Solanaceae is a plant family with two key members that will be occupying the minds of most home vegetable growers right now.
These are Solanum tuberosum and Solanum lycopersicum, better known in gardening circles as potatoes and tomatoes.
It’s difficult to describe the experience of sinking a fork into the ground near a potato haulm at the end of June, more in hope than certainty. You might know that the land preparation was thorough, planting early, watering regular and cultivation spot on, but it still feels like a leap of faith.
Twelve weeks of top growth might look impressive, but what lies beneath? What joy when good-sized, gleaming white tubers of Foremos, my favourite first early, reach the light of day.
Planting into organic-rich soil starts for me this weekend.
The seed potatoes have stood eyes skyward (chitting) in trays on a greenhouse bench these past four weeks. The result is sturdy green shoots, which gives them a flying start. When planted, the tips will sit circa 12cm below soil level, and we anticipate shoots to surface two to three weeks later, when the possibility of overnight frost remains.
There are several ways of dealing with this, for example raking soil up each side of a row to form a protective mound, or covering securely with fleece. If you miss a forecast and white frost is found on exposed tender foliage, spray with the watering can and hose early next morning.
In the absence of a garden there’s no need to miss out on growing early potatoes.
Marshall’s – www.marshalls-seeds.co.uk – started the trend with growing kits for bag cultivation. They also do well in large, solid containers. D.T.Brown – www.dtbrown.co.uk – are selling three ‘grow sacks’ for £12.95. They’re polypropylene tubs with a 25-litre capacity, drainage holes and carrying handles. Long-lasting, they’d lend themselves to growing other crops.
Whatever container is used, regular watering is the key to success.
There is still a reasonable choice of first and second early seed potatoes on the market that can be bought and planted without the chitting process. So why delay?
• I’ve grown spare tomato plants that would otherwise have been wasted in a sheltered, sunny outdoor spot.
Popular varieties, such as Moneymaker, Alicante and Gardener’s Delight will crop reasonably well given a decent summer. The skins are slightly tougher and there is competition from blackbirds for ripening fruits, but it does work, as does growing them on a sunny windowsill in the house as replacement curtains over summer.