Springing into action for summer crops
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.
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.