Sunday 26 January 2014

Hampshire Potato Day

Yesterday I went for the first time to a "Potato Day" - in other words an event at which people buy their seed potatoes. Why I have never been before I don't really know, but it is exactly the sort of thing I like! So much so that although I don't have any photos (well, only a couple) I feel inspired to describe it in words because I think this type of event deserves to be more well-known.

"Charlotte" - photo from 2011

Like many amateur gardeners in the UK, I usually buy my seed potatoes via mail order. This year I very nearly did the same as usual, but I backed-out at the last minute when I saw how much money I was being asked to pay for Post and Packing. Too much! I was also a bit dismayed by the lack of variety offered by most of the "big name" suppliers - about 30 varieties, all told. And of course you normally have to buy at least a kilogram of each type, which may be more than you want. I would rather have a small number of tubers of several different varieties. Enter the Potato Day...

The one I attended was the Hampshire Potato Day, held in Whitchurch - a few miles West of Basingstoke. I think, though I'm not sure that this is the case, that the one I went to is fairly typical of the genre. It was held in a school hall, so there was plenty of space, and plenty of (free) parking. Toilets were available, and refreshments. It was organised by a community group called "Working4Whitchurch", and I must say I think they did a very good job. Everything seemed to be well-organised and very calm (the latter characteristic very unlike some shows I could mention!)

I was very pleasantly surprised by the large range of potatoes available - I would say probably a couple of hundred types. And you could buy them either by the 2kg bag, or individually. For someone like me who only wants to grow a few potatoes it is so nice to be able to buy in small quantity. The individual tubers were priced at 17p or 10 for £1.50, which I think is a very good price! I bought 50 potatoes (therefore I paid £7.50). This price is less than I would normally have paid just for the postage on 50 potatoes!

"Pink Fir Apple" - photo from 2011

Each variety was displayed with details of the potato's characteristics, parentage etc, and a full catalogue was available for purchase at 50p. I had gone along with a fairly open mind about what to buy - just a few general ideas - so it was nice to have a browse and see what took my fancy. And of course you can see the typical shape and size of the tubers before you buy, and you can choose individually if you want, so you can avoid any undersized or damaged ones (which you definitely can't do when you buy by mail order!). Next year I shall study the catalogue in detail before attending and make a proper shopping-list (though I don't promise to adhere to it...). To make things really easy for the buyers, the committee had provided supermarket-style wire baskets, little plastic bags to put your potato choices in, along with sticky labels on which to record their names and even pencils to write with!

"Lady Christl" - 2013

A mixture of types - 2013

I was also pleasantly surprised by the low-key arrangements for checkout / payment. When you had finished shopping, you went to a desk where two people counted your potatoes and wrote the number on a slip of paper. You then went to the tills, presented your slip of paper to the cashier and paid accordingly. There were several tills, so only a very small wait was involved. If you didn't buy any loose potato tubers, you omitted the counting stage and went straight to the till.

Obviously, at a "Potato Day" the potatoes are the chief attraction, but there was a lot of other stuff on sale too. Garlic, onions, shallots, peas, beans etc. The peas and beans were displayed in huge open bins and you used a half-pint beer glass to measure them out into a plastic bag. £2 for a half-pint, which would get you at least a couple of hundred seeds, maybe more! I was wishing I hadn't already bought my beans for this year.

There were also several stalls selling seeds for vegetables, herbs and even some flowers, and there were a few stalls with potted plants for sale - mostly fairly out-of-the-ordinary ones. I was very good and didn't buy anything I didn't need. I only bought one pack of seeds (£1.50), which was for Leaf Celery. I had originally asked for Celery or Celeriac seeds, which I had been planning to grow as microgreens (having discovered the other day how delicious young Celeriac leaves are), but the lady running the stall advised me to buy the Leaf Celery instead. She said it would be more prolific and would last longer. Furthermore you get more seeds in the pack than you do with the expensive Celeriac. How's that for good Customer Service?

Another benefit of visiting this event was that I was able to meet two fellow members of the UK Veg Gardeners forum. I have interacted "virtually" with these two gents for several years now, but never had the privilege of meeting them in person. Both of them are members of the National Vegetable Society, which promotes the amateur production of vegetables, for food and for exhibition.  Here they are:-

Darren (left) and Damien (right)
You couldn't find a pair of lads who are more enthusiastic about veg-growing than these two! Thanks for welcoming me and explaining the procedure, guys! Both of them are bloggers too. Damien's blog is Two Chances Veg Plot and Darren's is Quality Veg Growing.

I shall be sharing my 50 potatoes with my daughter Emma, because neither of us want big quantities, so actually my year's outlay on seed potatoes will come to £3.75. Not a vast expense, I think you'll agree!
Now I just need to acquire a few egg-boxes to lay out my potatoes for chitting...

Seed potatoes "chitting" - photo from 2011

"Chitting" is the term for the formation of growing-shoots on the seed potatoes, prior to planting them - but that's a story for another day!

"Chits" (shoots) on seed potatoes
Just for the record, these are the varieties I bought:

First Earlies
Red Duke of York
Sharpe's Express

Second Earlies
Blue Kestrel

Pink Fir Apple


  1. Very interesting post. Wish I were there too.
    As for the postal service charges, sometimes the postage exceeds the cost of the package itself! I think it is the same thing everywhere.

  2. Your post reminded me I had seen a potato day held locally in the past. I googled & it is being held next month so thank you. I had bought a selection of seed potatoes this morning all at £1.99 a bag. I'm going to attend next months potato day to get a few more unusual types.

  3. Glad you enjoyed it Mark, it has become an annual event for us over the last few years. There are many potato days springing up all over the place but you'd have to go a long way to find a better one. I think the end of January is perfect timing - thoughts of the new season are starting again and there's still a few weeks before the first spuds can go in so plenty of time to set them out to chit. I'm looking forward to seeing how you do with those varieties at the end of the season and look forward to seeing you again next year. Thanks for the mention and the photo!!

    1. I agree on the timing, Damo. Some potato days don't take place till late March / early April, which is too late for most people. And of course, down here in the Balmy South we do tend to plant our spuds earlier than Oop North!

  4. That sounds like a wonderful thing. I never ordered my potatoes by catalog because of those huge shipping costs. Though I keep thinking our area needs a bulk buy for onion plants. Though I like starting my plants from seed. Onions take up so much room and for a long time.

  5. Never heard of a potato day, it sounds brilliant. The idea of small quantities is muvh better. I have 1kg of 2 varities, no idea if I will have enough space.

  6. This is the third post I have read about this event as I have read Damo and Darren's posts too! Did you come across the potato which they said is almost totally resistant to blight. Some of these events have cooked potatoes so you can sample the taste too don't they?

    1. Sue, No I didn't see the allegedly blight-resistant potato "Carolus" - in fact I wasn't aware of it until I read about it on Damo's blog. Maybe by this time next year we will have some reports from people who have grown it. To be honest, there were just so many varieties to choose from that it was difficult to take it all in. I should have gone back again today! There were no cooked potatoes available for tasting - unless you count the Baked Jacket Potatoes in the snack bar!

  7. I've never heard of a Potato Day, either, and I just love how it sounded, how you could buy a small quantity and a variety. Wish there was one close to me. Sounds like a great event.

  8. This sounds like a great event! Just had to share that as I read this post my husband is sitting beside me, glancing every so often at the screen. He is not remotely interested in gardening, which makes my forced monthly tours of the greenhouse even funnier. I just had to share his comments at some of your photos - apparently the Pink Firs look like "baby moles" and when going past the photo of the chitting potatoes in the egg carton he exclaimed, "Roz, those eggs are absolutely minging!" I couldn't help laughing as I explained they were in both instances, potatoes (also because I've not heard the word "minging" since the 90s)


Thank you for taking time to leave me a comment! Please note that Comment Moderation is enabled for older posts.