River Wissey Lovell Fuller

Passionate About Plants

March 2008

Paul debates the best time to "set" your potatoes

Global Warming

Is it just a 'Big Potato'?

As I sit writing this article it is the middle of February and I am supping coffee in the sun wondering if summer has come early!

The birds are singing it's a beautiful spring day, cleverer people than me will pontificate whether man has inflicted global warming upon the planet, giving the government a good excuse to increase taxes, and with no Robin Hood we just have to sit and bear it. There is no doubt in my mind that man is changing the planet but are we as significant as we wish to think ourselves in the grand scheme of things? We will only know this in hundreds of years to come, but if we look at the changing weather patterns and their effect on practical growing in our gardens we are perhaps more governed by traditional dates on a calendar and not by weather observations.

For instance let's take our summer holiday usually taken from the middle of July to end of August. If Midsummer's day is in the middle of June then it follows that August is not a summer month, it is in fact a harvest month where we start to gather the fruits of the hard work we have put in earlier in the year. So August, September and October are Mother Natures Autumnal months, this means November, December and January are winter months. So it follows we shouldn't be surprised to have gorgeous sunny days in February the first of our spring months. This is all based on daylight length the governing factor on the growth of our plants. Many of the significant dates on the calendar have been put there by man being based around Church Holidays, this leads me to the 'Big Potato' issue, my father and grandfather both true Norfolk men told me the best time to set Potatoes was Good Friday, as a young man I took this without questioning and still do set my potatoes on good Friday. Now I have got older and am unfortunately unable to ask either of them the big burning question why? We all know Easter moves around so why has it got to be Good Friday when all the books tell you that in the southern counties plant your early crops in March, whilst in the Northern Counties plant in April, when Easter can be either April or March no matter if you are in Yorkshire or Norfolk!

My Grandfather won many medals for growing vegetables on his allotment so who am I to argue. I can't even tell you if Easter is early this year then spring will arrive early, I am not even sure that an early Easter means an early spring, or conversely if Easter is late we have a late spring. So I can't see that being the answer. If anybody knows the answer to this riddle I would be grateful to know. I can only assume that it has nothing to do with the state of the ground or the weather conditions, and it is simply that if we look back, the only time my grandfather and his forefathers would be free from work to set potatoes would be on a public holiday. They would be working more days and longer hours than we do today. Producing food for the family was important and necessary, and when they worked six and a half days a week it didn't leave many free hours to spend cultivating their allotments.

This brings me neatly back to Summer Holidays in Autumn, even in my day at school it was not a cardinal sin, in fact almost expected that you would help on the local farm or horticultural holding, bringing in the harvest. So a natural progression to having yours school summer holiday would be when everyone was needed on the harvest. It is however convenient that in most years August is a hot dry month and ideal for taking holidays.

As a professional grower I spend more time looking at day lengths and temperature when scheduling the work on the nursery. The importance of timeliness cannot be underestimated, for example potting on when the plant is in the right condition or taking cuttings when the plant stems feel right is all down to observation and not dates on the calendar.

So go out observe your plants and Mother Nature and enjoy the beauty of spring, before we all get busy trying to keep up with all the work in our gardens.

Don't forget Mothers day is coming up and plants make a lasting gift, why not come and see us and visit our new bargain sale area.

We look forward to seeing you at the nursery.

Good Growing.


Paul Markwell

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