Monday, 1 September 2014

Well I'm Amazed!

Sunday was a lovely day to finish off a poor August.

Over the last few days I've been lifting potatoes on the plot. These were our main crop potatoes grown under weed control fabric and I must admit for most of the summer I though it might have been a real blunder.

Last autumn I posted about clearing this bed where our old blackberry bush had grown for more years than I care to remember. 
The ground was full of old blackberry roots, docks, couch grass and lots of bindweed. I removed what I could last autumn and left the ground to be broken up by the winter weather.
This year, in early March  we were busy preparing other beds ready for our crops and as a few weeds were starting to grow in the bed as a quick measure it was covered in weed control fabric and left to be dealt with at a later date. There’s a sort of folklore about growing potatoes in a bed to help get it into good condition. This was in the back of my mind when I decided to plant this bed up with our “maincrop” potatoes Nicola and Charlotte. As in our trial of early potatoes planted under weed control fabric, I cut cross slits in the fabric and planted the potatoes with a trowel.
By the middle of July the tops were the best we had on our plots and had somehow avoided any blight that some of our other potatoes had been affected by. My nagging doubt with both rows of potatoes was whether we were really only growing them to feed the slugs. Having dug our early varieties grown under weed control fabric I had no real evidence that slug damage was worse using this method but some sixth gardening sense nagged at me saying it was slug heaven under this fabric. The ground hadn't been cultivated for many years so there must be a build up of all those nasty creatures that love to eat  anything that grows apart from weeds.
The tops died down and by the time it came to dig up the potatoes the bed looked like this.
It didn't look too promising. Blackberries and bindweed were growing through the slits I’d made in the fabric and there wasn't much left of the potato tops. I cut back the blackberry shoots as I didn't fancy been shredded by the wicked thorns and cut back the weeds that had grown over from the edge of the path.
It was time to reveal the truth and see how our potatoes had done. One half of the fabric was pulled back to allow our Nicola potatoes to be cleared. The tops had done well so I was expecting decent potatoes but with lots of slug damage.
As expected some potatoes had grown underneath the fabric on top of the soil. The fabric hadn't been covered with straw but the potatoes hadn't turned green so the fabric had kept them dark enough. There was very little slug damage even to the potatoes on the “surface”. It wasn't as though the slugs weren't there as one or two had been taken by surprise when the fabric was removed.
Once the potatoes on the top had been collected the crop underneath was lifted and the potatoes were excellent and virtually free of any pest damage. I couldn't believe that we’d got such a good crop of potatoes out of such rough ground.  
This is our 21.5kg of Charlotte lifted on Sunday. Nicola produced a slightly larger haul of 22.4kg. We should have plenty of potatoes to see us through winter. 

These two rows have produced around the same crop weight as I would expect from a couple of conventionally planted  rows but without the weed control fabric I don’t think it would have been possible to grow any crop in this piece of ground as it would have become over run with weeds and blackberry shoots. I’m still amazed that there wasn't any slug damage although I've thought for some time that Charlotte and Nicola are more resistant to slug damage than some other varieties. 
The bed was dug over as the potatoes were lifted and as much blackberry root and bindweed root removed as possible. It amounted to two large compost bags full of the stuff which has gone into the council recycling system. The fabric was put back over the bed and covered in manure to keep it in place. Now it can be left over winter and the plan for next year will be for some brassicas in this bed. 


  1. What a brilliant harvest. My weedproof membrane doesn't block the light out enough, so things are still growing underneath. It's a great use of that weed-filled bed, hopefully the weeds will be much less next year.

    1. Bindweed sent masses of white shoots out under the fabric until it found some daylight where I'd cut crosses in the fabric. I'm sure they'll be as many weeds again next year.

  2. Nice going Martyn. Plenty of food for thought there.

    1. Don't know if I dare to try this method again next year for our main crop spuds.


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