From the garden and allotments with Pat Duke:
Now that we are in the middle of harvesting and admiring what we can from the garden or on the plot, it seems counterintuitive to be thinking about planting anything at all.
So much time needs to be spent indulged in enjoying and admiring flowers and produce that the thought of even more labour brings us out in a sweat.
Sauntering around with a mug of tea in hand, nodding in secret acknowledgement of a job well done is a gardener’s birthright.
Even better if we can explain it all to a willing, or often conscripted other.
I was floored this week when my young nephew blurted out excitedly, and of course repeatedly, ‘can we see the allotment’ on their annual visit from the frozen North.
His feet didn't touch the ground before I had him excitedly digging up spuds with his hands as if they were gold bars.
It’s not surprising given they are often described a ‘buried treasure’.
This excitement can be repeated around Christmas time if we can allow ourselves the time to offer these earth apples just a small amount of attention.
In exchange for this we get fresh tasting and entirely different roast potatoes than the commercial ones we’ve become used to.
Now is the time to plant fabled Christmas potatoes.
The varieties you’re looking for will be well marked at any garden suppliers and are usually the reliable varieties such as ‘Charlotte, Duke of York, Maris Piper, Nicola or Gemson.’
These can be grown outside or under cover in a bag or container.
You can even buy bags for this very purpose or reuse sturdy dumpy type bags of any size you can lay your hands on.
Once planted deep in fresh compost, they will only need weekly feeding with general purpose fertiliser and covering with fleece or a bed of straw to keep out the demon of frost and you'll be excitedly harvesting them in 12 weeks' time.
You will know they are ready as the green foliage above ground will have died down.
If you’re still not sure and are as impetuous as me then you could lift one and have a quick look.
Once they've been dug or pulled up, they can be washed and dried ready to be roasted and nestled next to whatever you have on the day.
Try to be as scrupulous as you can when drying the potatoes because even the tiniest spot of moisture will turn the spud into the texture of wet cotton wool if you’re not careful.
Blindly plunging an index finger into one of these deep in the bag can take a few days to get over!
I would always advise washing the potatoes outdoors somewhere before drying them thoroughly and storing them in a paper bag until you want to cook them.
This way it avoids being up to your elbows in muddy water while unblocking the sink at the same time.
This never makes for a harmonious atmosphere in my experience and quoting the season of goodwill only seems to rapidly exacerbate things.
Being able to take them out of the storage bag all shiny and new can illicit an inner warmth that can be mistaken for smugness.
The main thing to avoid is frost as that will wipe out your crop and you will not have that extra special taste of home grown potatoes on the big day.
Having said that, we are a long way from cold weather and there is still much sunshine to enjoy before then.
Right now is the best time to enjoy our gardens and plots and this is what we have all planned for.
My philosophy is to make as much time, as well as a concerted effort to prioritise and enjoy every second we have in the garden.
After all, the plants and wildlife are doing the same.
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