Shoot out to collect spuds

PUBLISHED: 10:36 23 February 2006 | UPDATED: 14:35 12 May 2010

Sprouting spuds

Sprouting spuds

I HAVE just bought my seed potatoes, the first early Maris Bard and main crop Pink Fir Apple and while I was at the nursery I was amazed by the enormous choice of potato varieties which now exists for gardeners. I believe that it stems from the surge in

I HAVE just bought my seed potatoes, the first early Maris Bard and main crop Pink Fir Apple and while I was at the nursery I was amazed by the enormous choice of potato varieties which now exists for gardeners. I believe that it stems from the surge in the numbers of people growing their own food which last year meant that seed companies sold more packets of vegetable than flower seed. Readers should not wait much longer to get their potatoes since on my visit there were several sold out notices where some of the most popular varieties had been displayed. Take the seed potatoes out of their nets or bags and put them in trays in a frost free and light place, ideally a cold greenhouse, for chitting. This is a process which encourages short, dark green shoots to develop on the tubers and means that they will grow more quickly once placed under the soil. First earlies should be ready for lifting 10 weeks after planting if all goes well. My collection of hellebores is coming into bloom now that there has been some rain and I realise that this year I forgot to cut off all their leaves in the autumn. There are two reasons for taking this step. The first is that the incurable virus, which produces dark blotches which spoil the plants, starts on the leaves and then moves on to the flowers. If the foliage is removed it can prevent this progression. The second reason is that the old leaves are not particularly attractive by the time that the flowers start to emerge from the ground and they can hide other winter flowers such as snowdrops, which are inter-planted with the hellebores. Fortunately, there is still time to remove the leaves before the flowers open fully. Healthy ones will be placed in the compost bin, but any with signs of the hellebore virus will be added to the bonfire heap for burning.

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