Today was the garden club Spud Day, when we took our competition potatoes to be weighed. The tubers were dished out at the start of the year, one each for everyone wanting to take part, to be grown in a builders' bucket, only I did not know the bit in the rules about it being a literal bucket, having not taken part before, and was growing mine in a large black pot left over from buying some tree or shrub. And I didn't get my tuber until March, since I missed the February meeting after poking myself in the eye the day before, and even then it spent several days sitting on the hall table while I kept forgetting to plant it. One way and another I was not optimistic about my chances in the potato competition, but it's the taking part that counts, and people told me that there was always a lovely tea.
The Programme Secretary who hosts the Spud Day in her garden said it didn't matter this time about the bucket, since I hadn't known, and advised me not to keep the potato in the greenhouse as it would get too hot. I ejected it from the greenhouse, and the top leaves were nipped by a late frost. I became marginally less optimistic than I was before. The potato grew some more leaves before the foliage started to yellow, and by early July the leaves had well and truly died down. I stopped watering it, having visions of my competition entry rotting unseen beneath the compost, but I did not think that having finished growing three weeks before judging put me in a favourable position.
In the Programme Secretary's garden volunteers were tipping the potatoes out of their buckets on to a tarpaulin and painstakingly raking with their fingers through the compost to find every last tuber, however tiny, because as the chap disinterring my pot told me as he winkled out another marble sized potato, it could come down to the last half ounce and every potato counted.
Actually I was quite pleasantly surprised at how many potatoes there were in the pot, at least a couple of meals' worth of ones large enough to be worth cooking, plus a scattering of tinies. I wasn't expecting to win, but it would have been embarrassing if there had still been just one potato. They weighed in at a moderately respectable two pounds three ounces, behind my friend from my Writtle who managed two pounds and six ounces, but quite a few buckets held only just over the one pound mark, and a few didn't make that. The winner came in at over three.
I think the potato competition goes to show that gardening skills are largely transferable, since the winner is a very keen gardener but had never grown a potato in a bucket before. Her specialist interest is snowdrops, which are not a great deal like potatoes. When asked how she did it she said she had added a little fertiliser to the compost at the start but no more since, and that she had watered the potato twice every day. Twice. Morning and evening. That's dedication for you. In second place was last year's winner, who clearly has a honed technique.
I showed my pot of potatoes to the Systems Administrator when I got home, with the request that we eat the larger ones. The SA looked mildly surprised, having obviously been infected with my pessimism about the chances of there being an actual crop of potatoes in the pot, and promised that yes, of course we could cook some of them, but could I not drop earth on the hall floor.
The main reason I grew my potato in a flowerpot was that I was too mean to drill holes in the bottom and spoil a perfectly good bucket, but my competitive potato growing juices are rising now I have had a taste of it and seen what can be done. I might enter again next year with a real, approved bucket, and if I could manage not to be ill and miss the first two meetings I could get the potato off to an earlier start, chitting it properly and everything. Perhaps I might remember to put the bucket in the greenhouse on nights when there was a risk of frost, and if I were more diligent about watering it in exceptionally hot spells the potato might keep growing for longer. It's a whole new area of horticulture to explore.