YOU may recall that back in the spring, I embarked on my first attempt at growing potatoes in more than 40 years.

My first foray into the mysterious world of tasty tubers ended in unmitigated disaster, as every single one of the potatoes I had nurtured from my huge plot at Redesmouth contained a slimy lodger in the shape of a slug.

I had never tried again until this year, when I was persuaded to do things on a smaller scale by growing my spuds in a container in the back garden.

Courtesy of the wonderful Country Store at Bellingham, I acquired a big red tub, two bags of compost, and seven seed potatoes, which I was convinced would keep me in chips and Sunday dinners until well into the autumn.

I was instructed how to lay down the compost, space out the seed potatoes, and then cover them with another layer of compost as soon as the shoots began to show.

I had to drill holes in the sides of the tub for irrigation purposes, and then keep them well watered for the best results.

In mid April, I followed those instructions to the letter, and was delighted when after only a few weeks, the first tender shoots began to emerge from their peaty womb. I lovingly wrapped them up in the recommended further layer of compost, and in due course, the tub was a mass of healthy looking and robust green fronds.

They looked so good it is easy to understand that when potaes first appeared in England from the New World in the 16th century, the tubers were regarded as extremely toxic and dangerous to eat, so the leaves were boiled and eaten instead.

For centuries thereafter, the potato was grown purely as an ornamental plant until some bright spark – presumably not an English cook – discovered that far from being poisonous, those funny little tubers were delicious in innumerable forms, whether boiled, fried, roasted or made into chips.

I was aware that I would have to be patient to taste the fruits of my labours especially when in May Bernie the bus driver gave me some of the potatoes he had grown on his allotment at Newbrough, and they were magnificent.

He gave me some more a couple of weeks later that were even better and I couldn’t wait for the flowers to appear on my plants.

If the flowers did appear, I missed them as I was away celebrating my golden wedding anniversary, but I knew enough that when the plants started to wilt, the crop was ready to lift.

I was mildly concerned that I might have impaired my plants’ chances by bringing into the garden two giant snails for the amusement of my two-year-old granddaughter, and they had vanished without trace from beneath the plant pot prison I had created for them

However, there was no snail trail to the big red tub, and I pulled out the first potato plant with well contained elation.

There was a flash of white in the disturbed soil, and I had my first potato, about the size of a marble. I rummaged for more in the soil, but was able to find only three more, ranging in size from pea to a pigeon’s egg.

The other plants had to be more productive, I assumed. but the yield from each plant was similarly sparse, no matter how assiduously and hopefully I sifted through the soil.

Altogether, the weight of the crop was barely twice the weight of the original seed potatoes. It was a crushing disappointment, but at least the new spuds on the block were slug and disease free.

We gave them a quick wash, and put them straight in the pan to enjoy with a couple of pork chops, carrots, celery and broccoli.

The anticipation was scarcely bearable as my fork sank into that first tiny tattie, with its light slathering of


The taste was indescribable. It was like biting into a thickly-packed Hoover bag, full of dust and grit, and drier than a camel’s hump when the khamsin hits the Levant.

Mrs Hextol was equally crestfallen as her potatoes too were a travesty of what they should have been,

All we could do was count our blessings that the crop had been a very light one, because it would have been a shame to put even more straight into the bin.

It may well be another 40 years before I try to grow potatoes again!