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potatoesOver the last 10 years there's been a change in the fresh produce section of the supermarket that's quietly 'snuck' up on us – and I don't like it. Once upon a time, trays of loose potatoes bore their varietal name. It was the same with the spuds bought in paper sacks – they could clearly be identified by the name on the outside of the bag. Then, out of the blue, varietal names disappeared and potatoes were simply marked 'red' or 'white'. As it's become fashionable to be 'foodie', the marketing gurus have begun labelling potatoes according to their purpose with designations such as: 'boiling', 'roasting', or 'all-purpose'. I'm wary of this 'generic' approach to potatoes because, once again, as with so many aspects of today's life, we are handing over the decision making to so-called experts, and losing valuable, everyday knowledge as we do so.

I never buy potatoes from a supermarket (unless I happen to be on holiday and have run out of the bag I've brought from home) but when I do, I want to know what I'm eating. What use is it to me to know that a potato is suitable for roasting and mashing? That could mean anything from an Islam Hardy to a red rascal or an agria to a Laura. If I want 'new potatoes' I certainly don't want to end up with a watery, insipid-tasting Rocket, but how can I tell if the label simply says 'waxy'? Even more infuriating, once you strike a potato you really do enjoy, how are you ever supposed to locate it again when you don't have a name for it!

I won't go, but I'm sure you get the picture. Of course, the only answer to getting the variety of potato you really want is to grow your own, and there's no better time to start that venture than now. Potato planting time is a long way off yet but right now is when you should start preparing your spud bed, especially if you're a first time gardener. That's because spuds love 'new ground'. By that, I mean a patch of land that hasn't previously been used as a garden (or not for many years, anyway).

To prepare this ground for spuds, simply push a spade into the ground until its blade is half buried in the ground, then lever out the turf and turn it over. Keep going in this way until you've dug a patch the size you want (remembering that each potato plant will occupy a space 30 x 50cm and produce roughly 1.5kg of spuds, while each person consumes around 65 kilo of potatoes in a year).

Don't try to chop up your sods of earth; just leave them there for the wind, rain, frost and snow to break up. As you have time, toss on some animal manure, lawn clippings, old leaves, any compost you have and some blood and bone. Let the weather wash it all in. Then, come Labour day, bash the remaining turf around a bit with a fork or hoe and you're ready to plant. If weeds look problematic, cover your rows of planted spuds with a deep mulch of pine needles or straw.,
It doesn't get any easier and it's certainly a lot less work than trying to identify nameless bags of potatoes in the supermarket. So don't delay, start digging today!

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