worked the soil on that bed for three years but a row planted in an area never cultivated before has also been impressive, breaking up the soil and growing large spuds there too though the haulms never got to the four foot height they did in the top bed. We reckon our harvest will last us to beyond Christmas and with some prudent planning in the kitchen will see us to the first day of spring. As we look out over the valley, it is a good day to bring in the potato harvest even though autumn has bitten here.

Havesting on top of the world.

*We recommend as good growing practice that you do not compost haulms (potato foliage) either dispose of them in a bin or preferably burn them.

You can view more on our #wartimegarden plans on twitter and through the following links:

Wartime Garden: Harvest Festival

Digging for Victory: The Guardian Blog