Potatoes and tomatoes are the two main vegetable crops to be found

The two main vegetable crops I find on summer visits to gardens and allotments are potatoes and tomatoes, produced by a range of growing methods.

By The Newsroom
Saturday, 26th March 2016, 11:45 am

The most common sight is of rows of potatoes all neatly earthed-up, but container cropping is widespread too.

This varies from large, purpose-built bags with handles attached, such as those sold by Marshall’s, to be found online at www.marshalls-seeds.co.uk , to the ubiquitous grow-bag or large pot.

A further method I returned to last year was that of growing them under a thick, black polythene mulch.

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First, prepare the land, then spread the cover over and make it secure. Cut a series of small crosses for hand trowel access, 30cm apart, in rows distanced at 45cm, then plant the potatoes at normal depth.

When tell-tale lumps appear under the plastic, roll it back temporarily to pick potatoes without lifting and wasting whole plants. Once the surface crop has gone, start digging to reveal more.

Whatever the potato crop is cultivated in, it will only be successful if attention is paid to detail. The growing medium used and regular watering are key to this.

The soil or compost must be bulky enough to retain and release moisture as plants demand it, emphasising the importance of organic material.

Whether the water is provided directly by nature from above or you via a can, growing crops need a regular supply to develop their swollen edible parts.

It’s difficult to resist planting a few rows of early potatoes outdoors as hints of spring appear, but there’s always a risk of a snap frost spoiling the party between now and mid-May.

That is why I look out for the emergence of tender potato shoots a week or so after initial planting, depending on how advanced the chitting had been.

Raking soil over each row to form a ridge, alias earthing-up, is generally enough to keep out the cold, but it also serves in the long term to avoid unpalatable potatoes with green skins.

Last week, we sowed two varieties of tomato seeds saved from healthy fruits in last year’s crop. They had been extracted, dried and placed 2cm apart on sheets of kitchen towel, then put into envelopes for storage in a cool, dry environment.

The recent sowing was simplicity itself. Just spread the open towel with seeds attached over the surface of a tray filled with moist compost, cover it with vermiculite and use a can with rose attachment to water it.

The two trays are in a heated propagator set at 16C, and evidence of germination is expected any day now.

But raising your own tomato plants from seed is only one of the options available, and sowing a whole packet is wasteful when you’re only after a handful of plants, unless the residue can be passed on to friends.