GIY Weekly Column March 17th 2018


St. Patrick's Day is traditional spud planting day in Ireland. Get the family out, get digging and start planting those gold nuggets.

One of my big food bugbears (at the moment) is why we seem to be so obsessed with sweet potatoes (always imported, usually from North America) when our own potatoes are just as nutritious and have the advantage of being local and almost always in-season.  Take away the copious quantities of fat that we often add through cooking (or post-cooking) of potatoes and you have an exceptionally healthful, naturally fat-free food that is a great source of fibre, potassium, salt free, low in sugar.  It is also generally speaking an entirely unprocessed food and let’s be honest, the same simply can’t be said for pasta.
Weather permitting, this St Patrick’s Day I will be out (as I am every year) sowing my spuds for the year.  Potatoes can be grown pretty much anywhere and will actually improve poor soil.  They produce a high yield from a relatively small space and store well.  No wonder they have been a staple diet for Irish families for centuries. 
Effectively there are two types of potatoes, earlies and maincrop.  Earlies grow quickly, have no skin worth speaking of, and are usually out of the soil before blight arrives in summer.  Maincrop develop later, produce a higher yield, develop a thick skin and can therefore be stored, they are, unfortunately, more vulnerable to blight as they are in the ground during the summer months when blight conditions prevail.
Potatoes are grown from “seed potatoes” which are potatoes saved from the previous year’s crop.  It was traditional for Irish GIYers to save their own seed potatoes, but this is generally out of favour now, better to buy certified seed potatoes each year, in case your own potatoes carry over a virus. 
They are a brilliantly easy veg to grow, blight aside, and harvesting your own spuds will be like Christmas morning.  Speaking of Christmas morning, I’ve heard of some GIYers who bury a biscuit tin of harvested spuds in the summer and go out and dig it up on Christmas morning.  What a cracking idea.
Did you see Michael complaining about sweet potatoes in the first episode of GROW COOK EAT,  the GIY  TV show on RTE 1? It started last Wednesday, March 14th 2018 and you can catch up, have a look behind the scenes and find out more about his hatred of sweet potatoes here at the GROW COOK EAT page. 
Things to Do This Week; Sow Spuds
The soil in which you are planting potatoes requires a generous application of well-rotted farmyard manure, compost or seaweed before planting (ideally a couple of weeks before). Sow first earlies in mid March (St Patrick’s Day traditionally) in single rows, 15cm deep, 25cm apart and 45cm between rows. Maincrop spuds are sown in mid to late April. Increase spacing to 35cm.
It is vitally important to include potatoes in your crop rotation as they are susceptible to disease if grown in the same ground year on year.  Check earlies in mid June to see how they are getting on. Earlies will be ready about 14 weeks after sowing. Maincrops take 18 weeks.
I typically leave my earlies in the ground and dig as required. They do fine in the ground until September at which point we move on to maincrop. Maincrop can stay in the ground until the first frosts, lift them then and store in hessian sacks.
Come and learn from the man the Irish Times accused of putting the "cult into cultivation" at GROW HQ in Waterford. Michael teaches a Beginners Guide to Growing full day course several times a year and the next one is March 24th

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