Gardening: The humble spud is hit by the wet weather

Home-grown potatoes being harvested. (picture: PAPhoto/Thinkstockphotos.
Home-grown potatoes being harvested. (picture: PAPhoto/Thinkstockphotos.

The wet weather over the past couple of years has prompted reports of poor harvests, smaller and less tasty fruit and veg and claims that the nutrients the rain has washed away from the soil will affect the health value of our home-grown produce.

Among the crops worst hit in vegetable patches across the country is the humble spud, a staple of the British menu for centuries, whether boiled, mashed or chipped.

And while gardeners throughout the UK will be celebrating National Potato Day with events up until the end of the month, experts are now warning that gardeners must start to grow a mixture of varieties to stem the loss of crops to late blight.

Affected plants develop brown spots, especially around the edges of the leaves, the stems turn brown and potatoes develop scabby cankers that lead to brown patches inside the tubers which soon rot.

Bob Sherman, chief horticultural officer of charity Garden Organic, warns: “Rare types of potatoes are under threat. There isn’t much that the amateur gardener can do to protect potatoes from blight.

“Late blight is a very rapidly evolving organism. It’s not quite a fungus. It’s quite closely related to seaweed, but it acts like a fungus. Spores flow about in the air, usually coming from old tubers left in the soil which haven’t been harvested from the previous year because they’ve been missed.

“Most of the old varieties of potato are highly susceptible and even ones that were thought to be resistant have succumbed to new strains of the disease. We used to think that ‘Cara’ was blight resistant, but it isn’t any more. A whole range of interesting textures and flavours from old varieties are under threat.”

Incessant wet weather causes both disease and physical problems with potatoes, he continues. The tubers can’t be lifted because the ground’s too heavy and soggy.

“When potatoes get too much moisture, you might get one or two huge potatoes under the soil instead of a nice little clump of medium-sized tubers.

“The huge ones might be hollow inside or just not very tasty. Dry weather tends to enhance flavour, “ he said.