I used to think that the best crops to focus on growing were those that were either unusual (and thus difficult to find in the shops) or expensive (so that I would save money by growing them). As a result I have, over the years, produced kilos and kilos of peppers and purple sprouting broccoli, and significant amounts of oca and chilli peppers. However, as I have become more and more interested in reducing my impact on the planet, I have come to realise that it’s also important for me to grow crops that I eat lots of but that require large inputs of chemicals when grown commercially.
Potatoes are a typical example. It’s hard to find information that is completely up to date, but PAN (the Pesticide Action Network) have a 2007 fact sheet that outlines the pesticides that are used in Britain during commercial potato production. It includes the following table:
The fact sheet provides lots of additional information including:
During the vegetative phase ware potatoes are sprayed on average 14.5 times and are treated with 19.4 different products; fungicides are applied most frequently. Seed potatoes are sprayed 10.7 times with 17.5 products; again fungicides are applied most frequently.
The author of he fact sheet emphasises the impact of these chemicals on human health, but it’s important to remember that the majority of pesticides have a large carbon footprint in their own right, have impacts on the environment directly and have to be transported over great distances. In addition, commercial potatoes are treated with other chemicals to increase their storage life.
So, despite their relative cheapness and the fact that I can buy local potatoes direct from the producer, I am still growing some of my own. So far this year I have not applied any chemicals and I am growing blight resistant varieties, since blight is the most damaging disease in most years. The result is healthy plants and abundant tubers from both containers and those growing direct in the soil. I’ve planted a range of varieties from first earlies to maincrop, in order to prolong the season and minimise the time I need to store them . In previous years I’ve only grown earlies (because new potatoes are so expensive), but I think that my current approach is successful enough for me to want to repeat it next year. Of course, the maincrop may not do as well as Colleen (the variety I’m currently eating), but the tops, at least, are growing well.
So, I’m celebrating the humble potato and savouring yet another crop with food metres not food miles.
This post was inspired by comments made by Wade Muggleton during my most recent visit to Station Road