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And the real villain of the potato patch is... HOME TRUTHS.

Byline: John Humphries

Hardly a summer passes without injuring myself in the garden. One year I stabbed myself in the backside with an open pair of secateurs, the next I cut my wrist with the same tool before straining my back so badly I needed a shot of morphine to get John Humphries me off the ground!

And now I am suffering from what might loosely be described as potato wrist.

I do like potatoes but this year planted more earlies than we really needed.

HOME TRUTHS Which is all very well until it's harvest time because unless you get them out of the ground quickly, tiny, black subterranean slugs will munch their way through half the tubers. Then there are wireworms, drilling the other half full of holes.

But it is the poor old centipede that gets the blame for this, often pounded to death by a heavy garden boot when mistaken for a wireworm. Centipedes are long, yellow or orange creatures with narrow bodies and many legs, wriggling furiously in the soil.

Entirely carnivorous, they should be our friends, destroying many of the soil insects that harm plants.

The wireworm is also yellow, never longer than an inch, and with fewer legs moving a lot slower than a centipede, eating the roots of many plants, particularly potatoes but also fleshy seeds like peas and runner beans.

Wireworms are most likely to infest newly broken ground like grassland, and as a rule tend to disappear with continued and thorough cultivation.

If they persist, there are various insecticide drenches, sprays and granules that can be applied before replanting or sowing.

Fortunately, the real villain of the potato patch - blight - has not been especially evident this year, apart from infestations reported in the Scottish Borders and North-East England, although gardeners still need to watch out for late blight.

Small dark spots surrounded by rings of light green tissue are the first symptoms of blight attack.

The spores then travel down to foliage to infect the tubers, which have a brown or purple discolouration. At first the tubers may seem firm enough but the flesh soon rots, the smell from this quite appalling.

Never store infected tubers.

The disease will simply spread from one to the other until the whole lot has to be destroyed.

Even in a year when there is no sign of blight, rather then lift them as needed, it is best to harvest the entire crop including the smallest tubers which may otherwise contribute to a weed and disease problem in following seasons.

If planning to store healthy potatoes, leave them in the ground for a couple of weeks after the haulms have been removed to allow the skins to harden.

At one time potatoes were stored in earth clamps in the open.

The clamp consisted of a conical or ridge-like heap of the roots to be stored on a bed of straw and covered with a foot thick layer of clean straw which was then covered with nine inches of beaten soil, pieces of straw left protruding through the apex or ridge of the cone as ventilation pipes. Sounds simple but you could lose the lot if water penetrated the clamp.

Before storing in tray in a dark, cool environment, thoroughly dry the tubers and remove any damaged by disease or insects. Optimum conditions for storage are between 4-10C.

At lower temperatures, starches are converted to sugars, giving the tubers an unpleasant sweet taste.

e-mail: johnhumphries37@aol.com THINGS TO DO THIS WEEK * Pot strawberry runners into 7in pots and leave outside. * Sow carrots, lettuce, radishes, spinach beet for succession. * Trim conifer and evergreen shrub hedges.

Prune rambler roses after they have flowered but leave climbers until spring. * Water main crop potatoes regularly.

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Jul 16, 2011
Words:628
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