The winter season here in France can sometimes seem to drag on and this year that is certainly true. The first flurry of snow came at the start of November, and as we enter March winter is once again upon us with a vengeance. Gardening opportunities at the moment are few and far between, so when one comes along I jump on it with pleasure, no matter how small the job, it brings a small ray of light.
Happily now is the month to chit. I know it takes less than 5 minutes to put your potatoes out in a tray to chit, but, first you have to choose which ones you are going to grow this year, and that usually means a trip to the garden centre; huge smile.
I think that choosing the right variety here in France can be somewhat daunting, the shelves are laden with different types so how on earth do you choose the right one? To be honest, no variety is fool-proof, a long hot summer here in France can spell disaster for even the greatest of yielding potatoes.
As with any vegetable, they need water and with potatoes, it’s definitely a case of the more the merrier. To produce a successful yield you need to regularly water your potatoes particularly throughout a dry hot summer, so make full use of water butts and any source you have flowing close to your home. During particularly hot spells here in France when temperatures can reach over 40c for weeks on end and when the little source which runs through our garden has stopped flowing, I can often be seen running to the lavoire at the top of the road, a couple of watering cans in hand.
It is best to decide which potatoes you want to grow before you go to the garden centre, as I said, the shelves are laden with the different varieties, and they tend to be put in alphabetical order rather than in growing period. Below is a list of my favourites, which will hopefully give you a helping hand, all of which are French varieties, when in France…..
First Earlies – Variété précoce or primeurs. Growing period: 70-80 days
Belle de Fontenay: a lovely waxy, firm potato which is great for salads or sautéed. I have grown these in the past and they are delicious.
Chérie: A pink skinned potato with a good yield and flavour, a lovely salad potato. The perfect potato for beginners, again I can vouch for its flavour.
Gourmandine: A lovely, smooth, firm yellow potato which is renowned for its wonderful taste and high yield.
Amandine: These potatoes have gorgeous creamy flesh and smooth skin. It is a variety which has good resistance to scab and is wonderful as a salad potato.
Second Earlies – Variété mi-précoce or demi-précoce. Growing period: 100 days
Bernadette: A medium-sized potato with smooth, clear skin and a good flavour which is ideal for salads or steaming. It is also a good potato for winter storage.
Charlotte: The classic potato for salads with creamy flesh and yellow skins, everyone adores the flavour.
Rose of France: This potato has pink skin, a lovely creamy interior, and good flavour and yield. It is ideal for salads and steaming. It also has a good resistance to mildew
Ratte: A classic french variety renowned for its waxy flesh which has a distinct chestnut flavour. This potato gives a great yield, I’ve grown it in the past and it was wonderful.
Main crop – Variété tardive. Growing period: 120 days +
Désirée: The classic red potato which has waxy, pale yellow flesh and is great for roasting and baking. It also has good drought tolerance.
Remember that potatoes will take up quite a lot of room in your vegetable garden, so unless you have plenty of space and eat loads of potatoes, do not go mad! If possible I’d grow a couple of different varieties and perhaps share the seed potatoes with a friend or neighbour so you don’t end up with too many.
As I currently do not have the biggest of vegetable gardens, I have this year chosen to grow only one variety rather than the two I have grown in previous years. We do not get through a great deal of potatoes, but do adore new potatoes which we enjoy with fresh salads throughout summer, so this year I have chosen to grow Belle de Fontenay.
I’d love to hear which potatoes you have grown here in France and what you thought of them so please feel free to use the comment box below