Thursday, 18 October 2012

Tattie holidays........a ramble, perhaps as lang as a dreel.

Tattie plant in full glory.
Tatties (or potatoes, as they say elsewhere) to me, appear to be the king of vegetables. In fact, given half the chance I'd marry a tattie, I love them so. And, at this time of year, tatties and their harvesting, are in much discussion. The October holidays in many parts of Scotland were always, and for some continue to be, known as the 'Tattie' holidays. When kids were released from school work to help get the harvest in. Its not a tradition I can really see catching on again, can you? Stay home and stay cosy, or pick tatties? Hmm, I know what my teenagers would say, thanks but no thanks, I'm too busy.
Tattie holidays in Scotland....
Now, I can't say I'm from a generation who was 'sent to the tatties' although the clothes look familiar, but the name for the holiday remains the same in my head, although the school calender says 'October break', more traditions lost. The nearest I ever got to tattie howking (or potato excavating, if you prefer), was at my Grandad's allotment, where the glee of being covered in mud and lobbing tatties about, probably outweighed the torture that is digging your tatties up. But then again, he didn't go in for it commercially, thank goodness. Or I'm sure the novelty would have worn off.

This year, in the UK we have all heard due to the worst season in potentially 100 years, that harvests in general are dire, down a potential by 50%, for most crops including the humble tattie. And that's really not great.
I heard a couple of tattie farmers talking on the ferry when I took the manchild down to university in late September. I'm an irrational eavesdropper the minute I hear the word 'tattie', I lean in.....

Their conversation unfortunately was pragmatic, dour and deflated, this years tattie season has been difficult to say the least, a disaster in fact. Shaws of tatties unharvested, held captive in fields lying underwater for weeks, the land sodden unable to be accessed. Both men compared notes and heads were bowed throughout. Pest and disease problems consequentially rife due to this years poor weather. It seems that us in the north this year have fared slightly better due to less rainfall, than those south of Aberdeen. Although at the moment it appears we're catching up on rain and fast. Both men compared their experiences sombrely, each nodding at the others plight. A handshake ended the blether with a nod and 'There's always next year, lets hope its better.'..........
Pink Fir Apple tatties, a wonderous sight, I think.....
So even whilst being holiday season for tatties, growing them is a hot topic the moment. There's been so much in the media about the noble tattie this past week and the plight (or blight, this years hot topic?) of this year's season and it;s effect on harvests. If you're like me and a keen tattie person, have a peek at some of this weeks new here, some of the discussion here and here among others. The tattie cooncil (and yes there is one) they use a posh'er name (The Potato Council), have also released special guidelines on prevention of blight and appear to be asking those of us who grow potatoes to leave it to the 'professionals'. Whilst they seem like a noble enough bunch, I fear asking us not to grow tatties is like a red rag to a bull.  Um, also, have a look at those 'Pink Fir Apple' tatties up there. Easily harvested mechanically, um I don't think! However, us 'amateur growers' love to dig up something which looks utterly ridiculous but tastes fantastic. We each have our place, I don't expect to live on my own tattie harvest, so I'll leave that to the commercial growers, but I do like to grow a few. Next year I may grow a few on 'The List' - just for interest.
The tattie harvest (Roosters) 3 shaws from a stack of tyres, not bad and no digging only dismantling tyres required.
I did think about writing a letter to those in the know........

Dear Tattie Cooncil, I am a 'grow your own type' and this year even in the far north, I've managed to grow 6 varieties of tatties this year (King Edward, Roosters, one of the Sharpo's, Pink Fir Apple, a random nameless variety (the label fell off) and Golden Wonder (I like the challenge of a tattie so floury it generally explodes when boiled)). I'm lucky, I can pick the varieties I like, as I'm not dictated to by the supermarkets, nor am I very much bothered by the breeders.  My tatties have sourced from a professional seed merchant locally and been grown in raised beds, buckets, tyres and tubs/bags in a small space, without much problem. OK, so they were late getting started due to the cold, and then almost drowned, but hey we kept our eyes peeled, averted death by drowning and we got a decent enough crop.

Luckily I don't need machinery and I don't grow with chemicals, that's my choice, I do respect yours too. No chemicals on my tatties this year, nor (thankfully) any sign of blight on my patches, although a bit of 'scab' on some of the Roosters and Pink Fir Apple which is easy enough to scrape off. And, yes, like many gardeners I do know what blight looks like, how to deal with it swiftly, but I'm happy to take on board any new advice. However, please don't blame us for the weather, its really not our fault. Furthermore, despite the bad harvest (and I DO sympathise with the farmers, I do, farming is hard work) I hear that you at the 'Tattie Cooncil' have also announced a record year for seed potato exports, despite the poor season, which have topped 100,000 tonnes (Hort Weekly 12/10/12) which is good news. I'm sure some of those seed potatoes will also find there way into 'amateur' growers hands too. And, I'm glad about that, as these are also likely to be treated with our due care and attention, as always.
After all, we don't name holidays after vegetables we don't care about don't you know.

Kindest regards, from a tattie lover.


  1. Greetings from Southern California! I recently came across your blog and have been enjoying your recent posts. This one all about tatties (I love them too, but never grew any) was fun to read, and I love that tattie heart! Just thought I'd say hello, as I'll be visiting again. So glad to have found your blog...

    1. Hello Sara how lovely to see you on here. I'm so glad you've found us too! Enjoy the rambles, they are very random. Tatties are so easy to grow, even in a bucket. Maybe next year? Although I'm sure your climate is quite different to ours! Nice to see you.

  2. I just about remember tattie howking. There were these heavy wire baskets you had to fill after the tractor had been past with spinners on the back to fling up all the potatoes from the ground.

    1. I remember the baskets and the hollering of the tractor coming, I wonder if I was smuggled there as a child and taken along?

    2. MOre likely I probably watched it on the telly...........

  3. Great minds think alike! Perhaps we're starting a new blogging tradition - the annual tattie post.
    At the allotment we had a complete disaster of a tattie harvest. potatoes. We did grow Pink Fir Apple one year, but whether it was our city soil or the harvest year that it was, but a lot of the tubers rotted at one end. Very, very yucky. And I couldn't be faffed by all the knobs and knobbles when preparing them. So we won't be repeating those!

    1. I think so the annual tattie event. I see we both (I think) did one last year too, so we're already there. Why were there no potatoes I wonder. Too cold when growing? Ours sat and chattered rather than chitted, acutally it was almost embarrassing, I was trying to say OK give it a week or two and we'll have hearty shoots. Um, no the buds just sat and didn't do much better once in. Although better than yours it would appear. I like Pink Fir Apple, I love the taste. Never had the rotted tuber at one end thing. Sounds like drainage? Although they grow as such daft angles how on earth can anyone get the drainage right. And they are a faff, which is why I delegate them to the children to deal with, with only one at home, perhaps I need to change my varieties quite soon ......... I wonder - did you also 'go to the berries' - seems a Dundee/Angus/Perthshire thing, parents encouraging you get up at 6am in the summer holidays, to get the berry bus and pick strawberries and rasps for about £5 a day. I can't see my daughter buying that one. I'm beginning to admire the generation which made these activities 'fun' and something you participated in.

  4. Is anyone daft enough to tell crofters not to grow tatties - weell only some daft wee chappies in an office.
    We had a good harvest this year, a bit late because of the drought, so grumbles are at about 3 on the crofter scale - hardly a mumble really.

  5. Daft chappies indeed. I know it seems surreal that those in the NW Highlands had droughts whilst we in the NE highlands had a dull season but not deluged like further south. Glad you had a nice harvest, a 3 on the crofter scale is great. Here they'd call it a 'pleep' or a 'girn'.

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