Monty Don shares his unique 'July potato ritual' for a guaranteed healthy harvest

 Composite of pictures of monty don and freshly dug potatoes to support Monty Don's potato harvesting advice.
Credit: Getty Images / Jeff Spicer / Grigorenko

Ever considered celebrating your birthday by digging around in the soil and harvesting potatoes? No? Well, gardening guru Monty Don does it every year and the reason is surprisingly sensible. 

Whilst you may enjoy the latest garden trends, spending your birthday amongst the plants and earthworms might not be high on your to-do list. However, if you're a July baby, just like professional gardener Monty Don, then you might want to rethink that.

As summer finally starts reaching its peak, there are many fruits and veggies to be harvested in the garden and nature doesn't wait for anyone. Even the birthday boy it seems.

Because just as planning when to start chitting potatoes is a calendar event, so is harvesting them – as Monty knows only too well.

Monty Don's July potato ritual

Once again, the famous gardener has shared his monthly advice on and given us all the motivation we need to get back out there to tackle timely July jobs to help our gardens thrive.

He starts his July post with: "But some rain  - not too much - is a blessing in July, and with warm nights and days, everything grows lustily. The days are long and there is none of the slight weariness in the garden that can shadow August. It is the month of school holidays, and the garden flows and swells with both floral and edible harvests."

Whether you've just started vegetable gardening for beginners or have relied on your yearly crop for your meals for years, Monty has some advice when it comes to potato harvesting.

"One of my yearly rituals is to dig first early potatoes on July 8th, my birthday. The harvest varies hugely depending on when I planted them and the subsequent weather, but tradition demands I lift enough for a celebratory meal," he says.

He continues, "I now only grow first earlies because the risk of blight is so great. Potato blight is a fungal disease that rots first the haulms and then, as it is washed into the soil by rain, the tubers making them unstorable if not inedible."

The fungi, he says, develop very fast when the temperature gets high and the air is humid for over 23 hours. A weather combination which Monty points out is becoming increasingly popular in the month of July. But there's hope for your spuds yet.

"The crop can be saved if the foliage is removed immediately the tell-tale chocolate-coloured circular areas of the leaves are noticed - they quickly spread and collapse," he explains.

picture of potato plants being harvested in garden bed
picture of potato plants being harvested in garden bed

Similar to how you should treat leatherjackets in your lawn immediately, combatting this fungus as soon as possible will save your precious crops. Luckily for us, Monty shares his foolproof method.

"Remove all foliage and compost it (the fungi do not survive the composting process) and make sure that there is a good soil covering over the tubers. Then wait for a dry day and harvest the crop," he instructs.

This is a perfect opportunity to try out Monty's composting advice too. Should you be looking for potatoes with a little less risk to them, the gardening pro recommends first and second early varieties as they're much less likely to be affected. This is because they mature faster and are ready to be harvested earlier in the season.

Greenman Multipurpose Hand Trowel: £15.95 at Amazon 

Need a trowel to dig up your potatoes? This hand trowel really does it all, from cutting through root balls to using the fishtail tip to lift rooted weeds. There's even a twine-cutting notch that doubles up as a bottle opener, perfect for a mid-gardening beer. View Deal

Whilst on the lookout for nasty potato-eating fungus, why not look out for this hidden garden pest Monty warns of? There are a lot of insects and mammals that will make quick work of feasting on your hard-earned fruits and veg so knowing how to prevent that is the best step forward.

The Gardening Book by Monty Don, £14 at Amazon

Benefiting from having all of Monty's wisdom at your fingertips you can buy his latest book to use like a garden manual. From growing vegetables to planting a wildflower border this book gives you the basics to grow over 100 varieties of flowers, shrubs, houseplants and more.

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