Is it worth growing potatoes?

I'm growing a range of crops - including potatoes

I’m growing a range of crops – including potatoes

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:

Pesticides used on British potatoes (source: http://www.pan-uk.org/pestnews/Issue/pn75/pn75%20p18-22.pdf)

Pesticides used on British potatoes (source: http://www.pan-uk.org/pestnews/Issue/pn75/pn75%20p18-22.pdf). NB ‘ware’ potatoes are the ones we eat

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.

-oOo-

This post was inspired by comments made by Wade Muggleton during my most recent visit to Station Road

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23 Comments

  1. sarahfoto

     /  August 9, 2013

    Worth it? Absolutely! I think they taste better than bought ones and I love going out in my garden to dig them up whenever I fancy spuds.

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  2. I grow French beans for the same reason – they are mostly imported from Kenya. And the food miles are massive. Whereas at the moment they only walk from the plot to the door (I mean that I carry them – we don’t use GM seeds…).

    We’ve also grown potatoes this year as well. Last year was a complete fail as the plot they were in ended up under a foot of water for six months… But this year is going well. Good luck with yours… 🙂

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  3. Absolutely worth it. I wouldn’t be without my home grown spuds. Better taste, no chemicals though if I was buying it would be organic. As for last year, even here in East Anglia the slugs were wearing life jackets!

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  4. Linda

     /  August 9, 2013

    A friend (with farmers in the family) explained that he always grew his own spuds because as well as the chemicals applied during growing and storage, particularly nasty herbicides may also be applied to kill off the haulms to facilitate easy mechanical lifting of the crop……

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    • It is astonishing that such an apparently straightforward crop can be exposed to such extreme treatment. I bought organic seed potatoes, so I’m hoping that the only chemical mine will see id garlic butter for serving!

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  5. Forest So Green

     /  August 9, 2013

    I am lucky to have chemical free potatoes available in my area to buy. They taste is so great. Good luck with your crop 🙂 Annie

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  6. Ann Owen

     /  August 9, 2013

    Brilliant post, Jan! This is the sort of info people need to convince them to buy organic. I’ll be using this to educate my customers; it gets people to realise how much poisons are on the food they are about to feed their kids.
    Potatoes are a difficult one though; it is definitely a crop best grown at field scale with mechanised help for planting and harvesting. With our half an acre and only John’s digging, there’s no way we can grow them commercially and make it worthwhile, so only very few of our box customers get them, the rest we keep for ourselves. But you can’t beat the taste of freshly dug new potatoes, there’s a bit of magic there for sure. Best thing people can grow if they have limited amounts of space is salads, because conventionally grown they also receive tons of pesticides and fungicides, they use a lot of fossil fuels in packaging, refrigeration and transport and they are undoubtedly much nicer when picked just before eating. Best salads we ever grew were in a window box.

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    • Ah, salad leaves are a particular joy to me to harvest – I love that I can pick a couple of leaves for a sandwich or a bowlful for dinner and here is never any waste… although the chickens are always up for a few lettuce leaves!

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  7. Roaring Hope

     /  August 19, 2013

    Great post… I just planted my first crop of pinkeyes… fingers crossed 🙂

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  8. Very informative post!

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    Reply
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