A handful of spuds

Cara, a main crop variety, have characteristic red blotchy spots around the eyes

Yesterday we dined like rural royalty on wonderful Scottish moules, an enchanting salad from the polytunnel, and the very first handful of potatoes from our little patch.

Actually, there were only enough spuds for the one helping (I pulled the plant out of the middle of the Cara rows because it was yellowing and withering, and I hoped to stop any further die-back among its neighbours). I wasn’t sure whether there would be any tubers at all, since it’s at least a month ahead of time for main crop varieties, but sure enough, in the rich loamy soil there they were, just enough for a real taste. And they were delicious! Since one of us is trying to gain weight, while the other to lose a bit, like Jack Sprat and his wife, we licked the platter clean.

And so today I feel re-vivified enough to attack those nettles growing in the chicken patch. With only two chickens left of our little flock, there’s not really enough scratching activity to keep the weeds down, so I have to give the old dears a hand — I’ve cleared about three quarters of the patch so far, but it’s a tiring job. In terms of animals left on our side of the small-holding, soon we’ll be down to two itinerant ducks, a semi-wild guinea fowl, and a cat who can fend for herself on endless adolescent bunnies, and our animal husbandry will be as minimal as that.

I suppose we could start harvesting potatoes from now on, eating rather than trying to store quite so many, as long as we save enough for entry into the High Forest Show on September’s first Saturday. But early harvest feels transgressive, somehow, when I think we should be trying to maximise yields. Maybe I’ll check out the ‘second earlies’ for our next meal, just to see how they’re developing. It should be closer to their maturity, at least.

Sure enough, right on schedule, I identified a yellowing Charlotte plant, and hoiking it out by its roots, proceeded to rummage around for the potato yield beneath. A likely little harvest, sufficient for two meals for us, materialised beneath my probing fingers. After finishing off the nettles, this felt like a vegetable gardener’s humble reward.

First harvest of Charlotte potatoes, second earlies, on 19th July

But wait a minute, what’s that strange penguin-like creature doing, looking out at me? Could probably win a prize for oddest shaped vegetable at the show, but probably still tasty if we chop off its head at the neck and trim its wings back. Then it will be just a normal-shaped fresh spud after all.

These Charlotte potatoes are more waxy-looking, with yellowish flesh, than the Cara I harvested earlier. Said to be great for boiling and salads, we’ll see how they go with some nice salmon fillets. By contrast, and in case you haven’t been able to grow your own, Higher Ground are selling Accord ‘first earlies’ potatoes this morning from their site on the old First School grounds, and what a brilliant patch they’ve developed there.

Meanwhile, the rain has decided to beat down in earnest after a few intermittent spits and spots, which will only be perfect for the future potato yields!

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