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Gardening With Attitude
By Mike Clark

Tattie Trials With Attitude

Tattie-manís log, eleventh day of June, Earth-year 2003.

Forgive me for writing with my mouth full, but I just canít stop eating the very first of my parsley-buttered White Duke of Yorks.

I have broken my own record by ten days.

In fact, for the first time in my life, I have not bought tatties to bridge the gap between last yearís and this.

I still have some Kerrís Pink and Records in store.  Doubt Iíll be using them.

Red Dukes were the first I planted, but they were a wee bit too optimistic, and got a touch of frost. Theyíll be okay though, but a wee bit later than Iíd hoped.

Meanwhile, the White Dukes, planted a fortnight later, suffered no setback, and have overtaken their cousins.

Hence a tasty meal tonight.

Iím trialling a number of earlies this year, and the preliminary conclusion is that you canít beat a Duke (red or white). The proof is in my dinner tonight.

A newish variety, Lady Christl, is performing well. Lots of healthy top growth, and tubers developing. But two or three weeks at least before sheís ready.

Isle of Jura Ė which should be a malt Ė is trialling well, and hot on the heels of the Dukes.

Orla is interesting. I have rarely seen such variable growth from first generation seed. Some may be ready soon; others may never be ready at all. Iíll save a few for next year, but only for fun.

Ulster Chieftain is in my view wrongly sold as a first early. As a second early itís a cracker. Just donít try Ulster Chieftains in June.

I am disappointed with Swift. Swift is promoted as the ultimate first early. At time of writing, Swift is lagging so far behind, the chickweed it three times taller than the haulms. However, that could be for this reason Ė

When we keep our own seed, we love them, and cosset them, and keep them under the bed next to the chanty.  We nurture the sprouts (tattie, not Brussels), and plant them with great care.  Be honest now, how often have you claimed your tatties were through the grouní the day after you planted them?  Iíve done that, wií a lang sproot.

But when you buy seed, especially by mail order, what you get has been a long time in cold store.  They are not chitted when you get them in spring, so obviously it will take them a lot longer to spring into life.

I will give more credibility to the results of my trials in the second year, when I have kept and stored my own seed, all in the same mouse-infested conditions.

Finally, there are so many tasty tatties which are verging on extinction, basically because, although they taste fantastic, they do not conform to supermarketsí requirements of uniform size and shape.  I sincerely hope these do not die out. Many are available as micropropagated plants. Theyíre not cheap, but well worth it, if it means you can buy some, grow them on, save your own seed, and have REAL tatties in perpetuity, instead of relying on the uniform size/shape, no-flavour, no-character potatties Safeway and the Co-op seem to believe the public wants.

Forgive me if Iím getting carried away here, but with a wee bit of tasteful revolution, we could even help to pull back from the brink the livelihoods of local retailers.  At 10.31pm on 11th June 2003 (as I write), local early tatties are available. But theyíre not in the supermarkets. Why? Because supermarkets buy centrally in bulk, and at the moment Egypt is the best source of bulk tatties.

When I left Aberdeenshire three years ago, the concept of Farmersí Markets had reached Perth.

Since my absence, every town in Aberdeenshire has embraced this growing producer-to-plate phenomenon.

How long do we have to wait? Where is CASE when it really matters?

We have an occasional market in Wick. Nice gesture. You or me would have to sell the shirt off our back to pay for a stand.

Sorry, have I strayed a wee bit off topic? Have I become too political?

Nothing new, then. I hope you donít expect me to apologise.

I was going to tell you about near-extinct tattie varieties, but I donít think Iíll bother now. Iíll keep that for later.

Iíd rather end with an open question about street (not just farmersí) markets, and why Caithness is a decade behind the rest of Scotland. Tourists love street markets.

Sorry Ė that was the wrong thing to say. The same authority which governs street markets, appears to hate tourism.  Thatís why so few potential attractions are sign-posted.  Thatís why CASE funds ďinitiativesĒ Ė ie capital projects, but will not fund the maintenance of these projects.

Have I diversified? I reckon I have, and I didnít even get a grant for it.

My Jersey Royals are looking good. Theyíre a second early.  But I canít call them Jersey Royals, because Iím not growing them in Jersey.  According to the EC, Ďcos Iím not in Jersey, Iíve got to call them International Kidney.

I canít call my Shetland Blacks Shetland Black, because Iím not growing them in Shetland.

Sorry folks, but my Edzell Blues are now anonymous.

What on earth is the world coming to?

ĎScuse me.

My first early tatties of the season are getting cold . . . .

© Mike Clark 2003

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