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Gardening Articles for week ending 16th June 2018

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Written by Wally Richards.

Recently I was talking to a leading seed potato supplier from the South Island and found out that the new season’s certified seed potatoes were now available through garden centres.
In fact I also learnt that the specialist growers of seed potatoes now days do one big planting a year and when the crop is harvested and graded, the seed potatoes go into cool stores which prevents them from sprouting.
This means that certified seed potatoes can be available all year round (unless a variety runs out before the next crop)
Having potatoes in cool store for a period of time is both a good thing and a bad thing.
It is good in so much as once the potatoes come out of the cool store to warmer temperatures, they will start to initiate sprouts and if you find the bags of seed potatoes with the beginnings of sprouts at your garden centre, you have a good buy.
The other side of the coin is if these bags of seed potatoes sit in the warmer conditions too long the sprouts will develop and grow long and weak, easy to break off when handling and not a good buy.
It has been noted that in some chain stores where the staff do not rotate seed potatoes in the bins and put fresh stocks on top, that the bags on top can be great and underneath the bags are too far gone to be of any value planting.
A novice gardener not knowing better could buy these potatoes with big sprouts, plant them and have a poor harvest months later. Not good.
I find that certified seed potatoes from the South Island growers are more likely to produce good harvests than North Island grown ones. Why?
This is likely the harsher conditions in the South Island which mean less pests and diseases. The same also applies with fruit trees which I would rather buy a South Island grown tree compared to a North Island one.
The South Island ones take off, coming to warmer conditions in the North Island and always appear more hardier.
So when buying your seed potatoes look for bags that say grown in the South Island and for potatoes that have not sprouted much.
Then you simply take your seed potatoes home place them with their little sprouts up, in a wooden tray and put in a frost free situation that gets direct sunlight such as a glass house, under a car port or on a porch.
They can sit there for a couple of weeks as they ‘green up’ with the sprouts growing and hardening up.
When you plant out is dependent on frosts which will affect the exposed foliage if unprotected.
Once the sprouts are firm you can further speed up the growing by covering the potatoes with moist untreated saw dust or damp sand. The potatoes will quickly form roots and then you can plant out.
If you do this ensure you check the potatoes every few days as it does not take long for them to root up too much and damage can happen when you separate them.
As seed potatoes are planted deep (because the new potatoes will form up the stalks and in a sense, the deeper, the more potatoes) they are covered over as the foliage comes through; which protects them against frost.
This is repeated and then later mounded so there can be a good period of time that frosts will not affect the potatoes as the foliage is covered by a thin layer of soil.
Later you can spray the foliage with Vaporgard for frost protection and use covers as well if need be.
The potatoes are going to be slower growing till the ground warms up. Never dig a deep trench and cover completely over, in the early part of the season, as the seed potatoes are likely to fail and rot out.
Dig a deep trench by all means but just cover the seed potato with soil and repeat as it grows upwards.
There is also another great advantage of growing very early potatoes and that is less chance of damage to the crop from insect pests.
The Hadda beetle which looks like a ladybird but different colouring and the potato psyllid which is very difficult to spot but will prevent the tubers from growing bigger than marbles if allowed to get a hold.
There are other pests also but these two new ones are the worst by far.
When you plant out your seed potatoes place about a tablespoon of Neem Tree Powder under each potato along with what ever other manure/fertiliser you like to use.
(My preference is Neem Granules, sheep manure pellets or Bio Boost, a teaspoon of Rok Solid and about half a teaspoon of BioPhos along with a tablespoon of Gypsum.)
Later on when you have finished mounding up the potatoes then is the time to sprinkle some more Neem Tree Granules onto the soil surface near the tops and give the tops a occasional spray of Neem Tree Oil all over.
Later in the season as summer approaches and with later crops, the sprays of Neem Oil should be increased to say weekly or two weekly.
Weekly for late crops planted say December onwards and repeat applications of the Granules every 6 weeks. Note, the same pests like tomato plants too so do not plant any tomato plants near your potatoes and treat the tomatoes likewise with the Neem products.
You will find also that there are three categories of seed potatoes which are 1st Early such as Swift Maturity: Approx 60-70 days Tuber Shape: Round Skin: White Flesh: Cream
General: Waxy potato ideal for boiling, salads, casseroles & soups. High yielder.
2nd Early such as Ilam Hardy Maturity: Approx 70-80 days Tuber Shape: Oval round Skin: White Flesh: White General: Floury potato ideal for mashing, baking, roasting, chips and wedges.
Then there is Main Crop such as Rua Maturity: Approx 100 days Tuber Shape: Round to oval Skin: Fine white Flesh: White General: Good all rounder for roasting and boiling.
The difference between early and main crop is the maturity times not that they should be planted early or later. You can plant Rua early and say Swift late in the season (which is not a bad idea anyway)
The type of seed potato you buy and plant should be ones that suit your cooking and eating needs.
For instance what is the point of growing a potato that is best for baking or chips when you just about always mash your spuds.
If you are going to store potatoes for winter make sure that the type you grow is a good keeper.
Home grown potatoes will taste superior to most commercial grown spuds; they also often hold together better when boiling.
Note even with potatoes suitable for boiling you should not over boil and don't have the temperature up too high, they are best lightly boiled or even better steamed.
There is also the health aspect about growing your own potatoes as you control what chemical sprays and fertilisers are used or not used.
With commercial growers that are not organic certified, you can expect their potatoes to contain a percentage of herbicides, insecticides, fungicides along with man made fertilisers to force growth and reduce nutritional value.
With the new pests mentioned potato growers are spraying their crops every 7 to 14 days and that is a lot of poison.
I found out recently that coloured potatoes have added health benefits and one of the best ones of these is Purple Heart Maturity: Approx 80-90 days Tuber Shape: Oval and shallow eyes, Skin: Deep purple and smooth Flesh: Purple toned General: Great for salads, boiling and microwaving Health: Strong in antioxidant benefits.