Home grown heroes

I was fortunate enough to know the late Geoff Hamilton, a gardener of the people. His untimely death left a big gap in the world of down-to-earth horticulture, but his memory lingers on in books, TV re-runs and a wealth of common sense.

In January, he once told me, everyone should start to grow early potatoes; their taste, he said, was so superior to shop-bought varieties, that he couldn’t understand anyone not wanting to grow their own. So, here’s to Geoff Hamilton, and here’s to the early potato.

Get your seed potatoes this month and chit them before they are ready to be planted out towards the end of March. Chitting means sprouting, and the idea is to encourage the seed potatoes (or sets) to produce a few healthy shoots, thus increasing the potential of the harvest.

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Put the little tubers into egg boxes – six per box – and place them, “eyes” upwards, in a well-lit, cool room. Soon, they will begin to sprout; it’s as simple as that.

Come March and they will be eager to get outside into their well-prepared beds (or bags and containers, if you’re growing just a few) to begin the process of becoming delicious early potatoes.

And here are a few varieties to consider.

‘Red Duke of York’ is a good all rounder and really excellent for roasting. It’s a vigorous red sport of Potato ‘Duke of York’ producing larger, oval, red-skinned tubers with moist yellow flesh of superb flavour.

‘Orla’ has outstanding foliage and tuber blight resistance, producing creamy skinned, pale yellow fleshed, round-oval tubers. This first early variety can also be grown as a second early and early maincrop from slightly later plantings, as tubers will bulk up well.

‘Belle de Fontenay’ is an old French variety esteemed for its flavour which further improves on storage. This pre-1950s’ first early variety, produces beautiful pale yellow tubers with a notably firm, waxy texture, making it an excellent salad potato.

‘Arran Pilot’ is a traditional favourite producing firm, white-fleshed tubers with a firm waxy texture and pleasing flavour. It’s at its best straight out of the ground and into the pot for use as a salad or new potato. So what’s stopping you? Get growing.