Lifting the main potato crop as winter looms

Newly lifted potatoes (S)
Newly lifted potatoes (S)

This week, how to deal with potential potato blight by Martin Fish - Show director, Harrogate Flower Shows

Potato harvest

Where I grew up as a child, the autumn half-term was always known as potato picking week. It got the name because school children would work in the fields to help the farmer harvest potatoes during their week holiday.

Of course, nowadays potato harvesting is done very differently and many farmers and gardeners tend to lift their crop a few weeks earlier. If nothing else, potato picking week serves as a timely reminder that main crop potatoes should be lifted and stored ready for winter use if you haven’t already done it.

Although the tubers should be fine in the soil for a little longer, it is important that they are lifted before we start getting frosts. The other reason for lifting before winter is because the longer the tubers remain in the soil, the more chance there is of slugs eating into the potatoes and ruining the crop. Once lifted, the potatoes should be dried off and stored in hessian or paper sacks in a dark, frost free place where they should keep for several months,

I managed to get around to lifting my potatoes a couple of weeks ago and on the whole the crop wasn’t too bad considering we had a very dry period in mid-summer. Although potato blight was nowhere as bad this year because of the better weather, some varieties were affected in later summer.

Blight is going to be a problem in the future, especially for home gardeners who don’t have any effective spray controls at their disposal. The answer I’m sure in the future is to grow resistant varieties and this year I trialled some of the sarpo potatoes. This is a range of potatoes bred in Hungary that have a very high resistance to potato blight and the two varieties that are readily available are sarpo mira and sarpo axona. Both grew very well, produced a good crop of tubers and were totally blight free, so well worth growing again next year.

Readers’ Questions

Deborah has emailed me about a moth orchid that she was given last year. It flowered for several months and through the summer the plant has been on a cool windowsill in her utility room. She has just noticed a slender growth about two inches long from near the base of the plant and wonders what it is?

Moth orchids or Phalaenopsis are very popular house plants and excellent value for money. With just a little care they can be encouraged to flower again and again and the new growth on your plant sounds very much like a new flowering stem. They often develop in early autumn after the plant has had a rest from flowering for a few months. The new flowering stems develop between the fleshy leaves and are different in appearance to the aerial roots. Once a new stem starts to grow, carry on watering and feeding as normal and while the stem is still soft and flexible tie it to a thin cane for support. In around four-six weeks’ time you should have another display of beautiful orchid flowers that will last through the winter and well into spring.

Jobs for the week

Make sure that any tender plants in pots outside are either moved close to a south-facing wall for protection, or better still brought into a conservatory or greenhouse for the winter.

Check fruit that is being stored in a cool shed and remove any fruits that are starting to rot.

Roses can be pruned to around half their height, to prevent them from blowing around in windy weather.