Sunday, 31 March 2013

Planting the Spuds

While in the vet's yesterday with our little Holly dog and in the midst of a waiting room of maybe 15 canine companions, the vet called for Spud next, please. Spud turned out to be a fairly capable and sturdy Doberman, not quite as his name might suggest - I was thinking small and cheeky looking Terrier. Anyway, in the midst of all that fur and aroma of canine, I got to thinking about spuds, and I got to thinking that the word itself - spud - and the sensory evocations that come with it is such a truly Irish tradition. 
March snow keeping us on the move
Of course, another Irish tradition is to have the spuds - the earlies - in the ground by Paddy's Day. Well, we missed that - not for want of the impatient spuds being chitted in the front room for the last month, and not for want of any eagerness on our part. The delay was 100% with the snow and the frost that has been following us around for the last of March. We woke up Wednesday last to another snow scene - it's lovely really once you don't need to go to a meeting with your manager say, an hour's drive away. Ho Hum. We got out for a walk in it before any dreadful white knuckle driving. And Holly frolicked in the snowy woods. The snow is still lingering on Irish hills and the more northerly extremities on this terminal day in March but we decided to dare it to defy our will, and yesterday we got down and dirty and planted the spuds. 

Spuds to the ready for planting
Of over 120 potatoes now shivering in the March attacked soil, we have 40 earlies - Orla variety, and 40 Setanta and 40 Sarpo axona, the latter two being maincrop. Now, to be fair, there is a particular 'spud-speak' and potato lingo that takes a little bit of getting used to, so let me explain. Even I, daugher of a mother whose father grew fields of spuds for a living, am just getting the hang of it in this, my fourth decade on the planet. The earlies are the early potatoes - fairly self explanatory that, and usually ready for the eating when Wimbledon is on and school exams are over (June for those not in this general area of NW Europe). These are usually deliciously sweet, smallish spuds that ask only for a bit of butter and sea-salt, a sprinkle of parsley and a spray of freshly cracked pepper - these simple delicacies are more gourmet than masterchef itself. This was the crop that my parents looked forward to every year - they are still lovers of the British Queen variety - and every spring there were trays of spuds chitting under our childhood beds. I never understood what was going on, and why, but now I do. It's a little bit like a rite of passage when you start to buy your own seed potatoes and you start to talk about your own preferred varieties. Weird in a good way. The maincrop spud is usually in the ground until later, harvested in autumn and can be overwintered for use for as long as you're storage technique allows.

Our own experience has been pretty mixed. The first year (2011) we were supplied with seed potatoes straight from one of the key scientists that is co-ordinating spud breeding for blight resistance in Ireland. Thanks Denis ;) We had spuds that year from June to the following April - stored nice and dry in the front room and delicious to boot. Then last year (2012) - well, let's not speak of the blight. Our over-zealousness and lack of experience led us to losing the guts of our own British Queen, and Duke of York (both early) crops, and the Roosters and Golden Wonders (main crop). What a disaster, and how depressing to see the stalks black and rotting away. 

As pretty as a potato flower can be 

This year is going to be a great year - in more ways than one. Despite the cold spring, we have three sure-thing blight resistant varieties currently nestling in the good earth of the Holly Cottage garden. And all the weather prophecy men say it's gonna be a scorcher of a May, a mixed June, a wet July and a sunny August. I'm just glad to see sun mentioned in the mix at all! Onion setts are in the ground - red and white onions this year for all that red onion jam, yum ;) There's peas and broad beans sown in the greenhouse that survived the December storm and one or two other things - all slow to stir in the March winds. Poor daffodils are struggling this year, but they are braving the snow storms and their bright yellow is such a vivid delight in contrast to the pure snow white. And there are tantalising signs of tulips in the making ready to brave those April showers, and sun - we hope. 

Happy Easter to all - as I write I am perched at the kitchen table - cold wind is outside, spuds  are warm in their perfect drills and no need to go out into it save for the late walk in the woods with Holly - it'll be bright until 8pm tonight. AND, I am currently being treated to the aroma of a Wilkie's Organic Hot Chocolate in the making. Now, it doesn't get much better than that. Easter Bunny go get your own! 

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