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 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

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.