I made enquiries at some Somerset garden centres and nurseries in March, and they all report that sales of seed potatoes, vegetable seeds, onion setts and plants are much higher than last year. Customers have been citing worries about the Brexit deal or no-deal affecting the food supply chain.
We currently grow 60% of the fruit and vegetables we eat in the UK and most of the rest comes from the EU. Some statistics claim that we grow 75% of what we eat…but be wary of these figures as some lists eliminate the food crops that we simply cannot grow commercially in great numbers because of our cool climate. Citrus fruit, avocados, grapes and olives are not on those lists.
Rather than repeating debates about supply chain predictions, I will just observe that the first major crop to be produced in the UK this year, the Cornish daffodils, flowered very early due to the mild spring, yet large quantities never got picked. I daresay the early warm weather caught them on the hop but one of the farms could only recruit 25 fit hard-working pickers when he needed 75, so our ability to get hand-picked produce from field to home is surely in crisis. I have not seen the latest statistics of migrant workers coming to the UK but I wonder how many have decided not to bother this year?
The next crop I will take an interest in will be Cornish and Jersey new potatoes. The UK is self-sufficient in loose and bagged potatoes, yet I like to grow my own new potatoes as the skins fall off so easily and the flavour is exceptional as I choose varieties for flavour rather than yield. Apparently, sales of grubby new potatoes are falling as more people are accustomed to washed and packaged produce or ready meals
The First Early potato varieties Lady Christl and Arran Pilot are my favourites. It is a shame that the public have been induced to regard a new potato only as a dainty oval between the size of a walnut and an egg to be cooked whole. A new potato may grow as big as your fist in some varieties, and it is surely a shame and waste that oversized new potatoes are ploughed back into the fields on Jersey because they do not sell. Cubed steamed potatoes served with chives or parsley taste every bit as good as round ones.
I like to scrape my new potatoes. The skin does not add to the taste in my opinion. It is a myth that it contains lots of nutrients – it is little more than cellulose. The nutrients are mostly under the first layer of the potato surface, so by all means scrub older potatoes instead of peeling them.
Second Early potatoes that take a few more weeks to mature are worth growing, and again the fashion demands small potatoes. Charlotte is the queen of the salad and steaming potatoes, but I shall also be growing Jazzy as I have heard it is delicious. On Charles Dowding’s recommendation, I shall try Vivaldi, which produces a good number of large potatoes. I love a large fluffy baked potato in winter and a waxy salad potato is not the best for this. Notice that the bagged potatoes in the supermarkets now contain a lot of small and wonky spuds:- owing to the hot dry summer last year the harvest was lighter than usual and the supermarket size specification had to be reduced.
Why I obsess about growing potatoes I do not know…I should not be eating too many for the sake of my figure, and it is so easy to buy half a sack of spuds from grower for about a fiver. Still, I think a plate of home grown buttered new potatoes and spring cabbage for a dinner in mid-May is one of the finest spring treats, and it takes very little time to prepare and cook.
With an allotment full of potatoes, onions and broad beans, I am ready for Brexit…whatever and whenever that is.