Grow Your Own. On Spuds and Broad Beans: Better Late than Never

Is the season at last starting to catch-up? If you’d asked me that a week ago, I’d have probably said yes. Now I’m not so sure, as I sit at my desk, with the south-westerly wind howling around the rafters.

In a normal year I plan to have my potatoes and broad beans planted by the end of March, if at all possible. Sometimes this might mean that the early potatoes go in, in the last week of the month, to be followed by the second earlies and early main-crop a week later (often over the Easter weekend). But there’s absolutely no point in planting potatoes if the ground’s too cold and (in this year) wet: they’d simply rot in the ground. So this year I planted them very late indeed – fully a month later than I would in a good year – on May 3rd. The weather was reasonable and I managed to plant all of them, in five rows: one of first earlies, nearly two of second earlies and three of early main-crop. As I think I explained in earlier Grow Your Own posts, I don’t plant full main-crop spuds, as they mature late in the year and tend to get attacked by slugs in our heavy fen soil. I also refuse absolutely to use slug pellets as these kill toads and hedgehogs, both of which are currently very much in danger.

The secret of growing good spuds is to buy the seed early (I do this in early January) and then leave them on a sunny, frost-free windowsill to let the young shoots (or chits) form.

Chitting earlies

Potatoes chits after 4 months

Here you can see what to aim for: short, stout shoots, and ideally quite tight and dark; avoid fleshy ones. Then, and very carefully, I place them in the soil, in narrow grooves, or drills, about three to four inches deep and about a foot apart, or a bit more for main-crop varieties. Then cover them with a bank of soil scraped up from either side of your drill, with a pull-hoe or stiff rake (use the back). You’ll probably find that birds, and passing cats, dogs and hares will damage your neat ridges and if that happens ridge them up a few weeks later, ideally just before rain (which will tend to ‘glue’ the loose earth in place).

Spuds in drill

Seed potatoes in their drill

I usually tap the top of the banks covering the spuds flat, as this allows rain to penetrate better in this dry part of Britain.

You want to get your broad beans planted quite early in the spring to avoid problems in the summer caused by blackfly (like greenfly, they’re sap-sucking aphids), which runner beans are very prone to. So I’m a bit anxious that mine went in so late this year, but having said that, it’s currently far too cold and windy for aphids. So fingers crossed.

Soak your broad beans for at least 2 hours before planting, then I like to add a table-spoonful of ordinary paraffin to the wet beans, immediately before I plant them. This may sound mad, but I was told to do it by an old boy after I’d related how I’d lost 30% of my crop to mice. And I’ve never lost a plant since. Having said that, it’s the sort of thing the bureaucrats in the EC hygiene Gestapo are bound to object to. So don’t mention it to a soul.

Broad beans in drill

Broad beans in their drill

Spread the broad beans evenly across a wide drill and cover with a couple of inches of soil – and make sure they’re all fully buried, or the birds will get them. Then you must keep them watered for at least two weeks. The same goes for your green peas, which I also like to get planted late in March, in normal years. They must be kept wet too (for what it’s worth, I also add a splash of paraffin to them, before planting).

I’ve just been out and taken pics of the beans and the spuds and I have to say I’m delighted by the results so far: germination seems to have been 100% successful. Isn’t growing your own a pleasure? I almost prefer it to writing…

2nd earlies and MC coming through

Potatoes after three weeks

Broad beans coming through

Broad beans after three weeks

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