Growing Norfolk Peer
Seed which has been harvested from last years crop is saved and stored in wooden one tonne boxes in our cold stores at a temperature of 3 Degrees Celsius.
In March, our farmers start ridging the allocated Peer fields for the year. Ridging is carried out with a ridging machine creating a deep ridge in the ground about 18 inches deep leaving a V shaped mound of soil for the Peer to be planted into.
Before we start planting the seed potatoes, we have to destone the soil on the potato land. This is done with a de-stoner which attaches to the back of a tractor. As the machine goes along taking up soil, it separates the stone and leaves the soil in its V Shaped mounds around 14 inches high and off-loads the stone into the deep ridges.
This is a very important part of the Norfolk Peers growing process as if stone was left in the soil then the potatoes will not grow as nicely and the flints could cut through and damage the potatoes as they are being harvested. In the Breckland soil, we have a lot of large pieces of flint, so it is vital that we remove these before planting.
At the end of March we plant our first crop of Norfolk Peer. We have a planting machine, which is driven along using tractors. These are planted into the stone free mounds, 3 rows to a bed, 6 Inches deep and with 5 inches spacing between them.
These are then covered in a thin white fleece and the corners are dug into the ground to avoid it coming loose and lifting off. If this does lift off, it could cause damage to the newly growing plants as the frost could get in or wildlife may eat them.
We fleece the first crop of Norfolk Peer as this increases the rate of growth and takes two weeks off of the initial growing time, meaning they are ready to harvest and supply to our customers sooner.
One week later we start planting the rest of the Norfolk Peer seed, however these will not be fleeced. These will be ready by the end of June.
Throughout the next 3 to 4 months, we will regularly irrigate the Norfolk Peer crop for optimum growth and to keep the plant healthy. We apply 1 inch of water at a time, 5-6 times throughout the Norfolk Peers lifetime. It’s very important that we do this, especially in the hotter months, as potatoes cannot grow without a regular amount of water.
By the end of May, beginning of June, you should start seeing lovely purple flowers appear at the top of the potato plant. When this appears is when we start to test dig around the fields to see how close to harvest we are based on the sizes of the potatoes that are dug.
The ideal results we would like for the crop being able to be harvested would be 10% of the test dig are above 42mm in size and then the remaining majority being between 30-40mm. The potatoes that come out 42mm+ will be used as scrapers and the remaining will be used in our 10kg boxes and Tesco 750g packs.
Topping & Harvesting
The Peer plants are topped with the topper to remove greenery and flowers, just leaving the roots and potatoes still in the ground. This helps harvesting as it helps the potatoes come away from the root better.
A day later the harvester comes in and lifts the amount required for the orders for that day. The harvester goes along and pulls up the plant and the soil around it. The plant and soil go through the machine which removes the potato from the roots and just leaves potato and stones. These then go up through the hopper that will remove any smaller stones. The remainder goes up and over the conveyor belt, where we have staff pick off stones and bad or damaged potatoes. From here they then go into a 1 tonne box on the back of a tractor and trailer. This trailer holds 8-10 boxes at a time.
Transporting to the pack house
The tractor and trailer take the potatoes over to Frederick Hiams pack house at Brandon. They go through a washer, followed by another grading machine where any that aren’t up to spec get removed. They then get packed into the Norfolk Peer 750g packs and into the crates ready to go to store. These will remain in a cold dark store for 24hrs until they are taken to the Tesco Distribution Centre.
From field to shelf is no longer than 48hrs. The potatoes are always stored in cold dark spaces throughout the distribution process to keep the product at its freshest.
The best storage for them is in the fridge or in a cold dark cupboard to prolong life.
The Norfolk Keepers follow the same process. However once they have been topped, they are then left in the ground for 4 weeks. This will produce the set skin which make them last longer. They are harvested the same but are boxes and stored at 3 degrees Celsius until they are needed at the pack house to fulfil orders.