Friday, January 25, 2013

Let's Talk about POTATOES!

Last summer about July-ish I decided I wanted to try to grow some potatoes.  I love potatoes, I love white potatoes, red potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, purple yams just about any kind of potato you can think of, I love.  I even love vegetables that look  like potatoes, for instance Taro and varieties of Taro.  So when I decided in the middle of summer to attempt to grow some, my husband said it couldn't be done.  "We don't have the right kind of dirt", he said... I take words like that as a personal challenge. 

I read a few bits of information on the Internet, then I looked up some videos on You Tube.  I decided I could just "wing it" on the russets but I had an idea from You Tube that I wanted to try.  I made my area for the potatoes ready by adding a lot more llama pooh and some composted hay and shoveled that in pretty good.  I made some wide rows and cut some store bought potatoes making sure I had an eye in each cut piece.

  I did not dip them in rooting hormones or anything fancy, I just put them in the dirt about 4-6" down.  I really don't know if that is the correct amount or not but that's what I did.  The green shoots started coming thru the dirt about 2 weeks later. 

While I was waiting for the shoots to come up I started reviewing more information and videos about sweet potato's.  I ended up buying two medium sweet potatoes and putting them in a jar of water.  I changed the water about every other day.  They started sprouting in about a week or 10 days.

 When the sprouts were about 6-8" long, I snapped them off and put the green shoots in water and waited for them to develop roots.  I continued to let the potatoes develop more shoots in case my rooting green shoots failed.  When the green shoots developed roots at about 2 weeks and grew to about 2-3" long, I took them out to the garden and planted them about every 2-3 feet.  Most of them made it just fine but I did have my back ups just in case.  The shoots below are a picture from the Internet and do not show the roots.  I read that you can skip that step but I wanted to insure success since it was the first time I had attempted planting.

I live in an area that has very long hot summers and it often stays hot into October and is still warm in November so about the end of September I noticed the regular potatoes were dying off after blooming.  We dug a few smaller plants up and there were some 2-3 inch tubers but not anything to brag about which could be because I used store bought potatoes not seed potatoes.  About the middle of October I dug up the rest of the potatoes and there were some decent sized potatoes but a lot were anything from marble sized to lemon  sized.

 I don't feel this was a failure.  It was a learning experience that I will try again.  I am going to plant earlier this year and I will plant from store bought potatoes again just because I am stubborn and I think it can be done.  However, I am going to talk to my cousin's husband Johnny who grows potatoes in his garden and they were much bigger than mine! 

Our sweet potatoes were still going strong long after we harvested most of the garden so I let them be.  About mid November my son went out and dug them up.  What a surprise!  They were all very decent!  Some were small, some were big, and some were everywhere in between.  I figured we harvested about 30-40 lbs of sweet potatoes from those two single store bought sweet potatoes - and I could have planted twice as many if I had planted more of the shoots.  We washed them and laid them out on the counter top to dry then I layered them in a bin to "season".  I read somewhere that sweet potatoes should season for a week or so to develop flavor and harden the rind for storage.  The sweet potatoes below are from my own hands, my own garden and for my own family.

We harvested the sweet potatoes just in time for Thanksgiving and had them on our Holiday dinner table.  It was so wonderful to have all our vegetables and side dishes come from our very own garden and from our own labors.  It is so awesome to really feel the empowerment that comes from knowing you can dig, plant, grow and harvest what you need to feed your family! 
The mashed potatoes came from the garden, the sweet potatoes came from the garden, the Swiss Chard came from the garden, you can't see it but the tomato salad came from the garden.  The biscuits were yeast biscuits and made from  scratch, the ham and the apple ciders were store bought...hmmmm, this gives me ideas for next year...

Try to remember even potatoes can be planted in a small area or in containers as long as you have sun and water you can grow something to feed your family and it can be a family project.  Involve the kids to encourage them to eat what they grow and to help develope a love for growing.  So to wind it up, I will plant earlier, plant more varieties and I will also try some tire planting, hay planting and other ways that are supposedly good ways to plant potatoes.  Stay tuned for progress reports!

Growing potatoes in stacked tires

Growing potatoes in contractors garbage bags

Growing potatoes in a grow bag. 

Monday, January 21, 2013

Time to think about planting!

It's time to start thinking about what you're going to put in the ground this spring that you can put in your mouth this summer!  It's also the right time to consider those early varieties of cool weather crops like peas, lettuce, some bean varieties, broccoli, Brussels sprouts etc. 

I like to get some seed catalogs sent to me so I can kind of plan what I want to plant even if I don't buy from the catalog company.  I like to buy heirloom seed and heirloom plants when possible.  Heirloom seeds are different from regular seed because regular seeds are usually hybrid.  Hybrid means you cannot save the seed and use it again and get the same kind of results.  Some people have issue with hybrids and genetically modified or altered produce.  Heirlooms go on and on from saved seed.  You get what you plant year after year from a single seed saved. 

One way to get started with heirloom seeds is to buy heirloom vegetables and try them.  If you like them buy them again and save the seed to plant the following year.  Its fun and it makes your seed saving worthwhile.  Some things that are heirloom cannot be procured through the fruit or vegetable itself, you must get the seed then let at least one of the plantings go to flower then seed can be saved.  Like collards, chard, basil, etc. 

Store bought heirloom seeds:

Whatever you decide to plant, set your seed in containers of composted earth indoors in about February or March depending on your zone.  Keep it moist and put it in a sunny location.  As soon as the days are sunny you can set you containers outside during the day and bring it in at night.  As soon as danger of frost is over you can set your containers out all night to harden it off before planting in the ground. 

Whatever you decide to plant remember don't plant more than you will preserve for a years needs and don't forget to include the amount you want to give to family and friends, eat fresh and I always try to remember that not all my plantings will survive transplant or maybe will die mid season from some unknown issue. 

Where to plant is always something to consider.  I plant in a large tilled area that is enriched every year with livestock manure, hay/straw and compost.  I have areas of my garden that do not produce as well as other areas of my garden so I concentrate on enriching those areas particularly.  However, if you do not have an area that can be used in a traditional garden you can plant enough vegetables in planters, flower beds and even pots to supplement your diet and lessen your grocery bill. 

Some folks have really been inventive and planted vertical beds by using all kinds of things. Here are some two liter bottles hung with twine !  A few cup hooks conveniently put in a 2X4 mounted on the side of a house or hanging from your balcony for a beautiful herb garden! 

Below is a variety of containers but most noticeably are the buckets stacked one on the other and growing large variety vegetables, what a great idea!  That would be suitable for a balcony, patio or smaller back yard.

Square foot gardening for those that have some room but not a lot can be the answer.  You can get so many vegetables from such a small area that you just can't imagine!  Here are some examples of square foot gardening.

Here is a sample plan:

Some areas have restrictions on planting so you really have to get creative to include food in your flower beds, but it can be done.

Whatever type of garden you feel meets your needs and your personal preferences you will have the satisfaction of knowing you planted, weeded, watered, watched the progress and finally were able to pick the fruits of your labors.  The first time you sit down to the dinner table and realize that every bit of the produce (and maybe even the protein) came right out of your own garden you will get the most satisfying feeling you have ever had!  Knowing that you can provide for your families food needs is really something that makes you feel good.