Hard works pays off for summer harvesting

There's good growth on the early potatoes, but balance 'bulking up' time against the risk of disease. Picture by Tom Pattinson.
There's good growth on the early potatoes, but balance 'bulking up' time against the risk of disease. Picture by Tom Pattinson.

After all the planning, pruning, planting and sowing, we’re back in business with the harvesting of summer crops – and how good that feels.

Our first salad offering from the open garden came in mid-May when sowings of mixed leaf lettuce and radish showed signs of maturing.

The ingredients were collected, laid out on the kitchen bench and celebrated, just as the beginnings of a seasonal feast should be.

Perpetual spinach (leaf beet) followed soon afterwards, and the plants from that single packet of seed, cost £2.99, will remain a significant contributor to meals until next spring.

It’s a biennial vegetable that we trim once with hedge shears when leaves become ragged in autumn. This results in new growth that persists through winter.

But these early tasters only sharpen the appetite for significant crops that follow – potatoes and strawberries.

When you see June gardeners deep in conversation and forming oval shapes with index finger and thumb, be assured their first early potatoes have been dug and they’re comparing sizes.

Ten weeks from planting to harvesting is a respectable growing period, but if the tubers started with good shoots and weather conditions were favourable, eight will do.

I grew up surrounded by keen gardeners who set their harvesting times to local events. The first early potatoes had to be dug during Newcastle Races Week in June, when the ‘Shows’ or ‘Hirings’ were on the Town Moor, and certainly before the Northumberland Plate, aka Pitmen’s Derby, race.

We planted well-chitted potatoes on Good Friday (April 14), and tried one haulm on June 24, circa 10 weeks later. Verdict: satisfied with the amount, size and taste, but the smaller tubers could do with a little longer to bulk up.

We’ll need to balance this against the possibility of catching potato blight, a disease that reaches Northumberland about this time.

It manifests in wilting foliage and dark brown blotches, leading to total collapse of top growth. The disease then migrates from surface debris to underground potatoes, underlining the need for swift action.

At the first sign of trouble cut everything to soil level, dispose of the infected haulms and harvest the crop.

Garden peas, broad beans and courgettes are adding variety to the menu, and there’s more in the pipeline.

We are trying a trio of runner beans this year and they’ve made a favourable impression with different coloured flowers. Tender Star, Firestorm and Moonlight (Suttons) promised huge crops of stringless pods. We shall see.