Dig those spuds

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - FRONT PAGE - Peter Cun­dall

LIFT­ING and har­vest­ing pota­toes isn’t all that sim­ple; it’s a job that needs to be done with great care be­cause hid­den tu­bers are so vul­ner­a­ble to be­ing spiked.

It can be heart- break­ing when that hap­pens, mainly be­cause of the waste. A gar­den fork is best, but be sure to drive it in well clear of the main potato plant.

I pre­fer to first loosen the soil on the out­side and use my hands to stroke it away, work­ing to­wards the cen­tre of each plant un­til I strike the first out­side spud.

The fork can then be boldly driven in un­der­neath a plant and lev­ered up­wards to bring the rest of the potato clus­ter to the sur­face. Af­ter a while, you’ll have an en­tire row of pota­toes sit­ting on the sur­face.

It’s a good idea to roughly hose them down to blast off any soil, then leave them out in the sun for a cou­ple of hours to dry.

Al­ways store pota­toes out of the light, oth­er­wise they turn green and poi­sonous. Most keep in good con­di­tion for about seven months – al­though they sprout dur­ing winter. It’s a quick and easy job to de- sprout them be­fore stor­ing them back un­der cover. This stops pota­toes from go­ing ex­tra soft to­wards the end of stor­age.

The bed in which pota­toes were grown can im­me­di­ately start grow­ing a crop of un­re­lated veg­eta­bles. There’s still time for a late sow­ing of car­rots, parsnips and beet­root for ex­cel­lent winter and spring eat­ing.

No fer­tilis­ers are needed for these root crops.

It helps if the soil is raked level, then given a very deep soak­ing be­fore sow­ing the seeds. This pro­vides a valu­able re­serve of mois­ture for the shal­low- sown seeds dur­ing the vul­ner­a­ble, 10 to 15- day ger­mi­na­tion pe­riod in hot weather.

Most peas and broad beans have al­ready been har­vested. Use a sharp hoe to chip away all with­ered sur­face de­bris, leav­ing the ni­tro­gen- rich roots in the ground.

The best fol­low- on crop af­ter legumes such as peas and beans is al­ways ni­tro­gen­hun­gry leaf veg­eta­bles. They in­clude cab­bage, cauliflower, broc­coli, kale, sil­ver­beet and let­tuce, which are best ob­tained from gar­den cen­tres as pun­nets of small, sturdy seedlings.

Be­fore plant­ing, dig in lots of old ma­nure and pel­letised poul­try drop­pings, sup­ple­mented with blood and bone.

If you can get good, rel­a­tively fresh bags of mush­room com­post, dig this in too – but avoid buy­ing old, wet, stinky stuff be­cause it has prob­a­bly turned sour and is harm­ful to young seedlings.

Af­ter work­ing in the fer­tilis­ers, wa­ter the bed al­most to sat­u­ra­tion and leave to drain for a day. Plant leaf vegetable seedlings dur­ing the evening and al­ways into wet holes. This al­lows proper root es­tab­lish­ment overnight – oth­er­wise the leaves wilt and col­lapse in strong sun­light.

English spinach and Asian bras­si­cas can also fol­low legumes.

Un­like Euro­pean bras­si­cas, they are best grown di­rectly from seed, sown where they fi­nally ma­ture.

They re­sent trans­plant­ing and re­spond by bolt­ing use­lessly to seed.

For­tu­nately, they thrive best when grow­ing to­wards cooler weather and as day­light hours are re­duc­ing.

How­ever, like all leaf veg­eta­bles, they need a reg­u­lar sup­ply of wa­ter and ap­pli­ca­tions of heav­ily di­luted fish emul­sion ev­ery week.

Most long- keep­ing onions and gar­lic should have been har­vested by now. The va­cant beds are ideal for grow­ing late- sea­son radishes, turnips and kohlrabi.

All are grown di­rectly from seed. It is al­ready too late for swedes, al­though it’s worth tak­ing a chance with the quick- grow­ing, de­li­ciously sweet NZ but­ter swedes be­cause they are so much smaller. They would be ready to eat in June and July.

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