If you happen to have been awake over the past few months you *may* have noticed that there is a distinct air of panic amid the coronavirus outbreak. I don’t want to go into the doom and gloom in this post, I am sure we are all getting our daily dose of that. In every dark moment there is plenty of light to be found. In this case, the air is clearing over Wuhan, the Italians are coming together in song and here in the UK we are seeing people rally to protect the most vulnerable in society. Now is a time to prepare for an uncertain future and take the small steps that we can to ease the burden that coronavirus/Covid 19 will have on society. If you have younger children, I think it is important that we show them that we have this under control. The best way to do that is take positive actions and get them involved. They are watching us, how we react in the face of emergency will determine their future responses.
How can we do that? At the moment, we are all spending more time indoors and the weather is beginning to brighten. This is a perfect time to pick up a spade and get some food planted for the coming months. It is very likely that there will be some food shortages as supplies dwindle and idiots continue to panic buy. Anything you can get in the ground or in a tub is a bonus. It means free food in the coming months, which will help to leave supplies on the shelves for the more vulnerable. More than that, it is a positive step, giving us a little power in uncertain times. It is also a fantastic activity to do with children and a great way to get them outdoors whilst abiding by the social distancing rule (yes, I am aware they are currently still in school but this is very likely to change and many parents are taking precautionary measures at the moment)
I am going to be compiling a list of easy, forgiving, fast growing veg to start growing for the weeks and months ahead.
Here is the first in my list of starter veg:
Potatoes. These come in three varieties, first earlies, second earlies and main crop
First earlies – Plant Mid March/Early April – Harvest June onwards
The first earlies are ideal to be planting out around now so I will concentrate on those in this post. First of all, it is recommended that potatoes are ‘chitted’, this just means to start the potatoes sprouting to give them a fighting chance when planted as they have a shorter growing season in colder ground. To chit, pop them in a bowl or on a tray and put them on the windowsill. Once you see sprouting, ideally stronger purple sprouts rather than leggy white ones, they are ready to be planted. Most will have been chitting their potatoes from early January but many of the potato sets you will be buying now will be chitted. However, I have previously planted unchitted potatoes with success so my advice would be to plant unchitted at this stage if you have not started or cannot get pre chitted. Put the potatoes on a warm windowsill until you are ready to plant to give them a start. This year I am going to plant out some new potatoes that we bought to eat that have sprouted. This does run the risk of the potatoes being diseased and so not growing into healthy spuds but I have done this with success in the past – give it a go if you can’t get sets. The main thing is to give things a go, with a bit of common sense and some patience gardening is very forgiving – potatoes are especially easy to grow so whether you have specific sets, unchitted potatoes, or potatoes that have gone past the eating stage – give it a go! What do you have to lose?!
Plant potatoes in a raised bed, directly into the ground or in tubs:
Note – I am starting a few potatoes in tubs to get some started whilst the ground is so wet. This is successional planting and prevents the whole crop being ready at once. Especially important with crops that don’t store well such as early potatoes.
Raised bed/direct to soil – Potatoes do best in well drained soil. Difficult given the wet weather we have been having recently but hopefully that will change over the next week or so! Plant according to the pack instructions or for those without, go about 8-12cm deep. Plant in rows approximately 40-50cm apart. The reason for this is each potato will produce a ‘bunch’ of potatoes which need room to grown. when the shoots break through the soil they need to be covered, allowing the top to just peak through. This process is called ‘earthing up’, it protect the early potatoes from the cold. If they get cold the potatoes will turn green, rendering them poisonous – and we don’t need anything else making us ill at the moment! Last year we had an average of 8 potatoes per potato planted but this will vary dependant on variety and growing conditions.
Pot/tub – The tub should be about 30cm deep and wide per 2 potatoes. You need to add a mixture of compost and sand ideally. Fill the tub half way up, pop the potatoes in, cover with soil to about 2cm from the top.
Potatoes need watering regularly as soon as the shoots start to grow. If you don’t do this it will impact on the amount of potatoes in your crop. The early potato growing season is short so they need all the help they can get to produce lovely, golden balls of heaven for you. They are fast growing so your efforts will bear fruit quickly, they are also a staple that even the most fussy eater will usually devour!
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Lets keep making positive steps forward.