Spring­ing into ac­tion for sum­mer crops

Marlborough Express - The Saturday Express, Marlborough - - GARDENING -

Ev­ery­one has their own idea on when to plant their spring crops. That is prob­a­bly not a bad thing, as every area has its own mi­cro­cli­mate.

Take pota­toes, for ex­am­ple. If you read gar­den guides, af­ter you have ‘chit­ted’ (which ba­si­cally means let­ting your spuds sprout be­fore plant­ing them) your pota­toes it is rec­om­mended to plant them out af­ter all danger of frost has passed. That is one way of do­ing it.

The de­sire for a Christ­mas crop, or the threat of the tomatopotato psyl­lid (TPP), of­ten dic­tates plant­ing pota­toes prior to the end of the frost sea­son.

One rule of thumb I use is that if a plant has self-seeded and is grow­ing, then clearly na­ture is telling me it is okay to plant that type of plant, frost danger or not. For ex­am­ple I have sev­eral of last sea­son’s un­har­vested spuds com­ing along nicely. Of course, you can al­ways help na­ture along a bit.

I have read that plant­ing pota­toes be­tween mid-Au­gust and mid-Septem­ber can avoid the worst of the TPP sea­son and that is cer­tainly what I tend to do. I will be plant­ing a lit­tle later this year, how­ever, be­cause the sea­son was so wet and we have heavy soils.

I used to grow early, mid and late sea­son potato crops. That sounds ex­treme but what can I say; it is a fam­ily thing. We like home-grown pota­toes and there is great sat­is­fac­tion in har­vest­ing and cook­ing your own spuds.

Now I only plant an early sea­son crop to avoid TPP in­fes­ta­tions, which get worse as the sea­son pro­gresses and the weather warms up. This is where ‘‘help­ing na­ture along’’ comes into play. I plant pota­toes early, plac­ing them deep in the trenches I dig, then cover with pea straw. I al­ter­nate lay­ers of pea straw and soil as they sprout. For potato novices, the idea is that you keep re-cov­er­ing your pota­toes un­til the trench is full and there is a mound above it be­cause the potato tu­bers form up the stems, so the more of the stem that is buried, the more op­por­tu­ni­ties there are for tu­bers to form.

This also helps with frost pro­tec­tion. Of course, na­ture be­ing what it is, once a spud plant has started grow­ing, it will take off quickly. I al­ways keep a bale of pea straw nearby when I am grow­ing spuds so if a frost threat­ens and there are green tips show­ing, I can scat­ter this across them.

You can use any­thing though – frost cloth of course is a good op­tion but I have also used old sheets and blan­kets, and even news­pa­per at a pinch, al­though that will blow around as soon as there is a hint of wind.

Per­son­ally, I find the oc­ca­sional morn­ing faffing about with frost proof­ing is a small price to pay for out­smart­ing the psyl­lid and still get­ting my new spud fix.

PHOTO: SCOTT HAM­MOND/STUFF

Gar­den­ers are choos­ing what to plant now it’s spring­time, and spuds are high on the list, if they aren’t al­ready in the ground, to help avoid pests and en­sure a Christ­mas crop.

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