This past weekend saw the 18th iteration of the Hampshire Potato Day - or more accurately Days, because it is a 2-day event.
This is only the third time I have been, but I would imagine that the format doesn't change much from year to year. As they say: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it!". The event takes place in a school hall / gymnasium, basically a very large open room. The Potato Day is easily the best way to purchase your seed potatoes - it's very convenient (including ample free parking), there is a huge choice of varieties at modest prices, and there are no carriage fees to pay! I should just add that there is an entrance fee of £2 for adults; children under 16 get in free.
The potato tubers are laid out in big crates, all clearly labelled and colour-coded: green for First Early, yellow for Second Early, red for Maincrop.
You can buy the tubers in nets (usually 2.5kg) or you can buy them individually - 17p each or 10 for £1.50. This means that you can try lots of different types if you want, without being saddled with large quantities of something unfamiliar. A small catalogue with descriptions of the characteristics of each potato type is available to purchase for a mere 60p. I used last year's catalogue to make some decisions about what to look for, though there is no guarantee that what was there last year will also be available this year.
One of the best features of the event is that they provide little plastic bags for you to put the tubers in, so that they don't all get jumbled up. Furthermore they also give you free self-adhesive labels for the bags and free pencils to write with. Genius!
As well as potatoes, there are lots of other things for sale, such as Beans and Peas (£2 for as many as you can fit in a half-pint glass!)
Onion sets, Shallots and Garlic:
There are also dried / bare-root items like Asparagus crowns, Garlic and Horseradish.
There are stalls selling seeds, plants (including some quite rare ones), gardening sundries (pots, labels, fertilisers etc), fruit preserves, even some ready-harvested vegetables. The Hampshire branch of the National Vegetable Society also has a stall in the hall, promoting their society. I know one or two of their members, chaps who are very keen to grow vegetables good enough to win prizes at shows. A nice crowd.
On this occasion I went to the event not only with Jane, but also our daughter Emma and one of her daughters, Holly. Despite being a bit "under the weather" with a bad cold, Holly loved being able to see all the different types of potato. She chose a couple to grow for herself, and even a couple to take home for her sister Lara. Perhaps the highlight of her day was being given a free pink potato. Holly was given a choice: "Would you like a blue potato (Shetland Blue) or a pink potato (Highland Burgundy Pink)?" A tough decision for a 3-year-old! Actually I'm not sure she believed the man who was dishing out these potatoes, because they all looked a fairly uniform dusty brown on the outside, and to most young kids a potato is a potato is a potato.... Still, hopefully the Highland Burgundy Pink will go on to produce some attractive pink-and-white tubers for her. Holly likes anything pink!
Personally, I'm not much enamoured of the highly-coloured potato varieties, My favourite types are white or cream ones, with firm waxy flesh. I'm open to persuasion though, and over the last few years have grown lots of different types just to see what they are like. I now have a list of firm favourites which I like to grow every year, but they are augmented by a couple of newcomers each year too.
This is what I got:
First Early: Lady Christl (4)
Second Early: Charlotte (4), Nadine (2)
Early Maincrop: Nicola (4), Maxine (2)
Late Maincrop: Pink Fir Apple (4)
The 4s are the regulars, and the 2s are the newcomers.
I also bought £2-worth of Streamline Runner Beans, which I shared with Emma because for that price you get about 200 beans and I only need about 18!
All in all, attending this event was a very satisfactory, stress-free experience. I can't recommend it highly enough. I just hope that it leads in due course to the bumper harvest we all wish for. My tubers are now sitting upright in some old egg-boxes in the garage (cool, frost-free and with a reasonable amount of light), and will soon begin to produce chits (shoots). More on this at a later date though.