End of Season Report (1st year of Potato Trial)
There were huge variations in the weights harvested from potatoes within cultivars. Some plants produced crops of over 3 kgs but with others only producing .1kg so the averages were very low this year compared to the harvests I was achieving 20 years ago.
Overall we were very happy to see our potatoes produce good size edible tubers that we were able to save beautiful seed from. We didn’t eat them this year, but will do extensive taste tests next season.
Selecting our seed from the healthiest, heaviest producers should increase the weight of crops significantly over 3 years or so (In Joseph Lands experience 3 years is the time it takes to increase production and vastly improve a line).
Our goal is to achieve production of high quality, good size potatoes, heavy crops of around 3-5kgs per seed potato planted, and be able to provide seed from these potatoes to our members and the general public. We are 1 year into this project now!!!
We were supported in this project by several groups of people
- Nathan’s Garden crew from Uawa.. helping with the double digging and harvesting
- Gerard’s Garden Crew from Raupunga……helping with the double digging and harvesting
- Environmental Fertilisers….. designing the fert and support
- Our members, through the project sponsorship to pay for the mulch and fertilser required. This amounted to $40 per cultivar, and we achieved that!!! We will be asking for sponsorship for the 2013 harvest season, where our trial will be larger because we have had several new lines of old cultivars sent to us recently.
Key Successes/Understandings Gained from the Trial 2012 harvest
- We went from diseased marbles to crops of healthy looking potatoes that we were able to save good seed from: First step.
- The fertiliser program definately felt like a huge part of the creating this progress, we certainly watched the brix levels go up!
- The tough rogueing of diseased plants is a key part of cultivar improvement
- Selection of the best potatoes (biggest potatoes from the heaviest producing plants) is a key part of cultivar improvement
- Planting early (before mid September, but preferably in late July or August) is key to avoiding psyllid as much as possible
- Using either a 80cm black shade cloth fence around potatoes or Koanga Bio-Pesticide or both will help keep psyllid numbers very low, other options could include using a special diatomaceous earth spray, Koanga Psyllid Solution, and also Neem oil .
- Karoro, Whataroa, Urenika and Kowiniwini have been or standard best choices for a few years now out of this collection as well as Pink and Yellow Fir, but we were very excited to see a few more very promising lines showing up. I was especially excited by Whanaako, Stewart Island, and Wai –iti , and also Catriona
- We understand based on the principles of epigenetics that the nutritional program we used, and the selection we did this past season will mean next years results will also be affected in a positive way by that. As we continue with the program the effects should compound and produce healthier and healthier plants and larger crops.
Piece of the Puzzle from Bill Mollison
Finally, Bill Mollison told a group of us a story whilst at the permaculture Convergence in Jordan last Spring about potatoes, and I like it. We’ve saved all our aerial seed this season from our trial patch potatoes so we can incorporate his observations into our management and growing of potatoes next season!!!!
On his visits to Peru to learn about potato production and potatoes in general (Bill is a potato fanatic.. years ago when he stayed with us I realised the extent of his love affair with potatoes when I saw what he actually eats.. mainly meat and potatoes!, but also partial to eel…), Bill noticed that when the farmers go up the mountains to take care of their potatoes, they not only take care of those they have planted, they also take special notice of the wild ones that grow all around their gardens. When they see particularly healthy looking wild potato plants, they mark them, and harvest those later when they are ready. They then choose the healthiest wild plants that had the best crops of potatoes, and keep some of those each year to plant in with their cultivated potatoes the following year.
The idea is that when the seedlings flower the following year they will be flowering at the same time as all those in the cultivated field and they will spread their strength and vigour to the cultivated plants via the pollen that is carried by the insects that love to visit the flowers. Apparently the constant cross fertilsation of the wild strong plants and the cultivated plants helps keep the cultivated plants vigorous, strong and healthy!!
We will be repeating the potato trial again next season, and will again be looking for sponsors for each cultivar, as you can see on our website. Each person who sponsors a potato will receive a small packet of seeds from the aerial seed heads from this past seasons crop, so you too can grow your own seedlings to keep your potato seed strong. Becoming a potato sponsor helps us to to this sort of work to keep our heritage food plants strong and available to all for the long haul, we welcome your participation!!!