Blogs >> Beware the blight!

Beware the blight!

By Jane Gleeson
Head Gardener, Schumacher College

If you have ever encountered a blighted potato tuber you will know just how stomach-turning their smell is.

Our new agroforestry field has an area that we have sheet mulched with cardboard and organic matter as a means of turning it from pasture to our eventual cut flower and craft plant garden. In the sheet mulch we cut small potato-sized holes in the cardboard, nestled the seed potato in it, and then covered back up with garden compost and straw. As the tubers dutifully sprouted we added more straw. It’s an invitation to slugs, of course, and if you don’t add enough mulch as the plants grow, you end up with a fair few green spuds (Alkaloid alert!). It transpires that it’s been neither greenness nor slugs that have been the biggest challenge – but the much feared blight. One week the potatoes were looking in rude health and the next whole areas of leaves were blighted – apart from the very occasional one, the blight had not spread to the stems – so we cut off all the hulms and harvested the second earlies – we left the main crop in the ground for the tuber skins to harden and now we are about to harvest. (I am pleased to say the blight resistant Sarpo lived up to their name with only very initial stages of blight showing.)

So suddenly we had a couple of hundred Kg of potatoes on our hands.

The question arose of where we store them (I had rashly hoped we could harvest as required in to the autumn). We harvested in the rain (there has been a lot of it so we had little choice) and I wanted to dry off the skins before storing. After a week indoors on a large tarp we selected out the firm; intact tubers (the second screening if you count the initial screening at harvest time) some had the start of blight others had a surface mould – the apprentices were heroic in doing the task (and loud in their cries of disgust as a finger went into a gooey innocence- feigning, intact-looking spud). Now as per received wisdom they are in hessian sacks in a cool damp linhay. We shall need to check regularly for any signs of rotting – thankfully, the wonderful Schumacher chefs have both resourceful recipe-concocting minds and many mouths to feed – so nothing will need to be stored for that long.

If you google ‘storing vegetables’ you will get plenty of householder tips mostly referring to shop-brought produce in small amounts – the art of storing large reserves of home grown vegetables and fruits has been lost to many of us -  as we have relied on the food industry to perfect their high tech storage facilities. I have grown veg for some years now but never had to really face the issue of storing for any length of time; I wish I had grown up with this knowledge as many have had to in the past (and still have to today) if you get it wrong you have to wait until next season to have another go – the time frame of veg growing practice runs is a slow one (though its depth in part comes from that very process).

This is one reason why we want in the future to extend our current residential horticulture programme to include food storing and preserving – as we power down and get local with our food source it will be a skill increasingly in demand.

Jane teaches on the Schumacher Practical Residency in Sustainable Horticulture 2016. This course is now open for applications.

Blog Category: