Potato Day: You can Run but you can’t Hide

March 11, 2018

We weren’t going to go to Potato day this year as I was supposed to be in Glasgow that weekend and anyway, my veg plot is in a state of dilapidation: having made the decision to switch to raised beds, I haven’t actually done anything about it, except to pile up some manure and compost where the veg beds are likely to be and spend a lot of time looking at raised bed options on the Internet.

This all seemed reasonable when the garden was under several inches of snow, but the snow has melted and there are unmistakable signs of spring everywhere, not the least of which was it being, help, March already. And then we learned that Potato Day had been postponed by the snow like everything else to today and it sort of all came together: we had the time, and my parents were planning on going, and perhaps picking up a few seed potatoes would be the best way to gee me into action in the garden. So the decision was made: a quick dash over to Kelso for a few seed potatoes, lunch with my parents, and back in time for tea.

potato day 2013

The doors were due to open at noon – an hour later than the normal time of 11am, a fact which had apparently had to be broadcast on Borders radio to prevent a gardening related riot when the military wing* of the gardening classes of southern Scotland arrived at the Borders Showground at 11 sharp and were denied entry. We arrived at about 11:45 – just as my parents did the same – to discover that the fleece-clad stormtroops had already forced the doors or otherwise gained entry, and Potato Day was in full swing, ready or not. The other half – an old hand by now – quickly bailed out from the serious potato scrum side of the event and went to check out the shortbread emporium side of the operation, which is generally more civilised. I headed straight for the hot tickets (Charlotte, Shetland Dark, Rocket) added in a wild card (Saxon), and got out while the going was good. My parents, also old hands by now, did the same and – after being briefly detained at the stall of the mad jam woman (I’m not being rude, that’s what she calls herself although she seemed fairly sane to us – that said, we haven’t actually tasted the chilli relish that she described as being ‘medium hot’ yet so time will tell (we declined to go for the rather more threatening sounding Arson Fire)) – we escaped just as all the people who had actually listened to the announcement on the radio and showed up for noon as they were told were queuing up at the door.

Once outside, having extracted our car and helped extract various others from the quagmire that the parking had become (possibly the fact that Potato Day was organised by BOG should have tipped us off…) we headed for lunch at a nearby garden centre, reasoning that it might be a bit quieter (TOP TIP: do not attempt to have a quiet lunch at a garden centre on Mothering Sunday), and then just thought we’d have a little look at the vegetable seeds on display on the way out, bearing in mind the state of the veg plot, etc. etc., no harm in browsing after all. And so now I have a full vegetable plot’s worth of seed to plant, not to mention three beds’ worth of seed potatoes, and it looks like I’d better get on with those raised beds after all …

* regular readers will be aware that potato day, far from being a gentle celebration of the humble tuber in all its variety, is a hotly contested competitive event and not for the faint hearted.

Wait for MEEE!

March 14, 2016

And now, bang, spring has arrived and oh God I’m not ready. In fact I’m not even sure what ready might look like and I don’t have any time to get ready either. I’ve done nothing in the garden for weeks and when I went to drop off some seed potatoes from potato day to my gardening chum today* he’d got his tomatoes and leeks and peas all growing away on the windowsill already.

Seed potatoes

Seed potatoes from Potato Day. An even more random selection than usual because I had to deputise my parents to pick them up and they had to substitute some of my (already quite random) selections for random selections of their own.

It doesn’t help that – as alert readers may have already divined – our househunting activities have switched from ‘vaguely hoping someone might sell us a house’ to ‘actually going and looking’ so there is a real danger that we may buy something before I’ve harvested so much as a new potato. Still there’s an equally real danger that we’ll still be here this time next year in which case it would be good to have planted some vegetables. After all, as has been pointed out, vegetable seeds cost a few pounds whereas houses cost quite a lot more, so planning our house buying around not losing some of my garden produce is perhaps to get things out of proportion.

seed order

So the seeds have arrived, the potatoes are chitting and I’ll just have to hope that it all works out in the end.

* Errandonneering ride 10, as soon as I’ve worked out what category that comes under.

The Things I Do

March 3, 2016

In a sign that the cycle campaigning is beginning to take over my life, I’ve had to sacrifice our annual visit to Potato Day this weekend, I suspect to the other half’s relief. My parents have been left with the task of scrimmaging for the last handful of the more desirable varieties with the fleece-clad hordes, failing which they will have to try and guess which of the many other varieties might make an acceptable substitute. Unfortunately, even after several years of potato growing, I still have no real idea which varieties are best for our soil, climate and culinary tastes because although I am always careful to label them when they are being chitted and planted out, they all end up in the same storage bin as soon as they have been harvested. Add in my hopelessness with names, and frankly any potato variety would have to be pretty distinctive to stand out in my mind.

However, I have learned one thing about potato varieties this year, which I shall try to remember. My seed-ordering partner in crime was coming over today with the catalogue to work out what veg we would be feeding to the rabbits/slugs/carrot flies this year. It seemed fitting to make her lunch out of veg from the garden, which meant leek and potato soup. The handful of random potatoes that came out of the storage bin this morning included a few Highland Burgundies which are a really splendid looking potato, as they keep their colour even when they’re cooked. This looks fantastic on top of a casserole or in a medley of roast vegetables. Added into leek and potato soup, however, they turn the whole thing pink, which is most disconcerting* although slightly better than the red onion quiche I served for lunch once which unexpectedly dyed the surrounding egg mixture blue.

Anyway, the seed order has been done, we restrained ourselves from anything too exotic this year (Japanese Burdock, anyone?) and gardening adventures should resume shortly, as soon as I’ve finished saving the world for cycling.

* Seed-ordering partner-in-crime’s actual partner has never forgotten the fact that I once tried to use a cafetiere as a short cut to straining asparagus soup** so fortunately she had fairly low expectations of my soup already and managed to put a brave face on it.

** this doesn’t work, in a quite spectacular fashion, in case you were wondering


March 3, 2015

We’ve been visiting my parents’ for the last few days, enjoying an enforced broadband holiday due to either incompetence on BT’s part or the incredible coincidence of my parents’ router stopping working at exactly the same time as their engineers were doing something to the lines locally.

I’d love to say that I took the opportunity to free myself from the tyranny of the screen, reconnect with my loved ones, and made the most of this opportunity to get on with the things that really matter; I’ll leave it up to you to imagine how much time I instead spent pecking away at emails on my phone and fleeing to the free WiFi (but rather expensive beverages) of Costa Coffee in Berwick when things got out of hand.

However, it has allowed me to boil my blogging down to the following concentrated essence. I might not have gained much time out of the experience, but look how much time you have saved:


potato day sold out

Potato day. Starts at 11:00 am. Do not, whatever you do, arrive any later than, say 11:15…

Sally Port gate in Berwick

You’ve got to love a town that reserves a special gate just for you

snow on hills

Home again. Clouds gathering over Bigtownshire, as per usual


March 2, 2014

It is one of the few compensations of advancing middle age that you no longer even have to pretend that your idea of a good weekend might involve going to a festival of the kind that involve loud music, crowds of people getting off their faces, tents, and mud. But that doesn’t mean we don’t know how to let our hair down and have a wild time at the weekend…

I bring you the St Abbs Wool Festival, for starters

Wensleydale sheep

Meet the makers: Wensleydales (‘Wensleydale, Grommit!) outside the wool festival

wool from different breeds of sheep

There are breeds other than merino, apparently. Who knew?

assorted buttons

And if you’re tired of looking at wool (how could anyone tire of looking at wool?) there are also buttons

Followed by one of the highlights of the year: potato day (we’ve been here before)

potato varieties

From Accent to Yukon Gold…

Why should the Young People have all the fun, eh?

Couldn’t Resist

October 21, 2013

Among my more random seed potato purchases this year were five Highland Burgundy maincrops which I knew were red all the way through, and stayed red when you cooked them. Given that I’m a sucker for randomly coloured vegetables (purple mangetout anyone?) I had to give those a try – but what nobody mentioned was how pretty they were when sliced

highland burgundy potatoes

So when it came to topping off a casserole with potatoes, I couldn’t resist (even if they do clash with both the casserole and the tomato in the sauce.

highland burgundy slices on casserole

I’d show you a picture of it when it came out of the oven, but we ate it before I remembered. Still, there’s plenty left, so perhaps some multicoloured chips to go with the Shetland Darks. Who knows, I might even manage to photograph the finished article this time before the gannets descend…

Potato Day has Gone too Far

March 4, 2013

So yesterday being the first weekend in March, it was time for our annual outing to Potato Day and, worryingly, I realised that this is now our fourth (or our third to the Kelso one as the Bigtown one was a bit more low key). Even more worrying is the realisation that we’re now beginning to get the hang of the whole thing – we even remembered to bring a bag and get there early (10 minutes after the doors opened; it was still packed) although we still didn’t remember any reading material for the other half. Still, he made himself useful picking up the potatoes I was getting for my mum and a fellow gardener in the village and then retired for coffee and cake while I wandered around making my selection. At a competitive event like Potato Day, especially when you’re up against the determined opposition of the massed gardeners of the Scottish Borders, this is a risky strategy but I like to keep my options open in case there’s an amusing looking one or something with a funny name.

potato day 2013

Amazingly, last year I managed to grow exactly the right number of potatoes to keep us through the winter so I knew how many I needed although, as is traditional, I have completely lost track of which ones are which variety so my plan of gradually building on experience to home in on the perfect potato is a little stymied. I did remember that Vales Emerald was particularly successful last year – and that Shetland Dark were particularly decorative the year before. My mum swears by Pink Fir Apple and everyone else raves about Charlotte so I gave those a whirl (although I now realise from looking up my old blogs that I grew Charlotte last year as well and completely forgot so they clearly didn’t leave much of an impression). I filled in the gaps with Highland Burgundy and something else whose name I’ve forgotten but which I’m sure will be wonderful.

That leaves my seed order, which I still haven’t done, not that I’m panicking or anything. Much. I do have some emergency broad beans and some leek seeds which the landlord had left over so it might be time to clear out the shed windowsill, prepare my pots and start thinking about the growing season ahead…

Potato Days are Here Again

March 5, 2012

It’s early March (I know, where did the time go?) which means only one thing: potato day. We opted for the BOG one in Kelso again, only this time, two years on, we were hardened potato-dayers and we had come prepared, although not to the extent of remembering to bring a bag for the potatoes or a book for the other half to read.

mr potato head

Actually, this explains quite a lot about everything...

Potato day, for those who haven’t been on one, resembles a world record attempt to cram the largest number of sensibly shod fleece-clad people into a room but is in fact a a slow motion middle-class riot but with the crucial difference that once the rioters have finished ransacking the place they then queue up patiently at the cash desks to pay for their spoils at 14p a tuber on a more-or-less honesty basis. We arrived shortly after the doors supposedly opened and the place was already rammed but we had at least managed to get there before the pink fir-apple and charlotte seed potatoes had gone. This time the organisers had arranged for a fiddle band to be playing at the entrance which added a certain frantic air to the proceedings throughout so, hyped up on Irish jig music and the fear of missing out on something, I wasn’t entirely sure what, it was just a question of diving into the scrum and scrambling for whatever I fancied (‘Golden Wonder’! I could make crisps!). All thoughts of being a bit more methodical and scientific about it – that whole ‘trying out loads of varieties and working out what does well and tastes best’ thing – would have gone better if I hadn’t lost track of which potatoes I planted where last year and then combined the entire harvest into one lot, and besides they all did reasonably well and they all taste pretty much of potato. I have at least managed to confine myself to three beds’ worth this year, having massively over-catered last season.

Of course, potatoes were pretty much the only thing that really grew well last year, so I may come to regret my abstemiousness. But then again, how often do you ever get to say such a thing in your life?


Spuds on a Sunday*

March 6, 2011

As I mentioned on Friday, today was Potato Day in Bigtown – or at least the local garden centre near Bigtown. It wasn’t quite as big a deal as the BOG one in Kelso last year, and you couldn’t buy single seed potatoes but only big or small bags, but there were still more than enough varieties to boggle the mind and – an improvement on the Kelso event in my opinion – a helpful young man to advise on the best varieties to try.

It being a mile or so this side of Bigtown, and a dry day, naturally I cycled down and was even pleasantly surprised to find a bicycle rack right by the entrance (Unlike last week, going to the hospital. Admittedly, the intersection between patients at the orthopaedic unit and people able to cycle there is probably quite small but the doctors and other staff might, no? Still, it did mean I got to lock my bike to a sign for the helicopter pad, which is a bit more glamourous than its usual makeshift parking spots). Having extensively discussed the merits of the various kinds I made my selection of potatoes and onion sets, packed my pannier bag, resisted the temptation to attend the talk by Medwyn Williams, vegetable grower extraordinaire, and headed home again feeling moderately virtuous.

Now there are two roads to Bigtown from our house. One runs along a river valley and is about as flat as it gets in these parts. The other climbs up over a ridge from where it is downhill all the way into Intervening Village and beyond, a descent of about three miles. This is great fun on the way in, and usually best avoided on the way back but the garden centre was near enough to Intervening Village that it seemed silly to go the long way back just to avoid a piddly hill. I’d forgotten that piddly hills get less piddly when they’re uphill and the bike is laden with seed potatoes… put it this way, when I realised around half way up that, thinking about it that I’d miscalculated and actually needed about a kilo more of first and second earlies, there was no way I was going back down for them.

So here is what I have got, all now chitting on the windowsill:

  • Rocket (1st early)
  • Edgecote Purple (2nd early)
  • Harlequin (early maincrop)
  • Pentland Squire (maincrop)
  • Peachbloom (maincrop)

I’m still in the market for a handful each of a first and second early variety, only maybe not fetched by bike from the bottom of a huge hill…

*Title shamefully stolen from Mrs Uphilldowndale’s weekly treat