Took advantage of a couple of fine days to lift some potatoes. In one bed I’d got Mayan Gold and the other Lady Balfour, neither of which I’ve grown before.
The Mayan Gold are oval shaped with a golden yellow skin and the flesh is yellow as well. The tubers are very concentrated, coming in clumps rather than spreading out over the bed. I might have got away with a closer spacing but, on the other hand, there were a lot of tiddlers.
When the haulm went down, I think the Mayan Gold could have done with another fortnight. I might try planting out a little earlier next year, weather permitting. They’re an exceptional roast potato with excellent flavour. Total yield wasn’t too exciting, about 25Kg, but not disappointing either.
The Lady Balfour in the adjacent bed were treated in exactly the same way but produced about a third more tubers. There were very few small potatoes, unlike the Mayan but quite a few of the larger tubers had split. The faster growth rate is probably responsible as they’d need more water and we had a dry spell this year.
Both were affect by scab but that’s not a big deal really, just need to peel them prior to cooking but it is unsightly. I’m surprised really as the pH wasn’t too high which is the prime cause of scab.
I’ve a bed and a half of Sarpo Mira to come up yet. Knowing what a productive cropper that is, I expect we’ll be self sufficient in spuds this year.
2 of the 6 raised beds are now growing leeks and one will be given over to garlic. Next year I’ll use one bed for parsnips and another for carrots with the third for cauliflowers I think, so long as I can arrange some caterpillar and wind protection and the leeks to be followed one by calabrese.
I’ve grown tomatoes outside with mixed success but I really don’t think the climate here, 600 feet up, is ideal. However, I had the following email that I thought was interesting and worth sharing along with my reply.
“Hi John – love reading your interesting Newsletter. The only regrets I have (each year) is that my tomatoes are never really that brilliant. I love growing them, and will continue to do so, but I think unless they are greenhouse grown, we don’t stand much chance in the UK of getting a good, tasty crop growing them outside.
I also find the skins are generally tough. I do use them, both red and green and just love the smell of tomato plants, but maybe you could recommend a variety that would be good for growing in London gardens?”
Let’s face it, growing in the UK is gamble every year with the weather. But in London and the south-east where the climate is warmer and dryer than the north and west of the country, I’d certainly give outdoor tomatoes a go.
The first thing to do is to select a location, for tomatoes you really need full sun. Even partial shade will have an effect on yield and quality. You also want it to be sheltered from the wind. A light shower and wind blowing over the plants will have a cooling effect.
To demonstrate this, blow on the back of your hand. You’ll feel it’s cooling. Now wet the back of your hand and blow on it. It’s really chilling. I’m not 100% why, something to do with energy and evaporation but it’s real.
The ideal spot would be next to a south facing wall with shelter to the sides. You might well be able to knock up a frame covered in clear polythene which would shelter from the wind if your garden is fairly open.
Having covered location, the next consideration is the soil. Ideally it should be deep, rich and have a high level of potash. Of course you can grow tomatoes in grow-bags or containers. The critical thing is water, allowing them to dry out will cause problems with fruit splitting and so forth. Once the start forming fruits, feed with either a commercial feed or home-made comfrey tea.
This brings us nicely to what variety to grow. In the summer when tomatoes are plentiful they’re fairly cheap in the shops. So why grow what you can buy cheaply when you could grow varieties you’ll never find in a chain supermarket? Take a look at heritage varieties which are mainly fine for outdoor growing. My favourite picks: Ailsa Craig (or Craigella), Black Russian heritage types, Sungold (Modern) and Gartenperle or 100s & 1000s for growing in a hanging basket or pot. See Tomatoes in the allotment shop
Any comments by London or south-eastern growers particularly welcome!