Saturday, May 17, 2014

GROWING POTATOES: Commercial Mondial vs Heirloom BP1, Beds vs Sacks

Warning! The following post may contain elements not suitable for those bored by detailed garden ramblings, and may prove to be tedious even to those who grow their own veggies.

Last spring we planted our potatoes in well mucked beds under plastic. The 'seed potatoes' were Mondial potatoes bought from our local grocer and had been grown commercially by our friend Benny on his nearby farm. I left them to sprout before planting. In the above September pic, you can just see the bright green potato plants in two rows at the back of our tunnel. 

Then a month or so later I ordered some heirloom BP1 seed potatoes and  planted them in the middle bed, between the Mondials. By the end of October, all the potatoes were flourishing under our vigilant watering and beetle inspection. 

By December, the Mondials had finished flowering, and the BP1's were covered in a mass of pretty blue-purple flowers. We were able to begin scrabbling for Mondials already and enjoy the taste of fresh new potatoes in our meals.

And then we went away in January, leaving the garden in the capable hands of Molly. While we were away the water supply dwindled for some time. When we returned, the Mondials were ready for harvesting. The BP1's had taken a knock from spotty red, ladybug-mimicking beetles , but were otherwise fine. 

These are just a few of the giant beauties that we dug up from the Mondial beds. They had a great flavour and we had enough to share and stored some in paper bags for the next few months. Mondials are robust, pale yellow, firm potatoes. They are great for boiling, potato salads and mash. 

When I was planting the heirloom BP1's, I had more potatoes than garden space. Sticking to my USE IT - DON'T LOSE it principles, I decided to experiment with growing some of them in sacks after seeing Jamie Oliver do the same.

We quarter-filled sacks with rich soil and planted three potatoes in each bag and placed the bags in a sunny spot under the kitchen window. 

They grew well and we raised the bags and added soil as they grew until the sacks were full.

Once the potato plants had died back we excitedly tipped them out into holes in the lawn, dug by our naughty puppy. The harvest was dismal.

One or two sacks provided enough potatoes for just one meal. On a happier note, the yield from the tunnel bed was substantially better than the sacks, but not close to the volumes per metre that we harvested from the Mondials.  What I can say, though, is that the BP1 is a superbly delicious, creamy white fleshed potato. It wins hands down over Mondial regarding texture. I found it suitable for boiling and especially delicious roasted. The BP1 potatoes were more susceptible to scab, but losses were minimal. In all fairness to the heirloom potatoes, some of our problems with yield and insects could have been due to less vigilant watering and bug-squashing during the critical growth period while I was in Cape Town. I will still try growing them again next summer, but will not bother with potatoes in tyres or sacks, and will stick to standard well enriched beds in the future. Our first ever attempt at growing potatoes in tyres a few years back was a failure too.

Summer's potato beds are now Autumn's leek, onion and garlic beds and, come springtime, some of them will be planted up with broad beans and peas.  Through winter we will dig in manure to prepare new potato beds where we grew last season's pumpkins, and so the garden turns with the turning of the earth around the sun.


  1. We have also had dismal harvests when growing potatoes upright in tyres, sack and our troughs we made. We have great harvests from the beds, whether we use Living Seeds or Ferndale Nursery, either way this post and my experience means bed space only for potatoes.

    1. And then Shirley said she had great success. Either way, the beds are easier to look after.