Plot Notes

A personal journal, open for the world to read, recording the progress of a novice allotmenteer on his allotment.

Weed it and reap.

Wednesday, 30 June 2010

He's not the Messiah...he's a very horti boy.

As a first year allotmenteer with very little previous gardening experience I am still on a very steep learning curve.  In my quest for allotment knowledge I seem to have acquired a wide selection of gardening books which I tend to dip in and out of on a regular basis. In fact, if it wasn't for the porcelain chair with the wooden seat and the sink in the corner of the room, my downstairs "reading room" could very easily be mistaken for the reference library at Kew.

I have found "The Kitchen Gardener" by gardening guru Alan Titchmarsh (BBC Books) to be particularly helpful. It is well set out and crammed with useful information and it includes a working calendar and an extensive directory of vegetables and fruit. Through this book I have been guided by the wisdom of the mighty omnipotent Titchmarsh at every step I have taken so far on the long leafy green path towards allotment enlightenment. This book has been my allotment bible. When unsure as to what to do for the best I find that, like some born-again evangelical gardener, my mantra is "What would A.T. do?".

But now, at the risk of being struck by a bolt of lightning, I find myself questioning the sacred text of Saint Alan. When describing routine care for potatoes His lesson is, "Except in a long dry Summer, you shouldn't need to water potatoes". Amen.

I planted my first early potatoes at the end of March and later varieties over the subsequent few weeks and, there being no drought, I blindly followed Alan's teachings and did not water them. By the beginning of June I noticed that my potatoes were quite puny compared to those on neighbouring plots. Some plot-holders were even harvesting some pretty impressive crops of potatoes by that stage and mine were no where near being ready. I had followed the Word of Alan to the letter; where was I going wrong?

At about that time I received an email newsletter from an allotment forum website to which I subscribe. The jobs for June listed in the newsletter included the task of giving "copious amounts" of water to potatoes. I sneered at such idiotic advice. Was the author of the newsletter some heathen soil druid who had not heard of the teachings of Alan? I mentioned this to one of the experienced gardeners who has a plot opposite mine. To my surprise he agreed with the newsletter and said "You can never give enough water to potatoes; they are greedy for it".

On my next visit to my "reading room" I did some research and found that every book, apart from The Gospel According to Titchmarsh, advised that potatoes be given plenty of water. The word "copious" was used over and over again.

Since then I have been watering my spuds. The first earlies still look quite pathetic but the others seem to be catching up. Last week I was curious to see if my first earlies had produced anything. If not, I would dig them up to make space for some leeks which need planting out. I found a couple of handfuls of small potatoes which I am pleased to report were delicious.

I'd be interested to hear if anyone else agrees with Alan's advice on watering potatoes.


  1. I think it depends on your soil, and how much manure youv'e dug in, as this will act like a sponge and hold moisture at root level. I'm told it takes one inch of water to penetrate nine inches deep, so if your spuds are earthed up that's an awful lot of water. I leave the hose running between the furrows for a while in hot weather, and give my tyre tatties a can a day. Remember the Titch is from oop North, where cotton mills were built because of the damp climate.

  2. Titchmarsh is a fraud, a charlatan and considerably richer than thee or me, but I too have heard that potatoes need no water. I watched them start off, and I watered them, albeit with a feeling of guilt. Having been the offspring of a irish farming family, and having spent summers in Bundoran watching the rain bounce off sodden peat, I knew the spuds liked some water.

    Currently, my potato plants are a good 3-4 feet high, lush green and in flower. They get a regular "ten elephants" each, every morning, with the hose.

    Interestingly, when I stop working, I planned a post on the spuds.

  3. Wiz, that makes sense. He's from Ilkley. It has rained every time I have been there.

    IG, I really am going to have to step-up my potato watering. At the moment they get a sprinkling from the watering can every few days. I would like to drench them with the hose but until we have received our first water bill and get an idea of how much we will have to pay for water the allotment committee has, sensibly, banned the use of hosepipes.
    I look forward to reading your spud report.

  4. I was watering mine once a week, a good soaking mind you, but a couple of the 'Old Boys' kindly suggested I might want to water them more often that that even though we are on clay soil.
    since taking their advice mine are doing MUCH better.
    Note to self: AT is a god, but he doesn't grow on my site, my 'old boys' know the site well.