Saturday, 4 August 2018

Harvesting Maincrop potatoes

If you're looking for advice, or a tutorial, you'll be disappointed with this post! This year is the first time I have grown Maincrop potatoes, and the results have not been great...

Since it was my first experience with Maincrop potatoes and because I had no idea how things would perform in the new garden, I didn't want to go overboard and plant huge quantities of anything. This year was to be a trial run - and not just with potatoes either, but with all the other vegetables too. So in the Spring I planted 5 seed-tubers of each of four Maincrop potato varieties - "Desiree", "Setanta", "King Edward" and "Maris Piper".

The first problem I encountered was that a couple of the seed-tubers didn't grow at all, even though I had chitted them before planting, so my 20 plants became 18. This wasn't the biggest problem though. The biggest problem was the weather. From about the end of May until the end of July we had hardly any rain - just a few spots. The soil became completely dry and parched. There was only so much I could do to alleviate this. I would have had to have left the hosepipe running 24x7 for it to have kept the soil at a proper level of moisture! After a few weeks I realised I was fighting a losing battle and gave up watering the potatoes altogether. This is why I have been harvesting my Maincrop potatoes now, rather than in late August or even September, as would be more normal.

To be honest, I have been putting off this task for quite a while, in the vain hope that a change of weather might happen, giving the potato plants an opportunity for a final growth spurt. No such luck! We had some hours of decent rain last weekend, but it wasn't enough, and the potatoes had come to the end of the line anyway.

The job of harvesting was a brief one, perhaps 20 minutes all told. I didn't even have to dig, I just pulled off any remaining foliage and lifted the potatoes out of the sandy dust with my hands!

Well here are the stats: the overall total (from 16 plants remember, because two of the 18 were dug up prematurely by foxes the other day and didn't get weighed) was a mere 6.53 kgs. Yes, pathetic, I know!

This is "King Edward". Yield: 1.88kg - plus about 500 or 600g from the two dug up by the foxes.

This is Desiree. Yield: 1.69kg.

This is "Setanta". Yield: 1.59kg. Skins very rough, you'll note.

Finally, "Maris Piper". Yield: 1.33kg. A couple of very nice tubers, but not many of them. The two "No -show" seed-tubers were of this variety.

Overall, I think this is a pretty poor result. The trouble is, how much can I blame the weather? Should I try again next year and hope for a more normal (wetter) Summer, or should I just conclude that the Courtmoor plot is not suitable for growing potatoes? I'm mindful of the fact that the Earlies didn't perform well either, whereas the ones I grew in containers in my home garden were all pretty decent. There is no doubt that the soil at the Courtmoor plot is exceptionally dry and its moisture-retaining qualities are not good. What it really needs is a couple of truckloads of well-composted stable manure! I know that this is what it used to get once a year, in times gone by, but I think those times were a long time ago. What do you think I should do?


  1. Feed the soil if you can manage it and give them one more try.

  2. I have similar troubles with my potatoes this year - I don't have to wash my Annabelles, dusting will do.
    But I'm not one to give up, so next year I'll try again.
    You could try mulcing potato plants (grass clippings will do, asl well as straw or dry leaves, but layers should be thick enouhg), if you'll plan only few seed-tubers. Mulch will retain the moisture in the ground, but it also helps if next summer is very wet.
    Of course, adding more organic material helps, but it is a slow way.

  3. I commend the candour of your post. Admirable, as ever. I have dropped some crops over the years but just can't imagine not growing potatoes in ANY year. Maybe it's my heritage, but there is also the relatively low maintenance and soil management benefits. The trench method has the advantage of cosseting the tubers in a layer of moisture retentive material (grass cuttings, kitchen compost or composted manure) and followed up by mounding to disrupt the weeds once they emerge - and then you are laughing. Of course no one knew in April that this year was going to be a drought year, so please don't beat yourself up and yes, grow spuds in your new site next year!

    1. I always try to be honest with my successes and failures, Mal. There's no point in trying to make people believe that gardening can be 100% successful. I think a lot of newcomers to the hobby are put off by their first failure because they have been given false expectations.

  4. I am quite new to growing veg..only the last couple of years,and Ive never bought a seed...I just use kitchen scraps.My potatoes are grown from a slice of supermarket spud that has chittings on it.My tomatoes are grown from just putting 2 slices of tomato into soil and see all the tomato plants you get from it!.I grow small batches of celery,onions and garlic this way to.At least if they do fail,well they havent cost me any money,lol.But up to now...they are all doing really well.They might take a bit longer to harvest but its great when they do!.If you google Growing Kitchen Scraps you gives you some great ideas!xx

  5. My limited experience tells me I get better yields from soil that has been nurtured and has plenty of organic matter in it. Areas of my garden (which is very clay) where there is little organic matter in them stuff really struggles to grow well. In my veg beds where some have a better level of organic matter than others the difference in yield and resilience to drought is noticeable.

  6. Have another go next year. This year most of us have had a disappointing potato harvest. At least yours came up fairly easily which is more than could be said for ours.

  7. Don't give up Mark, as this year the impact of these extremely hot and dry conditions is, well... extreme, for all of us. Glad you didn't have to hack them out of solid clay. And at least you do have some potatoes to eat, even if not the bounty you might have hoped for


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