Potato Progress: Tackling Blight on Second Earlies

This year’s potato harvest was always going to be something of a mixed bag, as you can see from this pic of the main Plot #59 potato patch, taken a couple of weeks ago:

June 2016 Potato Patch
Spot the difference…

On the right: Solanum tuberosum ‘Swift’, a previously reliable first early variety, which this year doesn’t seem to have performed. The bald patches are where I’ve removed plants affected by potato leaf roll virus – which certainly didn’t help – but I think a quick sprinkling of potato fertiliser granules on planting wasn’t enough of a feed.

On the left: S. tuberosum ‘Saxon’, last year’s star performer, and growing strongly again this year, probably helped along by the generous measures of well-rotted horse manure that went into each trench.

On closer inspection though:

June 2016 potato blight
The last thing you want to see on your spud foliage…

Yep, the dreaded Phytophthora infestans, a.k.a. potato late blight, a.k.a. “ah, crap!” – a rather nasty fungal infection which, if left unchecked, has the potential to run riot through a spud patch, destroying foliage and tubers alike. It’s especially prevalent in the wet but still warm and humid conditions we’ve been having of late.

Only one thing for it: clear the haulms, leave the tubers a couple of weeks before lifting – which should be long enough for any motile spores that fall from the foliage to the soil to die off before they can come into contact with the tubers – and then hope for the best.

Before I started, I thought I’d best check to make sure there were actually some tubers in there worth saving. The initial dig-and-lift was promising:

June 2016 second earlies lifted
There’s gold in that thar dirt…

And the haul from the one plant that I dug was reassuringly ample: plenty of good-sized spuds, perfect for boiling, steaming, mashing, roasting or anything else; Saxon is a really good all-rounder variety, highly recommended if they will grow in your soil-type:

June 2016 first spud harvest
That’s a decent return on a single planted tuber.

Here’s the spud patch before I started:

June 2016 spud patch before clearing
Lots of lush green foliage, but dotted here and there with patches of blight damage, alas.

And here it is once I’d done clearing the haulms into a heap as far away from the – so far unaffected (knock on wood) – maincrop spuds across the path as I could:

June 2016 spud patch after clearing
Haulms all gone, the tubers will sit there until we’re ready for ’em.

The tubers will be happy enough under those ridges until I’m ready for them. The longer I leave them, of course, the greater the risk of slug damage, but they should be alright for a couple of months at least. Hopefully at some point we’ll have a dry spell and I can lift, dry and store a batch or two. Hopefully…

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