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Another year, another potato…

Potatoes laid out for sale

Is this potato heaven? (photo: Katie Bleathman)

Last weekend, on a rather blustery and overcast day at the end of January, some friends and I travelled northwards to a place called Dundry Nurseries, a family-run plant nursery that has been in operation since 1947.

In the summer, their commercial sized glasshouses buzz with activity and are bursting with home-grown flower and vegetable plants. However, at this time of year, they play host to something quite different – one of the largest collections of potatoes I have ever seen.

I was first alerted to this rather unassuming nursery and its potato weekend a few years ago by a friend and fellow horticulturalist, but to my shame, I failed to pay a visit until last year. To say I was overwhelmed would be an understatement, as with around 200 varieties, that’s a lot of potatoes to be faced with.

People examining potatoes

Some serious deliberation... (photo: Katie Bleathman)

Thankfully, I had been warned and went armed with a list, but that didn’t stop the feeling of somehow missing an opportunity when I was only able to choose such a small number from those present. However, consoling myself with the fact that there would be another year and another potato, I left with 14 lovely and very different varieties:

  • First Earlies: Adora, Anya, Premiere, Red Scarlet, Swift, Winston
  • Second Earlies: Fabula, Maxine, Milva, Innovator
  • Main Crop: Cara, Cecile, Druid, Mayan Gold
Red potatoes drying out ready for storage

Cecile - a gem amongst potatoes

Out of these, three stood head and shoulders above the rest: Anya, Milva and Cecile and so this year, they were the start of my 2012 list:

  • First Earlies: Anya, International Kidney, Ulster Prince, Vanessa
  • Second Earlies: Bonnie, Cosmos, Dunbar Rover, Milva
  • Main Crop: Cecile, Harlequin, Isle of Jura, Trixie

Of particular interest from this ‘bunch’ are: International Kidney, which is supposed to be as close as you can get to a Jersey Royal in this country; Dunbar Rover, an old, heritage variety from 1936; and Trixie, with her blue eyes and intriguing name…I also look forward to a lot more yummy, knobbly Anyas!

Potatoes laid out in egg-boxes for chitting

Get chitting!

Until last year, the growing season didn’t really start for me until around early March, when I’d start off my tomato, pepper and cucumber seeds on a windowsill out of reach from the cats. However, since last year’s introduction to the Dundry potato weekend, buying my potatoes at the end of January has definitely become the new beginning of the growing season.

Some sprouting Trixie potatoes

Look into my eyes...

The potatoes I bought just a week ago are already sprouting and so I’ve put them into some old odd-shaped egg-boxes to get them chitting (i.e. growing some shoots before planting). Trixie, Cecile and Anya are off in front, but the others are already showing small buds and it won’t be long before a quiet corner of our house threatens to turn into a thicket unless the potato buckets and raised beds are prepped…

There are many potato days and events at this time of year, so if you’re interested in growing something other than the humble King Edward or Wilja for a change, why not try to find one in your area and give something new a go.

The Seedy Saturday logo

Get swapping...

For those who live around the Bristol/Bath area, don’t forget that I will also be running Seedy Saturday, a Seed Swap, Green Fayre and Potato Day on Saturday 10 March in Farmborough Memorial Hall from 10am to 2pm. Pennard Plants will be bringing around 80 different potato varieties, so if you’re still in need of a spud or two for your plot this year, come along.

In the meantime, what potato varieties have you grown and what do you recommend?

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