Sunday 29 January 2012

Potato Day 2012

Happy at Potato Day

Recently described by friend Manishta as, "my version of Xmas", I went on my annual pilgrimage to Garden Organics 2012 Potato Day at Ryton. I love potatoes and I love going to Potato Day. Ryton generally has over 100 varieties from which to choose. This includes mainstream varieties such as Desiree and King Edwards (boring - they are in every supermarket so why grow them?) to heritage varieties such as Shetland Black and Salad Blue.

A few of the over 100 varieties available

As ever, I got excited on the drive up and walked very swiftly (I did NOT run) to the tent holding all the potatoes on arrival. I had a list of specific varieties I knew I wanted, plus room on the list for 'impluse choices' on the day. My final choices were:

Arran Victory (Late Maincrop. Heritage variety, good masher and yields)
Casablanca (2nd Early. Wonderful mash)
Charlotte (2nd Early. Great salad potato and for mash)
Pink Fir Apple (Late Maincrop. Such lovely salad potatoes)
Red Duke of York (1st Early. Excellent baker and storer)
Sante (Maincrop. Great for baked spuds)
Saxon (2nd early. New choice, I like the name..., meant to be good for baking, boiling and roasting )

I also order separately from JBA Seed Potatoes, as I knew they wouldn't be at Ryton:

Amour (my first time trying, meant to be an all rounder resistant to blight)
Ryecroft Purple (heritage, a good baker and roaster)
Stemster (Maincrop. v. reliable, high yielding, good baker and all rounder)

And I picked up for some friends who I'm encouraging to grow potatoes:

Casablanca (2nd Early. Wonderful mash)
Salad Blue (2nd Early. Heritage variety, for mashing and chipping, also an impulse by for me)
Shetland Black (2nd Early. Heritage variety, good for mash and boiling)

It's serious business choosing each potato

One of the great things about Potato Day at Ryton is that you can buy individual tubers. This means it is easy for gardeners to chose and try of lots of different potatoes. The diversity of sowing different crops also means that  if one variety is hit by pests and diseases, it's likely that the others may well survive. I've had occasions in the past where I've lost one crop to blight, but the potatoes right next to them weren't effected at all. Proving once again that diversity, and not monoculture, enhances food security.

Potato Day is quite social. I ran into Emma from Cultivate (above, choosing some Bambino seed potatoes), who is as mad on potatoes as I, as well as Master Composter Martin Stott, who has often run free composting workshops at Barracks Lane Community Garden, for whom I freelance. It's also fun to chat to fellow potato fans about your favourite varieties.

Cultivate's Emma carefully checking her potato list

After the serious, but fun activity of choosing potatoes, I took the opportunity to wander about Ryton gardens. As the weather has been so mild, there was lots more to see than usual at this time of year. The small organic garden (4.5m x 6m) was looking inviting, with its lovely rounded 4-bed rotation system edged by bricks. It also has a small pond (for frogs etc), a cold frame, a compost bin and a rainwater collection system; displaying what can be grown in a small but bio-diverse home garden.

The small organic garden 

The 'All-Weather Garden', was a polytunnel full of salads, Chinese cabbages and herbs that can be picked throughout winter. As mentioned recently, my long-term plan is to have a polytunnel on my allotment, and it was good to get a sense of what I'll be able to grow and eat once I do have one.

The All -Weather Garden

The layout of the Elysia Biodynamic Garden is lovely, with a mix of annuals, perennials, fruit and vegetables grown.

Elysia Biodynamic Garden 

There is also a new display garden at Ryton, the Cuban Organoponicos. Based on the types of urban gardens and food systems Cuba created after the fall of the Soviet Union, it displays a mix of fruit and vegetables that can be grown in small spaces using recycled materials.

Cuban Organoponicos garden

Visiting all the different gardens at Ryton made me realise I really must return for a visit in Summer, to see them in full bloom and cultivation.

Returning to potatoes, I attended a really engaging talk '20 challenges and opportunities for potatoes' by Alan Wilson, which I've written about in a separate blog.

As ever, I thoroughly enjoyed myself at Potato Day. Now it's time to get on with chitting the taties and to look forward to getting them into the ground. Will I like the new varieties I'm trying? Will my old favourites be pushed aside for new taties on the block? Stay tuned.