Monday, 27 January 2014

#1 How To Grow Great Potatoes!

This photo from Pinterest and

Here are some tips for how to grow the tastiest, healthiest crop of spuds ever... and a bumper crop, to boot.

1. Soil

The perfect soil for growing potatoes is rich, loose and friable (crumbly), kind of sandy, plus a bit on the acidic side.

If this is not your existing soil, here are some ideas and tips for how to amend and create perfect soil for fabulous spuds...

To make it rich and friable....
- You want to add great compostable matter such as leaves, leaf mould, compost, pine needles, straw, etc.. to the beds to add friability and to retain moisture. Do not add large amounts at one time, as highs amount of organic matter will give you scabby spuds while it breaks down.
- Or... Throw in a handful of red wigglers with your organic material, they will break down the organics and amend your soil!
- Add well rotted manure or compost, however do not place these directly onto the spud, mix with soil first.

Good to know... 
- If you have heavy clay, do not add sand as it will become concrete! The clay sticks to the grains of sand and makes the soil worse than ever.
- Slightly acidic soil (pH of 5 -5.5) grows the best spuds, so do not add lime or wood ashes to your beds, both of which will sweeten the soil and give you scabby spuds.
- Peat moss is a naturally acidic soil amendment that will help you to achieve the loose and friable, slightly acidic soil that you need and to break up the heavy clay. However, keep in mind, that it is not usually recommended as an Eco-friendly product due to the fact that is considered a non-sustainable product.  
- Sandy soil will grow great potatoes, but keep it moist or you may get scabby spuds.
- Rotate to a new area or bed every 4th year.

Interesting fact...
You can absolutely grow spuds in heavy soil, even in heavy clay soil. This is a tried and true way to loosen up heavy soil in preparation for lawns or garden beds. It works well, is organic, easy to do, cheap, and gives you potatoes! I grew up in Sault Ste Marie, Ontario where it seems the entire population was, and still is, either Finnish or Italian. Back in those days (oh so long ago!) I remember seeing many a front yard consisting of mostly green potato plants. This was usually done for several years in a row, loosening up the soil in preparation for a nice, happy lawn. Though in all probability, they also needed the space out front to grow the spuds, as the backyards were full of stunning tomatoes and basil ; )

However, having said all that... planting in heavy soils will not get you the best results if you are looking for a high yield of great spuds, though it will give you better, more friable, soil.

2. Choosing The Right Seed Potato

Potatoes come in early, mid-season, and late season varieties. Choosing the right one for you may be important in order for you to get what you want from your potatoes...

The Early's - These are the ones that you want to grow if you are looking for early, baby potatoes. They are quick to grow and bulk up, therefore ready to harvest about 60 days after planting. If you leave them in the ground longer, they will bulk up into really nice, great big, potatoes. Grow early's if you have had any disease issues as they are not in the ground long enough to be bothered by most diseases. This is not the one you want to grow if you are looking to grow lots and lots of spuds per plant as they tend to have smaller yields. They are generally not good storage spuds. For early's, you are looking at Norland, Superior, Seiglinde, Warba ...

The Mid-Season's - These guys will be ready a couple of weeks later than the early's, say about 90 days from planting, as a general rule of thumb. With this type you will have higher yields of lovely, medium sized spuds. Some mid-seasons to look for are Kennebec, Sangre, and the super popular Yukon Gold. 

The Late's - These guys are left in the ground till late summer, even into early frosts. They tend to give the highest yields of spuds, though may be a bit smaller in size. Think German Butterball, Desiree, Russian Blue, and my personal favourites, the fingerling's ( French Red and Banana).

Storage - All three season types will have varieties that are good storage spuds and ones that are not. If you plan to eat to pick and eat through the summer this will not be important to you. However, if you want to store them, make sure you get a potato that stores well. For good keepers look for German Butterball, Seiglinde, Sangre, and Caribe, plus others.

If you plan to store them, leave in the ground for a couple of weeks after the stems have died back, this will make for a thicker skin. Lift carefully to avoid any bruises or wounds, let cure on top of the soil or on a table, etc.. for a few hours before storing.   

I grow all three as we like to start with the early baby spuds and then eat them all season long, well into the frosty months of October and November.

A well chitted potato

3. Chitting - While this step is not necessary, it will give you edible spuds quite a bit earlier. A few weeks before you intend to plant your spuds, take them out of the bag or box and put them into a bright, warm location, though not in direct sunlight. This will cause your seed potatoes to grow little green nubs all over them. When you plant them out in the warm garden bed, these nubs will sprout into strong vines/plants quite a bit sooner than a non-chitted one will. Chitted potatoes are not the same as, nor do they look anything like the potatoes sprouting in your kitchen cabinet (do not use those!).

4. Planting - Do NOT plant into very damp soil or your seed potato will rot away. Plant when soil is fairly dry and temps are between 5 C and 10 C degrees. In our area (PNW) this usually means sometime in March. A very general guideline is 2 weeks before the last frost date.

If you have a  wire-worm issue, wait to plant till soil is warmer as the larvae thrives in cool soil. Do not worry, you will have loads of time to harvest great spuds! These late planted potatoes will thrive extremely well for you, and some even claim that they actually grow faster and better than those planted in cooler temps.
Turn - Start to turn your soil about 4 to 6 weeks before planting and either pick any larvae that you see or leave on top of the soil for the birds to eat. The larvae live in the top few inches of soil in spring and fall, burrowing deeper in summer as the soil warms up.
Trap - Also, a few weeks before you plant, take a stick and push it through a potato or carrot piece. 'Plant' this trap about 2 inches into the ground. Pull out after 2 or 3 days, hopefully with the wireworms inside, and discard.

An interesting deet ... Did you know that the potatoes do not grow from that piece of seed potato that you pop in the soil? Actually, the seed sends up the green shoots that you see on top of the soil and grows the potato plant itself. As this plant grows, it sends down runners under ground, but ABOVE the seed potato. The new potatoes form and grow along these runners, while the seed potato withers away into a nasty looking, saggy thingie or sometimes completely dissolves. This is why hilling is really important, you will get more potatoes if you hill regularly. However, do not hill after the plant is in flower. The flower means that it is no longer making more spuds but is actually beginning to develop and bulk up.

Click Here for my step by step planting how-to.

4. Watering and Feeding - I only water my spuds about once, maybe twice, a week. I live in an area where we rarely get rainfall of any kind in summer time, but as my soil tends to have a higher clay content and lots of organic material, it also holds moisture longer. However, if you have really sandy soil you will want to water regularly, perhaps even daily, to prevent scab.

To grow great spuds organically, you want to have great soil. This means feeding your soil once or twice a year with compost. If you are adding your compost when planting, you want to mix it really well in with the soil first. To prevent scab, do not place pure compost on top of your seed potatoes. Bone meal is a great feed that you can add to the planting trench while you plant your spuds, plus you can add more around the plant during the growing season. Do not add high nitrogen feeds like blood meal or alfalfa as you will get lots of tops but few spuds.
Planting a green cover crop of legumes before you plant is a good idea, too, which gets chopped into the soil for planting time. Or, plant your spuds where you have grown peas or beans for a few seasons.

5. Preventing Scab Re-cap
Note that scab is a cosmetic thing and does not affect the taste of the potato. They are still very edible, just less attractive.

- High amounts of organic material will give you scab. Do not amend your bed with large amounts of manure or straw all at once.
- Acidic soil is best, neutral or high pH will tend to give you scab. Do not add wood ashes or lime to sweeten your soil.
- Do not have your seed potato come into direct contact with purely organic material, mix into the soil first and then plant.
- Dry soil promotes scab, keep soil moist during dry spells. Sandy soil dries out fast, dry sandy soils will give you scabby potatoes.
- If you tend to have scab all the time, try to grow your spuds in a different bed or location as the scab bacterias are high in that particular area. If it is not possible to grow them elsewhere, maybe grow in potato towers, tires, or bags. Also, some spuds are more resistant to scab, try to choose some of those. 

Thursday, 2 January 2014

January Ramblings - Welcome 2014!

Welcoming the new year, 2014!

I am starting this year with all kinds of dreams and wishes for a fabulous year at the new homestead.
A new home with a new yard. A new location for the greenhouse with a fabulous new garden shop and new potager, too. Shaking off 2013 and looking forward to a new year.

We have found a great contractor to start renovating this dated, awkward, and non-functioning house into a lovely, practical, and functional home.

Hubby and son are working on the garden shop, getting it ready for gardening workshops, seeds, and seed potatoes. The new potager will go in for spring planting, and the greenhouse is well on it's way, hopefully to be up and running by the end of this month (fingers crossed).

The yard is going to take a bit longer to get up to snuff as we have an acre of it. Am making a three year plan, so that with luck, time, lots of work and money, all the bones of the garden will be in and just waiting for the finishing touches ... in time ; )
I already have it all planned out though, have a picture both in my mind and on paper! I also got some great ideas from a local landscaper for the front yard, which will be ornamental and also 'fruitful'. Stay tuned!
The back yard is going to be all about kitchen gardening, with the greenhouse, raised garden beds, fruiting trees and shrubs. plus a cutting garden, too.

Much to do at this new place, and lots of ideas, too. A great way to start the new year, with dreams for the future.

What to do in the yard and garden this month?

- Pinch back winter pansies.
- Clean up any fallen leaves from around the base of your roses, trees and shrubs (prevent pests and disease)
- Prune your trees and fruit trees this month! Also black currants and gooseberries.
- Put out birdseed wreaths, fill feeders, have water for the birds to drink, and clean out birdhouses in preparation for spring.
- Divide rhubarb. Take a chunk of the root to force in a pot for earlier and sweeter rhubarb.
- If you have not already done so, prune your roses, taking out the 3 D's (dead, damaged or diseased) and cutting them back so that they will not get damaged by heavy, wet snowfalls, should you get some.
- Wash walls of greenhouse or cold frame.
- Wash pots and seed starting equipment.
- Begin to tidy, clean, and organise the glass house, greenhouse, cold frame, garden shed, etc.. for the season ahead.

What to do indoors with a cup of tea or a glass of wine this month?

- Start to think about and plan for what you want to grow in your garden this year.. What do you like to eat? What do you want to 'put up' or can/process, what do you want to store or freeze.
- Go through seed and garden catalogues, order your seeds, summer flowering bulbs (glad, dahlias, lilies...) tools, heat pads, seed cups, pots, etc...
- Journal the past years successes and failures, what changes you want to make, garden plans and ideas, hopes and dreams for this years garden ...
- Inventory your seeds so that you do not re-order what you already have on hand.
What to plant this month?

Under cover or in your cold frames
Veggies ... radishes, mustard, rocket, mache, Swiss chard.
Herbs ... parsley, coriander, and chives (with bottom heat).
Flowers ... Cleome (finicky, do not cover seed, follow directions on packet), Icelandic poppies, sweet peas.

Look at the size of this artichoke in my garden! Wow!

In the greenhouse or a bright, cool window, you can now start your artichokes, onions, leeks.

'Louie' eastern white pine
 Photo from 

What To Do Outside - Freshen up urns and front planters for a fresh new winter look.
Pop in to your local IGC (Independent Garden Centre) and pick up something that looks fresh, bright, and inviting ... and not at all Chrismtas-sy!
I like heathers, trailing ivies, winter pansies and ornamental kale's or cabbages, and I absolutely adore hellebore's.
Or how about some shrubs with bright foliage like a Mahonia, or bright colourful stems like a dogwood?
Evergreens are a great idea, too, but not the forest green ones, as they really shout Christmas. How about a bright, lime-green one to add a crisp, fresh pop of colour to your front stoop? There are tons to choose from, in all shapes and sizes, so that you can find one that is perfect for your look, be it contemporary, modern, simple, or classic chic.  

Winter sowing pic from 'Winter sowing in Holland' on Pinterest
Winter Sowing

Winter sowing is a term for germinating seeds outdoors in mini greenhouses made of milk jugs, etc... in December, January, and February.

You can find lots of information on the internet and even a facebook page dedicated to this kind of sowing and growing. Is fun, is easy, is inexpensive, and gets you playing in the soil in the winter time! Yay!

Here is one blog link, but there are so many.. give it a try, if even just a few pots, to see how easy and fun it actually is.

Journal and Plan

Besides the actual growing bit, this is one of my favourite thing to do.
I lay out all my seed catalogues, my garden mags, favourite garden pics from magazines, and my journal.
Then I start to plan ....

I think about what I want to grow this year, what I want to eat, can and freeze.
What to grow for the greenhouse ( I generally grow what I love, sticking to plants that I am passionate about).
What to grow for my baby girl, my friends, my neighbours....
I also pick out a colour story for the potager ... hues of blues and purples this year, maybe? Or reds, pinks and whites? Maybe purple and lime green and lots of crisp whites! (thanks for the idea, Caroline!)
Plus, make a garden plan to plot out what goes where.

Truth is, I rarely stick with exactly what I planned in the journal, not the colour story nor the garden plan, not even the plantings. Some fun, new or unique veggie, flower, seed, plant or colour will catch my eye and there goes the plan. However, it is still time well spent for I do not throw away the whole plan, I just make changes to it. Besides, it makes it possible for me to order the right seeds, roots, bulbs and supplies.

Some tips for making your garden plans ...
- Do not grow what the family does not eat. It may look great in the pictures, but if hardly anyone likes it, it is a waste of time, money and space. Go buy that veggie from the farmers market instead, for the one person who does like it.
- Some folks only grow stuff that tends to be fairly pricey to buy (think tomatoes, garlic, asparagus...) and pick up the cheaper items (spuds, onions, or lettuce, etc...) at the grocers or farmers markets. Good usage of limited growing space.
- Consider what you want to do with the veggies so that you grow enough... If you are making your own ketchup, tomato sauce, or salsa, as well as fresh eating, then you will need to grow lots of tomatoes, esp of the paste or beefsteak variety. Making sauerkraut, cabbage rolls, and coleslaw? Grow lots of cabbage. Grow lots of onions, hot peppers, beans, etc... if you use them in everything you eat or process. Do your dogs love carrots as much as mine do? Grow succession crops, seeding a few rows several times a year.
- Know where your light is coming from and place tall plants so that they do not shade the shorter ones... or plan for them to do so, if you need to create some shade for your summer lettuce, radishes, spinach ... stuff that bolts in the heat.

Love pretty journals and daytimers

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