@JimmyDoherty needs Sarpo Spuds

Jimmy's Grow Your Own Christmas Dinner (ch4 Fri. night) had a blight problem with Arran Victory. The point of the programme was to show that home-raised Christmas dinner  food tastes better than supermarket fare. Jimmy showed us his Victories being stored in a traditional potato clamp in his garden.

When he came to dig them up from the clamp, many (most?) were sprouted. Arran Victory, despite many good qualities, often sprouts shortly after harvesting.  It has a short dormancy.  But worse than that, about half of the poor Victories were rotted.

Now Jimmy blamed his clamp and thought dampness was to blame.  Much more likely is that his plants got blighted in August/September just before harvest. Most heritage varieties are very susceptible to blight and to get a decent harvest you have to spray them with highly toxic copper.

Jimmy will remember filming "Jimmy's farming heroes' for BBC2 a few years back.  He filmed organic farmer Roy Lyttle from near Belfast who  grows Sarpo varieties that have high resistance to blight. He also filmed yours truly from SRT who explained how they were selected and the advantages of growing these spuds.

Jimmy would have found that If Jimmy had grown Sarpos, he could have stored them in a clamp for at least six months without rots because of their long natural dormancy and tuber-blight resistance. He would also have found that our Sarpos make an excellent roast potato. And Jimmy knows they make excellent chips too - remember the Belfast chipper on TV giving them the thumbs up?

Jamie (un-naked) tasted the AV roasties but obviously did not like them.  AVs do taste good so I put this down to Jimmy overboiling them to the mushy stage and keeping them in a dish with a lid.  They could not have crisped up.

Jimmy, grow Sarpo 'Axona' or Blue Danube next year to make trouble free roasties.  And remember, to grow heritage spuds, you need to spray regularly with copper and YOU DO NOT WANT TO DO THAT. Otherwise, it is a lottery you might not win ;-(

BBC Radio GQT today asked if gardeners should grow Sarpo potatoes

Peter, Chairman of Shropshire Organic Gardeners asked the panel what they thought of Sarpo potatoes; They plan to sell all seven at their Potato Day in February. One of the panel said they are OK but he didn't like how they tasted. Please, please, please, gurus of the GQT panel, talk some sense and talk from experience.  All seven have different tastes and suit different kinds of cooking (like all other potatoes). So don't assume that because you don't like the taste of one that the others must be the same. Had Bunny Guinness been on the panel this week she would have told them that they taste great. She said as much after tasting a variety of them last winter. She then wrote up her experience in the Telegraph  http://www.telegraph.co.uk/gardening/howtogrow/
And re Blue Danube as a roaster, chef and Secret Supper Club hostess Denise Baker-McLearn "they make the best roast potato ever".  In the same answer the panel made out that getting blight resistance is just selecting the ones that don't die when the blight strikes - if only! In taste tests at Garden Organic Potato Day Sarpo 'Kifli' topped the bill and everyone thought it had an excellent flavour.  Don't believe all you hear on GQT

Spectacular Late-blight hits Tunnel Tomatoes

We have a large tunnel at Henfaes for growing tomatoes and potatoes.  This year the tunnel has remained free of blight despite its closeness to a large trial of blighted tomatoes planted outside.  But a couple of weeks ago, spores from the trial infected some plants in the tunnel and produced the most spectacular blight I have seen in a while.  Sporangia of Phytophthora infestans have formed in very large numbers and are highly visible as a silvery frosting to the dying leaves and stems.  It is interesting that the fruits (cultivar Sungold) are mostly healthy. Beware not to allow the pathogen into your tunnels or greenhouse.

Crowdfunding Sarpo Potatoes Ltd - appeal launched today

This year we formed a new company to produce and sell seed, Sarpo Potatoes Ltd. This company is wholly owned by the Sarvari Research Trust.

We plan to make seed of all of our varieties readily available in UK and in Ireland and later within Europe. We need funding immediately to pay for the substantial start-up costs. Some of you know that we crowdfunded a project within the Trust and have recruited a crowd of enthusiastic supporters to help us breed new Sarpo varieties. So we are now making a similar appeal to pay for the substantial start-up costs of Sarpo Potatoes Ltd.

The project page on the crowdfunding hosted by Buzzbnk explains how this works.  We want to form a large crowd of supporters who either donate a small amount or loan us larger amounts on which we pay interest. We have rewards for backers and these include tickets for a draw to win a week-long, all paid trip for two that will include visiting our research group at Henfaes Research Centre of Bangor University in NW Wales. We will also have a Potato Day at Henfaes to meet the crowd and to explain our work in breeding for resistance in both potato and tomato.

Press Release

Potato trust announces crowdfunding appeal for launch of new company 
 By David Shaw
13th November 2013

Snowdonia, Wales, UK -    Ethical potato breeder, Sarvari Research Trust announced today the launch of its subsidiary, Sarpo Potatoes Ltd., and a crowdfunding Buzzbnk appeal to raise start-up capital.  The Trust has been breeding acclaimed blight and disease resistant potatoes for over ten years and has 6 varieties that will be marketed through the new trading company.

The Sarvari Trust will use the profits to continue breeding work, meet the demand for these “wonder potatoes” and to campaign for sustainable potato production around the world.  To allow Sarpo Potatoes to get to gardeners, growers and farmers, the seed potatoes need to be multiplied and sold via garden retail, on line, to allotment societies, green veg. box schemes and to larger producers.

About Sarpo Potatoes
The Sarpo family of potatoes has great benefits that really do make them “wonder potatoes”.  They have powerful long term resistance to blight, so no more devastating harvest failures.  They have in-built virus resistance which means they remain productive without the need for spraying.  Growing and storing is easy too as the vigorous growth smothers weeds, whilst their resistance to sprouting means they do not need refrigerated storage and they do not start growing in your kitchen veg. basket.  This makes them ideal for all potato producers, from grow-it-yourselfers and organic producers to growers that do not wish to, or cannot afford to, spray their crops weekly through the whole growing season.

Even better, they taste wonderful, with varieties that suit all cooking uses. Cooks and restaurant chefs love these well flavoured spuds.

About the crowdfunding appeal  To launch the trading company, Sarpo have started a Buzzbnk appeal for £250,000 to get production and sales off the ground and to meet demand in the UK, Ireland and across the globe wherever potatoes are grown.  Backers are being asked to donate or loan small or larger sums in return for rewards such as free potatoes, Open Days, a £5000 prize holiday draw from anywhere in the globe and of course interest on loans.  Backers can support us for as little as £5 at this site 

Dr David Shaw, Director of the Trust said:
“We really want to raise the start-up funds and build a great crowd around this ethical company. That way, we can move potato production away from its highly intensive, current form to a more sustainable one.  Our potatoes are so easy to grow, crop very well without spraying and once harvested, remain fresh and usable for months”.

David Shaw, Trust Director
Sarvari Research Trust        
Siambra Gwynion
Bangor   LL57 4BG
United Kingdom
Tel: 001248 364260
Fax: 01248 602141

Buzzbnk is an on-line crowd-funding platform to bring social ventures looking for startup
or growth capital together with like minded people keen to fund social change.
Buzzbnk is a social enterprise owned 63% by leading charities and foundations in the
Buzzbnk, a registered trademark of SellAVenture LLP, OC351199
16 Lincoln’s Inn Fields
+44 20 7396 3562

@gardening_greek @bbcone The Truth about TomTato

Thompson and Morgan Ltd are introducing tomatoes grafted on potato to produce tomatoes and spuds on "the same" plant.  At Sarvari Research Trust we made such grafts and showed them to T and M who were very interested.  That was 2009 and was the last we heard until TomTato was announced this week.  Good luck to them but it would have been nice for the small guy to be kept in the loop.
Grafting of related plants is relatively easy and has a long history (check on google!). The best known are grafts of high yielding tomato scions onto rootstocks of resistant wild tomato.  These grafts are done in vast numbers and give not only vigour and even higher yield but also resistance to all-too-common soil pathogens like Verticillium and Fusarium wilts.  These wilts can rapidly kill most tomato varieties.
Grafting is also commonly used to combat waterlogging in tomato growing soils in SE Asia.  Some Aubergines make good rootstocks for tomato as they can resist flooding. In reverse, the Aubergine is now grafted on to tomato rootstocks to increase early cropping and yield and to give resistance to soil-borne disease.  These really do work.
The tomato-potato grafts have a long history and were usually called Pomatoes.  We got interested because these are best grown in the garden and for outdoor growing you need both scion and rootstock to be resistant to blight.  Thus we grafted a range of combinations of scion and stock using Sarpo potatoes and blight resistant tomatoes. I guess TomTato is not resistant - pity. If you are interested, why not try it for yourself?
Charlotte tubers with tomato cv Legend on top

SRT rant on why a new potato usually tastes like an old potato

New potatoes are in the news. A complaint by a potato eater from Ayrshire (a home of the old-fashioned, new potato) to Trading Standards has led to a furore over the name "NEW POTATO". The Potato Council Ltd will be issuing an Industry Standard which it hopes retailers will adopt voluntarily.
 They say a "new potato" should be:
 'A first or second early as defined by the British Potato Variety Database or the European cultivated Potato Database.
Harvested with an immature thin or scraping skin
Destined for retail sale without storage notwithstanding travelling time for imported crops or the short-term holding of stock to meet demand.
The consumer would be told that New potatoes are specially grown and harvested early for a sweeter taste, usually with a thin skin that comes off in the wash or you can scrape off with the finger nail.'

Having eaten more than my share of real new potatoes for more than 60 years, I feel qualified to say something.
Over the years and since supermarkets have largely taken over the nation's retailing of potatoes, the new potato has become any small potato that is washed and ready to boil. Most of these are "set-skin" potatoes; the plants have been killed off with a herbicide and the tubers left to mature for maybe 3 weeks so that the skins are "set" and will not rub off easily when passed over a grader. These are often stored for many weeks before they arrive on the retailers shelf. Others could be small potatoes graded out from set-skin maincrop harvests. These all look great in punnet. A few enlightened supermarkets have realised the market potential of loose-skin, new potatoes, rushed to market and labelled "newly harvested" or similar.  These must sell well as they do come near to the subtle taste of an immature potato dug from the garden and cooked the same day. The down-side of these is that they are "dirty" and need the earth rinsed off.  I am told that consumers don't like dirty potatoes and they don't like the look of the untidy, scaly loose-skins!  I say, "grow up". These people deserve old, new potatoes.

The suggested Standard says a "new potato" should be of a variety classed as a first or second early. This classification is only based on whether the plant forms a useful crop of small potatoes within 8, 9 or 10 weeks from planting. All avid potato gardeners know that the classification does not matter and that immature tubers harvested at say 12 or more weeks from a maincrop variety can taste as good as any new potato.

I really can't see anything changing as a result of the "new-potato" standard.  Supermarkets are very unlikely to stop calling a set-skin small potato, grown in UK or in Israel anything but a new potato, no matter how long it has been stored.

Let's hope that more customers can be educated to the joys of really freshly dug, immature tubers, covered in muck and briefly rinsed and boiled/steamed/microwaved until just tender.  Boiling can take as little as 10 minutes or as long as 30 minutes.  Maybe these should be labelled "Scrapers" or "loose skin" or "new, new potatoes" to distinguish from the boring old "new potato".

And while I am at it, we need evidence that really fresh, loose-skin spuds do have a special taste that make them worth searching for, and paying more for.  Blind taste tests with set-skin controls are what I am talking about.  Any hungry volunteers?

From both sides of the pond on St Pat's

Today we are in the Washington Post on St Patrick's Day. The main part of the article is on GM trials of blight resistant potatoes at Teagasc, Carlow, IR. We had a mention and so did Kaethe's SPUDS.ie project.

Blue Danube looking beautiful at Henfaes
Today also, Gardeners' Question Time BBC R4 had Bunny Guinness raving about our spuds.  She likes Kifli and Blue Danube (the new Bishop of Llandaff - who needs a fancy Dahlia when you can eat the tubers and admire the flowers?) in the garden and recommended their vigour in less than ideal conditions.

The 'Lumper' potato story

The Lumper was a prolific potato grown widely in Ireland before the famine.  It out-yielded most and was much appreciated by poor people and livestock but eschewed by the better off as it was a low-dry matter potato with not much flavour.  Now you can have that very experience from Marks and Spencers.  They are selling Lumpers in Ireland in good time for St Patrick's day so that you can have the experience of the old days but with healthy blight-free potatoes.

Of course the prolific 'Lumper' was highly susceptible to blight (like all the other varieties of that time).  But the variety has survived to become an 'heirloom' potato, valued for its rarity. This means that to grow it today, the grower has to apply the weekly doze of fungicide to keep the dreaded tuber blight out of his pre-packs for the supermarket.  If you want a different variety to tempt the customer, why not choose one that tastes good and has resistance to blight and do your bit to save the planet?

Salaman in his "The history and social influence of the potato" tells a nice little tale.  A poor boy in Ireland (pre-famine) was beaten in his school exams by a rich boy called Laughlin. He protested that it was unfair as Laughlin had the great advantage of dining off 'Gregors Cups', a much higher quality variety than the one he had to eat.

Read more about Lumpers in the National Geographic http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/03/130315-irish-famine-potato-lumper-food-science-culture-ireland/#finished

Ahoy Crowdfunders - how you can keep helping us

If you are growing our Sarpo varieties like "Crow" or any of the older ones, we would really like to find out how you got on, if you liked them and if you would grow them again, another year.  At our St David's Potato Day at Henfaes, we gave you a few suggestions on what kind of data are most useful to us.  The list below will do for starters and later we will produce a question and answer sheet on SRT News that you can fill in.

Compare your Sarpo variety(ies) to your favourite variety growing alongside as a control.
No matter how good your memory is, write information down at the time of observation.
Tubers of Kifli, Sarpo Shona, Axona and Blue Danube harvested last week from seed field

Did you chit your tubers in a cool room indoors but in plenty of light?  This can allow the plant to establish quickly after planting.
Date of Planting
Where they were planted (container or open garden)?
Soil preparation; cultivation; manures used; grown flat or ridged? mulched? 
Or container size, compost used and number of seed sown per container; liquid feed - what and how much?
Average number of stems per plant
Was foliage attacked by late-blight disease or other diseases or pests?
Watering and/or feeding, what when?
Date of harvest
Weight of crop per plant and number of tubers per plant
Were new potatoes eaten immediately or stored?
If stored, did they remain dormant or did they sprout in store?
Conditions of storage
How you cooked them
How would you describe taste: bland/strong; waxy or wet/fluffy or dry?

If you do not want to record your crop in detail it would still be valuable for us to know if you liked growing and eating the potatoes

Didn't we have a love-ely time, the day we went to Bangor

Buzzbnk Crowdfunders descended on Bangor's Henfaes Potato Centre (oops, that was a Freudian slip - should be Henfaes Research Centre) on St David's Day to join SRT in a Celebration and Discussion on Blight-Resistant Potatoes. About 30 of our Buzzbnk donors who are supporting our development of a new Sarpo variety, provisionally named "Crow", enjoyed a day of talks, discussion and networking.

David started proceedings, giving an outline of how SRT has developed and where it is now and how it intends to continue, funding and royalties permitting. Simon followed with more detail on how new varieties (including "Crow") are selected, how seed is multiplied and how certified seed is sold. Alan Romans, our potato guru from Fife, told us about his interaction with SRT over the last decade and a bit and how these varieties are different from other commercial varieties in many ways and thus need understanding to get the best out of them. Alan has suggested that we should call our potential new variety "Crowdpleaser" which would have no sinister connotations.  To round off the talks, James Stroud, a PhD student with Bangor University, Burpee Europe and SRT told us about his exciting results from his tomato breeding project that is aimed at producing late-blight resistant varieties for UK outdoor cultivation.

Precious little bags of seed potatoes, some containing seed of "Crow" were the "take away" prize for our backers who have space and time to try them out and most importantly to tell us how they fared in field/garden and kitchen.

Lunch was based on Sarpo potatoes, freshly harvested from the field near Llandudno.  These had a remarkably fine skin finish and quality. This is a trick worth considering in mild areas where tubers survive all but the most penetrating frosts that occur in exceptionally cold winters. (Some of our growers routinely store their crop in the field and harvest a few rows when required for their market stall or box scheme throughout the winter until April of even May without deterioration or sprouting - three cheers for long dormancy). The menu included Axona and leek soup and Colcannon/Rumbledethumps/Bubble and Squeak made with Blue Danube.
Student helpers harvesting Sarpos on Wednesday, Feb 27th.  This was the first time since August that the soil was dry enough to get our small harvester working on this field.

Afternoon, we discussed how the Crowd could best help SRT with development of Crow and how observations and measurements could help us build up a portfolio of each variety growing under a range of different conditions.  Future funding of the Trust was part of this lively debate and included a straw poll that indicated that a pleasing number of our visitors would consider investing in our new commercial company being formed to scale-up seed production and sales of certified Sarpo seed.  Plates of unadorned, steamed Sarpo varieties were passed around so that visitors could compare the taste of Axona, Sarpo Shona and Kifli.

It was pleasing to see our friends depart all smiles and eager to help us in their different ways.  I will attempt to keep all of our Crowd (around 150 in total) informed and motivated to do their own research into Sarpo varieties.  Watch this space for more information on how to stay plugged in.
Crowdfunding visitors, ready to leave with their take-aways.  Sadly, some had to leave after lunch.  Thanks to John Walker for photo.

"Dig around for the best tasting potatoes"

Bunny Guinness, Garden Writer and Broadcaster, speaks from experience in the Sunday Telegraph.  She has eaten the spuds she talks about and gets opinions from other people who know and care about the taste of the potatoes they grow. Bunny's recent taste tests included several Sarpo varieties and I am delighted to say that both she and her correspondents were very pleased with their flavour.   http://www.telegraph.co.uk/gardening/howtogrow/

Potato Day for Crowdfunders 1st March.

You will all have heard the great news about us hitting our target of £10000 just before Christmas with all your help.  It was touch and go and a bit nail-biting for us but thanks to some backers  who tweeted their socks off and some very generous donations, we made it.  Now we get down to the hard work of assessing Crow – with your help. 

As you know, we are having a Potato Day to get us started and invite you to Henfaes on St David’s Day, Friday 1st of March.  We are less than one hour west of Chester by the A55.  See map on main website to get you there.  We will start at 10a.m. with coffee/tea, then have some talks and discussions about assessments that backers can do at home.  We will have a simple lunch – like Sarpo soup and other potato goodies. In the afternoon, if the weather is kind, we can view bits of the farm down to the beach.

To our Movers, Players,  Shakers, and Go Getters to whom we have promised samples for growing and tasting:
It would help us a lot if you tell us if you want the samples of seed for growing at home that we advertised on the buzzbnk website or not.  Obviously, it saves us a lot on postage if you can pick them up at the Potato Day.  If this is impossible and you don’t have a local friend who could collect them, then let us know and we will try to send them. You will understand that stocks of Crow, being a new seedling, are in very short supply so we need to make sure that we do not eat too much of our “seed corn” at this stage and that we retain enough to plant for the future.  Because we have so many Players, Shakers and Go-Getters we can supply seed of Crow to them for planting experiments but not larger potatoes for direct taste testing.  

Please let us know how many of you will attend.

Many thanks for helping us with this exciting and unorthodox experiment. We look forward to meeting you and hearing of your ideas for growing and assessing Crow.

David and Simon

David Shaw 07906 710704
Simon White

Sarvari Research Trust
Henfaes Research Centre
Llanfairfechan LL33 0LB

We have a “Crowd” of 140 supporters and researchers who help us with our work.

Twitter @SarpoUK