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The humble potato

PUBLISHED: 16:05 23 January 2014 | UPDATED: 16:05 23 January 2014

Archant

The experts at Monkton Elm look at the roots of the world’s most popular vegetable

It is without doubt that the humble spud is the world’s most important vegetable – it is the staple diet of millions throughout the world. It is full of starch, vitamins, especially vitamin c, and even proteins.

In the same family as tomatoes, peppers and aubergines, it is also related to highly poisonous plants such as deadly nightshade – the 
only edible part of a potato plant is the acutal tuber – as long as it hasn’t gone green!

The potato originated in South America, most probably Bolivia or Peru, more than 7,000 years ago; but it didn’t arrive in Europe until the 1500s - although not with Sir Walter Raleigh as legend has it. It was during the 18th century that the potato became a part of the British diet, as it was easy to grow and poor people had access to it and could 
rely on it as an easy and filling 
food source.

Of course, the period in history most associated with the potato is the Irish potato famine, from 1845-51, when potato blight devasted crops during year after year of damp weather, which allowed the fungal disease to spread rapidly, it is estimated 1,500,000 people perished and more than 1,000,000 emigrated to England and America.

Nowadays, modern breeding techniques have helped lessen the impact of blight and other pests and diseases but for the home grower, selection of a resistant variety may be the only chance of harvesting a decent crop in a wet year.

Potatoes need well-cultivated, rich soil in full sun to maximise cropping potential. ‘Earth up’ the emerging plants regularly to protect from frost, stop light getting to the forming potatoes and to shield the tubers from any blight spores that may fall. Water if dry and dig when the foliage dies down.

Jobs for February:

-Now is the time to buy summer flowering bulbs such as lilies, gladioli and dahlia tubers.

-Its aA good idea to sow sweet peas under cover in deep root trainers (or old loo rolls!) For an early display.

-Prune large flowered and autumn flowering clematis now, taking stems down to about 30-35cm above ground level, cutting each stem back to a healthy looking bud.

-Roses may also be pruned now, firstly removing dead diseased and dying stems, choose aA healthy outward facing bud and cut just above it.

-Autumn fruiting raspberries need to be cut down to ground level now, allowing new stems to grow in their place.

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