Posts Tagged ‘potatoes’


'Casablanca' can be first early potato or left in the ground as a maincrop. Here the OPW Walled Garden shows the plants at their best.

‘Casablanca’ can be first early potato or left in the ground as a maincrop. Here the OPW Walled Garden shows the plants at their best.

This is a difficult blog to write. I’ve just been to Bloom in the Phoenix Park. The ‘Casablanca’ potatoes in the OPW Walled Organic Kitchen Garden are a picture of health, weed free and in lovely straight rows. On the other hand, here in Tacumshin, our ‘Casablanca‘ potatoes sown in  ‘Aran beds’ or ‘lazy beds’ are struggling. Lack of water could be a factor. Another factor could be that we did not plant into the soil but instead laid the seed on the strimmed grass and turned another sod of grass upside down to cover the seed potato. The dense grass roots are slow to break down in these near drought conditions. We will get a crop. However it  may include more small potatoes than we would like. Nonetheless, the digging to harvest the crop will loosen the soil to help make it friable for the next crop, probably a green manure.



In February, I planted a few seed potatoes, (Orla, Charlotte and Blue Danube,) in garden centre bought potato planter bags. To start with, I put a seaweed layer at the bottom of each bag, followed by a 50/50 mix of garden compost and soil to fill about half the bag. One, or at most two, seed potatoes were sown in the middle of each bag. The bags were watered and placed inside the patio door on an old election poster to protect the kitchen floor! Regular watering of bag grown potatoes is a key factor in getting a good yield.

Recently in March, I planted a few more potato bags with Lumper and Colleen varieties. Hopefully in April, maybe May, the risk of frost will have passed. Once the patio is frost free, I can shift these potato planter bags outside to grow on and get an early harvest in June, before the blight season begins in earnest. When the potato plants grow taller than the rim of the bags, I will earth up each plant with that 50/50 mix of compost and soil to increase the number of tubers growing out from the stem of each plant.

After the potatoes flower, and the flowers wither, it will be time to tip out the potato plant, soil and all and retrieve the harvest. The resulting soil in which the poatoes grew will be an ideal soil to grow other container grown veg like courgettes or peas or beans or carrots or lettuce or radishes, etc. If I had more space, I would certainly be planting seed potatoes in the open garden soil later when frost has passed, in drills, or using the Aran Bed method, as well as in bags for an early crop.

Unusual organic seed varieties are still available from Sonairte, the Eco-Visitor Centre and Gardens, Laytown, Co. Meath,

Protecting the potato bags from outdoor frost by starting them off indoors. If looked after, these purpose made bags last years, but buckets or strong black plastic bags will work also.

Protecting the potato bags from outdoor frost by starting them off indoors. If looked after, these purpose made bags last years, but buckets or strong black plastic bags will work also. If you can’t get to Laytown, then the Sonairte stand at the Dublin Food Co-Op, Newmarket, Dublin 8, on a Saturday is another place to pick up a bag or two of organic seed potatoes. They are €6 a bag or 2 bags for m€10.

The varietes available are Colleen, Toluca, Sarpo Axona, Bionica, Charlottte, Remarka, Sante, Sarpo Mira, Cara, Desiree, Robinta.


Potatoes are sensitive to frost so sowing outdoors will not occur for some weeks yet. However, in a potato bag or large bucket indoors, early potato seed can be sown now. I sow the seed  in potato growing bags, having chitted them in an egg box on the windowsill for a week or two. These bags are then positioned on the floor inside the sliding doors to get maximum light. (see pages 46 – 50 of my book ‘Trevor’s Kitchen Garden’ . )

If you have the use of a polytunnel or green house, then potato seed can be sown there now too. Áine and myself sowed a few rows of ‘Sharpe’s Express’ seeds in Áine’s polytunnel in Curracloe, Co. Wexford in the last couple of days. I first dug the trenches about a metre apart, lined the bottom of each with fresh seaweed, and spaced the seed potatoes about half a metre apart, before covering with soil and watering. Potatoes are hungry and like good fertility, so I always mix in well rotted manure, compost or seaweed before sowing.

The lovely Áine Neville sowing 'Sharpe's Express' in her Curracloe polytunnel in sandy loam trenches on a bed of seaweed.

The lovely Áine Neville sowing ‘Sharpe’s Express’ in her CWP Curracloe polytunnel in sandy loam trenches on a bed of seaweed.

It can be tempting to space seed potato in a small space too closely, but this can be a false economy. Potato plants need good air circulation for healthy growth. Well spaced potato plants yield a better crop too of larger potatoes, which makes harvesting easier. These early spuds should be ready for harvest by early June, well before the blight season, which means no need to spray against blight to protect this early crop.

‘Sharpe’s Express’ is a favourite early in Ireland for good reason. It is unusual amongst ‘earlies’ in that it is a floury potato with a high dry matter content. Before harvest it produces attractive purple flowers. It is best steamed rather than boiled.

The variety was first bred in 1900 by Mr. Charles Sharpe of Sleaford in Lincolnshire, England. This area still produces a large percentage of the commercial horticulture in England, especially potatoes.


The Gathering in the Garden – cousin Jeri and Rick with Áine holding niece Neidín, my godchild while her Dad Derek, my brother, who helped lay out the garden looks on.

The pleasures of GIY / kitchen gardening come home to roost in an extra special way at a rare family gathering. My first cousin Jeri and her husband Rick from Grants Pass, Oregan in the USA, made the journey to be ahead of the gang returning for ‘The Gathering’ in 2013. Out in the garden, we compared beans and peas, ‘What do you call these over here/ over there?’, etc. An elderly extra tall sunflower overshadowed the proceedings. The autumn weather was crisp and dry, so not much sympathy from the Americans for the vagaries of the wet Irish summer just gone.

Around the dinner table, we all benefitted from that same benign autumn weather ( as well as the summer rain), with spuds, chard, carrots and leeks dug and picked fresh from the garden. A variety of veg, chicken and herbs came together deliciously in one of Áine’s classic pie dishes. Maybe there will be a few articles in the pipeline for the year to come along the lines of ‘Gardening for the Gathering’. There is every chance that those long lost relatives have themselves well developed allotments or kitchen gardens in their own countries, wherever they may be.


The bad harvest reports in the news this year prove, once again, that farming is very different from organic kitchen gardening. Not everything did well in the garden, but in general, I have to admit it was my best year ever. The brassicas suffered but are recovering now. My fault entirely, I should have covered the cabbage patch with fleece to prevent the cabbage white caterpillars making flitters of the lovely healthy green leaves. Such is life, thankfully the rainbow chard leaves have kept me going as a fall back leafy vegetable. Meanwhile, everything else has come good, more or less, apples, blackcurrants, peas, beans, beetroot, basil, parsley, potatoes etc. Leeks coming along nicely for harvesting over the winter and early spring hungry gap.

The glut at present is the Black Plum Tomato crop (Lycopersicon lycopersicon). I bought seeds from and they are described as ‘productive heirloom from Russia. A cordon, ripening from mid-August. Rich red mahogany plum-shaped fruits, delicious in salads and sauces’. The south facing greenhouse, rich soil and a regular comfrey liquid feed gave these Russian plants a good chance to produce prolifically. Glad they are good for sauces, as they will all find their way into various dishes requiring bruschetta topping

Black Plum Tomatoes on one of four plants, two in the ‘phone box’ and two more in the ‘Fingal Greens Greenhouse’. South facing garden helps tomatoes ripen fully on the cordon.

, pasta sauces and for the remainder, good old chutney. Thank you people of Russia ( and the Irish Sed Savers Association in Scarriff) for the ‘black plum tomato’.

School Gardening Q&A at Bloom draws a crowd – First Week in June 2012

Michael Kelly (GIY), Paddy Madden (SEED) and Cathy Eastman (SEED) in front of a large crowd at Bloom, listen to Hans Wieland (SEED) stress the importance of the School Caretaker for School Gardens.

The proven educational benefits of school gardening being a part of the curriculum were highlighted in BLOOM, the Bord Bia gardening festival on its first day. Michael Kelly, for GIY Ireland, hosted a lively question and answer session in the big marquee at the famous Phoenix Park annual extravaganza. The panel from SEED, the Earth Education network, comprised of Paddy Madden, school gardening lecturer and earth education author from the Marino College of Education, Dublin; Cathy Eastman from the award winning Gortbrack Earth Education Farm, near Tralee; Hans Wieland, from the Organic Centre, Rossinver, Co. Leitrim and Trevor Sargent, a former school principal and Minister for Food and Horticulture was there for Sonairte, the Ecology Centre at Laytown, Co. Meath, as well as being the author of Trevor’s Kitchen Garden, a fundraiser for school gardening projects.

The rudiments of establishing a school garden were teased out by the panel. The success of a school garden project generally requires the support of the Principal, the engagement of the Caretaker and the drive of a designated teacher, perhaps the Green School Co-ordinator. The first step is to plan on paper how the garden is ideally to be laid out. The locations of hedging, fruit bushes and trees, raised beds, etc. Then set about an introductory three year plan.

–         Year 1: In ALL the vegetable patches, sow potatoes as an easy first crop, which leaves the soil friable after the crop is harvested.

–         Year 2: In the same clear patches, sow peas. This improves soil health by adding nitrogen, and peas are a favourite for many children.

–         Year 3: Begin a planned rotation with at least four plots growing different veg family groups (a) potato/onions (b) peas/beans (c) cabbage/kale (d) carrots/beetroot.

Given that school summer holiday coincide with the main harvest for most GIY-ers, the school garden suits crops which can be harvested in June before schools close for July and August.

–         Early potatoes sown in strong potato bags started in early February indoors, can be put outside after the risk of frost has passed (generally after Easter) for a June harvest. Strawberries likewise make for a popular June harvest.

–         Short term crops like lettuce, radish or scallion are likewise sown in the spring for a May and June harvest.

–         Perennial fruit bushes, trees, herbs and rhubarb etc help support a wide biodiversity in the school grounds as well as yielding healthy food for the school community year after year.

–         Produce which ripens over the holiday period is often harvested and frozen, to be savoured when pupils return in the autumn. A rota of parents and/or the caretaker are required to water over the summer but manicuring the garden is not necessary. Pupils learn important lessons about biodiversity from seeing weeds on their return in the autumn.

An easy way to construct raised beds on a existing lawn area was outlined. No digging up of grass sods is required. Place a raised bed wooden frame, one metre wide and as long as you like, on top of the grass. Inside the frame of four planks (ideally 1 foot /30cm high), place a couple of layers of cardboard on top of the grass. Cover this biodegradable floor with soil. The children can be asked to each bring a bag or carton of soil to school for the raised bed. Plant strawberries or potatoes. Over time, the cardboard with decompose as will the grass underneath it. However the bed will need weeding from time to time.

Appeals were heard for the Department of Education to plan schools with school gardens in mind. The present sterile school landscaping policy is at variance with the curriculum which encourages outdoor education. Also school canteens are needed so school grown produce can be cooked and enjoyed as part of a healthy eating habit.

GIY and SEED, the 6 organic centres around Ireland providing School Earth Education, will continue to co-operate so more schools can benefit from good quality earth education and school gardening.

Trevor Sargent, Patron of SEED.


The world of domesticated potato growing is a venerable one, going back some 9000 years to the shores of Lake Titicaca on the border of Peru and Bolivia. This ‘super food’ (it has pretty much got every nutrient you need keep healthy) has since become the fourth most important food crop in the world. The biggest cultivator of potato is China.

However with over 5000 varieties of potato worldwide, the potatoes grown in China or Africa or in South America are probably different from those we favour in Ireland. Our favourite spud bought by almost half of Irish consumers is the Rooster, which was bred here expressly to suit the Irish palate.

Early varieties (such as Colleen or Orla) get sown first, followed by ‘second earlies (such as Carlingford) a few weeks later. The main crop (such as Rooster) is planted later in Spring to mature later giving a bigger yield and some is stored until the ‘earlies’ are harvested the next year.

Before planting my few Orla seed potatoes in grow bags at the end of February, I first show them light in a frost free environment for a couple of week so that they sprout. This can speed them on their way once they are planted in a soil and compost mixture.

Chitting is the word used to sprout seed potatoes before planting. It is a simple procedure as the following video shows. The only precaution worth noting is be sure your seed potatoes are disease free. I make sure I buy mine as ‘certified seed potato’, for peace of mind.