Many folk will remember the great potato famine of 2014 when local stocks ran dry and people were forced to have dinners of mutton without spuds.
Lots of people grow potatoes, both in gardens and commercially, but some people seem to have more luck than others. Furthermore some potato varieties have been passed down through the generations and are nurtured with great care, while others fare less well.
If you walked past my garden last year you will have seen some sorry looking stunted specimens struggling to survive. In my case this was probably down to severe neglect, but often the cause is much more deep rooted.
The reason some people have more luck with growing potatoes than others is partly down to the soil and what has been grown in it previously. Some potato pests and diseases such as Eelworm or Potato Cyst Nematode (PCN) can lie dormant in the soil for several years, just waiting for a crop to infect.
In 1986 a survey conducted by Queens University found that G.pallida, the ‘white’ cyst nematode is present in the Falklands, and was likely to have originated from potatoes imported from South America. Therefore, varieties with partial resistance to G. pallida, have a better chance of thriving in garden soils known to be infected by PCN. These varieties include Accord, Argos, Ballade, Celine, Harmony, Maritiema, Midas, Nadine, Redgem, Rocket, Sante and Valor.
It is possible that since the study new species of PCN have infected our soils. If you have problems growing potatoes in your garden, get in touch with the Department of Agriculture and we may be able to diagnose the cause by testing the soil and identifying any potato pests and diseases.
Some varieties of potato are more resilient to pests or climatic conditions than others and so it could be worthwhile looking at planting a different variety to suit your garden and your taste.
So why not ware potatoes?
Many diseases can be unwittingly introduced by planting ware, instead of seed potatoes. For those of you who don’t know the difference (and you are not alone!) – ware potatoes are the type we buy to eat, and seed potatoes are the type we plant to grow.
Ware potatoes can carry all kinds of diseases which might not make them bad to eat, but if released in to the soil, could harm subsequent crops of potatoes and other vegetables.
Seed potatoes on the other hand, are produced in very controlled and clean environments from germ stock which is guaranteed free from diseases.
There are a variety of reasons why people choose to plant ware potatoes. It can be difficult to find seed potatoes locally for sale at the right times, and in the varieties you want, and until now it has been costly and complicated to import them. Nonetheless, planting ware potatoes is a BAD idea!
To address this issue and to encourage people not to plant ware potatoes, the DoA has produced a new simplified seed potato import protocol. Under the new system people can import up to 5kg of certified British seed potatoes simply by applying to the DoA for an import permit (costs £4) and ordering their seed potatoes online or over the phone. The potatoes MUST be certified British seed potatoes and must have been produced under the ‘Safe Haven’ certification scheme, bearing the red tractor logo. The greater choice of seed potatoes will allow people to experiment with new varieties and find new strains which will thrive in our soils.
For full details, or to apply for a personal seed potato import permit, contact the Department of Agriculture and we will be happy to help.