One of the special moments in the gardening year is digging down into the earth to harvest your very first batch of first early potatoes of the season.
In the shops, these early potatoes are known as ‘New Potatoes’ … but there is nothing like the the taste of delicious earthy tubers you have lovingly raised yourself.
‘First Early’ potatoes are simply the type that are normally planted earliest in the year and are therefore ready to harvest first. The ‘First Early’ potatoes I chose to plant this year are the Pentland Javelin variety.
Back in the cold days of January, I took delivery of my Pentland Javelin ‘seed’ potatoes and set them up on cardboard egg boxes to ‘chit’. ‘Chitting’ potatoes means leaving them in a light, frost-free place to start sprouting little shoots from the potato ‘eyes’.
Here in the northern UK, we would often expect to be planting out our first early potatoes during March. But with our cold Spring, this wasn’t possible this year. My Pentland Javelins sat patiently in the greenhouse until 11th April before I felt the Winter had sufficiently turned to Spring to risk planting out my first earlies.
Each seed potato is set into its own little planting hole on a bed of fresh green Comfrey leaves. For me, this is another indicator that it’s time to plant my early potatoes – when the Comfrey has grown enough leaves to make the potato planting hole beds. I add Comfrey leaves because Comfrey is a wonderful natural plant food that feeds my growing potato tubers as the Comfrey leaves break down in the soil. I’d also added a good helping of garden compost to the planting row, as potatoes really benefit from a nutrient-rich soil.
The seed potato tubers are then covered over with a generous amount of soil – and then, you just sit back and wait …
But then … oh no! Two weeks after I’d planted my early potatoes, the Winter returned with a final icy blast! I had to dash off and collect bracken to cover over my already-planted potato bed. The bracken mulch provided its protection beautifully – though, I did leave it in place for a few weeks … just to be on the safe side!
Gradually, the green shoots of the potato ‘tops’ began to push up through the soil. By mid-May all of the potato plants were showing some green leaves.
We had some heavy rain leading into the Bank Holiday Weekend at the end of May and this ample watering produced something of a growth spurt in my potato plants. This meant my task for Bank Holiday Monday was ‘happing up’ the potato plants – otherwise known as ‘earthing up’ – which involves drawing up the soil around the potato plants, leaving a small tuft of green leaves sticking out at the top.
The potato plants then grew, and grew and grew … the potato tops were like trees! The potato tops became a regular topic of conversation on the garden. By the end of June they had grown as tall as the garden fork!
Now it was time for the Big Question – the exciting part. The tops were well grown. The flowers were beginning to show. But were my early potatoes ready to harvest? All the signs were there, though I still wasn’t quite sure if the potatoes had been growing long enough.
Full of anticipation, I dug up my first Pentland Javelin potato plant. There was my first potato!
When I dug in further, I could see there were a promising number of tubers growing, but, as I’d suspected, they were still a bit too small. I would need to be patient and wait a little longer.
Two weeks into July was the Big Day – my first potato harvest in my new garden space. I selected two plants with open flowers and dug in with great expectations. I wasn’t disappointed this time. Each plant produced a selection of decent sized tubers.
When I returned home with my first cargo of newly harvested potatoes, I weighed them. There was about a kilo of potatoes from the 2 plants.
As I’m sure you know, ‘the proof of the pudding is in the eating’ … and I can tell you, my Pentland Javelin first earlies did not disappoint. They are very tasty, with that genuine ‘earthy’ flavour of home-grown potatoes. Now I’m looking up more potato recipes … 🙂
J Peggy Taylor