The great British public get through a lot of spuds, 6 million tons in total for a year, that’s an impressive pile of tubers about one and a half mile cube, if you can imagine such a thing. The majority of this pile is grown in the UK; the only spuds imported are usually in processed foods. Of this pile around half of it is eaten direct the rest is used for processing of some sort, chips make up a large slice of that. The average consumption per person is 92kg annually that is more than 1.5 kg per week per person, which means that some people must be eating 3kg as babies surely don’t eat very many. The consumption has dropped slightly over the past 30 years but only by 10% so despite much competition from imported and other carbo-foods the humble potato is still very popular. In fact the British public eats more spuds than anybody else in the world, more than the Irish who are generally thought of as being the big consumers. It is hard to imagine what people ate in this country prior to the potato being introduced during the 16th century. It became the staple diet of many people and fuelled a population explosion that served the rapid growth of the industrial revolution, dependant on people leaving the land for the cities and working in mills. Spuds were reliable to grow, easy to store, versatile to cook and filled hungry workers. You can feed a lot of workers per acre with spuds.
The Irish suffered especially badly during the great famine in the mid 19th century when millions had to leave the country or died as a result of several complete failures of the crop due to blight. The population there has never recovered from this tragic event, a situation made worse by the occupation of the English and their removal of other foods to England to feed themselves.
Potato blight is not the problem today that it was 150 years ago, new varieties were bred as a consequence of that terrible event and most varieties have some resistance to this common disease. There are thousands of varieties available worldwide with many wonderful attributes, a large number are kept purely for their genetic material and use in plant breeding programmes. We like growing spuds; it is one of the few crops that can be planted into cool soils early in the year before things get to warm up properly. Weed control is straight-forward as it can be mostly done mechanically with little or no hand labour and yields are generally good. This year we had especially good crops, no blight at all meant we could gain maximum yield, wet weather can hasten blight spread and result in losing a quarter of the yield, sometimes more.
The hard work with spuds comes at harvest, we lift the crop onto the soil surface using a tractor digger then we have to pick them up off the ground into a trailer or sacks for removal from the field. It can be quite back breaking at times, by the time these potatoes get to you we would have picked them up by hand at least 7-8 times. As small growers we don’t have the luxury of mass mechanisation, where every move is through a machine of some type. We grow with human energy and love…
In total we harvested over 17 tons from an acre of land; this would be considered quite a good crop for a conventional grower on good land. There were 7 different varieties. With 3 of them being “early” types, these produce early crops but with a lower yield, the rest were “maincrop” varieties which give a higher yield and store well into late winter. Sometimes we get asked “are these potatoes fresh?” Well yes for a few weeks in early summer we do dig weekly and the crop will be with you within a day or two, this is the early crop before the skins start to get tough. After that as the skins harden we can begin to store the crop for several weeks in paper sacks. The maincrop gets harvested in September and goes into a specially built storage clamp made of straw bales to keep the frost out. These will keep quite well until late February or even longer if the temperatures are low. After that the sprouts on the tubers start to grow and the crop will not keep for long as by this time it has woken up to the thoughts of spring and it wants to do what the rest of nature does and that is wake up and grow. Conventional potatoes are treated with a sprout suppressant chemical (maleic hydrazide) to prevent this. It is a growth regulator that is absorbed into the potato, the bulk of it stays within a shallow area of the skin, so best to peel your spuds if you buy conventional. So if we want spuds beyond that we need to put the crop into cold storage and keep it at 3C. We don’t have such facilities so we buy in from another grower, usually Duchy Home Farm. Our future king likes growing organically and has a range of vegetables and other crops on the farm. So yes our potatoes are always fresh- from the storage area, nature is smart enough to grow a crop let all the foliage die off and keep the goodness wrapped up in a convenient package so we can enjoy it even six months after it was growing. Potatoes left in the ground over winter will rot due to the action of frost; those that survive can become a real weed problem in following crops. So the varieties we have in our store now are:
Cara very floury white-skinned, with creamy flesh, pink eyes and a soft, firm texture. It makes great mash and is also good for quick and tasty meals and baking. Great for chips too! Hopeless for boiling it falls apart. We have lots of these.
Milva white skin and flesh, super for boiling as it stays together and taste great. Also good for all other purposes but takes a while to bake. This one is universally popular. We have plenty of these.
Desiree is halfway between waxy, floury and can be used for great roast potatoes and chips, creamy mash and also wedges. Desiree is also sold as a baking potato. It is a red-skinned maincrop potato, with a light yellow flesh. Good for wedges, baking whole, chips, boiling, mashing and roasting – very versatile. We only have a small amount of these.
Romano is red-skinned, with creamy, mildly nutty flesh and a soft, dry texture. The skin fades to rusty-beige during cooking and it is best for mashing, boiling or wedges. We particularly like it for its superb storage abilities. It is a late sprouter so can be kept in store without special facilities right up to April if it is a cool spring.
So why not try some different varieties from our extras list?