Potatoes

After taking two hours to put my toddler down for a nap, I’m finally able to get this post out! She’s in the beginning stages of switching from a crib to a bed, so it’s been all sorts of fun. But I’ve been thinking about how wonderful spring is. Children are outside more, stretching their legs and running full speed on the play ground. It seems Mother Nature is cleaning the earth of the dark cold layers of snow and ice, with heavy rain falls interspersed with warm sunny days. Worms are making there way towards the surface and the flowers are starting to bloom. It’s just hard to be sad when the earth is so alive!

This past week we’ve been working really hard to expand our garden and get things planted.¬†We should be about doubling the space, which will be especially nice since I’v been wanting to grow corn, potatoes, Hubbard squash and cantaloupe this year, and those things take up so much space! We put down probably about an inch of compost over the entire area along with some peat moss and vermiculite. We got our lettuces, spinach, kale, cilantro starts, and soon our beets, peas and carrots planted.

 

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I also just got my *very first* shipment of potatoes today. I decided to grow La Ratte and Yellow Finn. They look beautiful, if you’re into tubers ūüėȬ†I set them out to get a bit of heat and light, so hopefully they will be ready to go into the ground in about a week or two.

 

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Seed Savers has some great tips on growing potatoes! This was taken straight from their Blog and the flyer they sent me with my shipment:

TIPS FOR GROWING POTATOES

General Advice

Potatoes always do best in full sun. They are aggressively rooting plants, and we find that they will produce the best crop when planted in a light, loose, well-drained soil. Potatoes prefer a slightly acid soil with a PH of 5.0 to 7.0. Fortunately potatoes are very adaptable and will almost always produce a respectable crop, even when the soil conditions and growing seasons are less than perfect. Always keep your potato patch weed-free for best results. Potatoes should be rotated in the garden, never being grown in the same spot until there has been a 3-4 year absence of potatoes. If you are new at growing potatoes, ask around; chances are there are many older gardeners in your area who have years of gardening experience.

Planting Times

Potatoes may be planted as soon as the ground can be worked in the early spring, but keep soil temperatures in mind. Potato plants will not begin to grow until the soil temperature has reached 45 degrees F. The soil should be moist, but not water-logged. Potatoes can tolerate a light frost, but you should provide some frost protection for the plants if you know that a hard, late season freeze is coming. If you want to extend storage times, and have a long growing season, you can plant a second crop as late as June 15 and harvest the potatoes as late as possible.

Cutting Potatoes Before Planting

A week or two before your planting date, set your seed potatoes in an area where they will be exposed to light and temperatures between 60-70 degrees F. This will begin the sprouting process. A day or two before planting, use a sharp, clean knife to slice the larger seed potatoes into smaller pieces. Each piece should be approximately 2 inches square, and must contain at least 1 or 2 eyes or buds. Plant smaller potatoes whole. A good rule of thumb is to plant potatoes whole if they are smaller in size than a golf ball. In a day or so your seed will form a thick callous over the cuts, which will help prevent rotting.

Planting in the Garden

We find that potatoes are best grown in rows. To begin with, dig a trench that is 6-8 inches deep. Plant each piece of potato (cut side down, with the eyes pointing up) every 12-15 inches, with the rows spaced 3 feet apart. If your space is limited or if you would like to grow only baby potatoes, you can decrease the spacing between plants. To begin with only fill the trench in with 4 inches of soil. Let the plants start to grow and then continue to fill in the trench and even mound the soil around the plants as they continue to grow. Prior to planting, always make sure to cultivate the soil one last time. This will remove any weeds and will loosen the soil and allow the plants to become established more quickly.

Water Supply

Keep your potato vines well watered throughout the summer, especially during the period when the plants are flowering and immediately following the flowering stage. During this flowering period the plants are creating their tubers and a steady water supply is crucial to good crop outcome. Potatoes do well with 1-2 inches of water or rain per week. When the foliage turns yellow and begins to die back, discontinue watering. This will help start curing the potatoes for harvest time.

Harvesting Your Potatoes

Baby potatoes typically can be harvested 2-3 weeks after the plants have finished flowering. Gently dig around the plants to remove potatoes for fresh eating, being careful not to be too intrusive. Try to remove the biggest new potatoes and leave the smaller ones in place so they can continue to grow. Only take what you need for immediate eating. Homegrown new potatoes are a luxury and should be used the same day that they are dug. Potatoes that are going to be kept for storage should not be dug until 2-3 weeks after the foliage dies back. Carefully dig potatoes with a sturdy fork and if the weather is dry, allow the potatoes to lay in the field, unwashed, for 2-3 days. This curing step allows the skins to mature and is essential for good storage. If the weather during harvest is wet and rainy, allow the potatoes to cure in a dry protected area like a garage or covered porch.


Storage Conditions

At Heritage Farm we are able to store potatoes well into the spring in our underground root cellar. Try to find a storage area that is well ventilated, dark, and cool. The ideal temperature is between 35 and 40 degrees F. Keep in mind that some varieties are better keepers than others. Varieties like Red Gold and Rose Gold are best used in the fall, and others like Carola and Russets are exceptional keepers.

Saving Seed Stock

Home gardeners can save seed for several generations. Save the very best potatoes for planting. You may find that after several years the size begins to decrease; this is typical. Potatoes are very susceptible to viruses. If you are looking for maximum yields it is best to start with fresh, USDA Certified Seed Stock every year.

Browse SSE’s organic seed potato varieties in the online store

Is anyone else growing tubers this year? What varieties are you growing? 

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Getting ready for winter

Let’s talk about winterizing. A lot of people, including myself, thought you could just let the garden go once you collected all you wanted from the garden. But I’ve realized over time that it would be like having a one way friendship with someone, it just doesn’t work.

First lets go into WHY winterizing your garden is important:

  1. By composting all your left over annual plants and vines it prevents the build up of diseases.
  2. It also gets ride of nasty bugs that would hang around in the dead plants waiting for next year’s vegetables.¬†(Composting reaches high heat levels which kills off diseases and bugs that otherwise would live if left in the garden.)
  3. Cleaning out your annuals gives you a chance to build up your compost and get some great dirt filled with nutrients for next year’s garden.
This is about half of the garden scraps we have so far. All going into our compost bin!

This is about half of the garden scraps we have so far. All going into our compost bin!

How to winterize your STRAWBERRIES:

This was my first year growing strawberries and it was such a fun experience. We had about 20 plants that produced all summer and are still producing a few berries today!

JUNE BEARING STRAWBERRIES: One/two weeks after they have stopped baring fruit take a pair of scissors or use a lawnmower and go over your berry plants to cut them back. This will help increase your production for the following year.

EVER BEARING STRAWBERRIES: I’ve heard of a few people that will cut their berries back the same way they do their June Bearing plants, but most people recommend leaving them be. But make sure you cut off all the runners and replant them or compost them.

FOR JUNE BEARING and EVER BEARING STRAWBERRIES: Before the first hard frost sets in, cover your strawberries with 4-6 inches of straw and cover with a wire mesh of sorts to keep the straw from blowing away during the season.

This haven't been winterized yet, but should be sometime this week.

These haven’t been winterized yet, but should be sometime this week. (Lows in the 30’s this week!)

How to winterize your RHUBARB, ASPARAGUS, HORSERADISH, GARLIC, and other Perennials:

Mulch, mulch, mulch and more mulch.

Rhubarb: Mulch with organic matter and well rotted manure.

Asparagus: Mulch with 4-6 inches of chopped leaves, hay or straw. Remove the mulch in the spring.

Horseradish: Mulch only if you live in particularly harsh areas. Otherwise no mulch is needed.

Garlic: Mulch with chopped leaves, grass hay or alfalfa. Avoid grain straw if you can which can host curl mite that can attack garlic.

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WINTER GARDENING AND COVER CROPS:

Instead of closing up shop after clearing out all the summer plants, plant something that can grow and keep your garden alive. Kale, collards, leafy greens, garlic, rhubarb, shallots and carrots are a few great things that you can start late in late summer and harvest in the fall. Your garden can also work as a great ‘root cellar’ of sorts, to store things like carrots, potatoes, onions and cabbage. Just burry in a few inches of soil and place a marker over the spot so it can be easily found once winter sets in.

Something else to consider are cover crops! I have never done a cover crop but I really want to try one this year. I love that they keep your soil healthy and in place.

Why cover crops?

“Cover crops help to retain the soil, lessen erosion, and decrease the impact of precipitation on the garden by slowing the runoff of water. They also reduce mineral leaching and compaction, and suppress perennial and winter annual weed growth. The top growth adds organic matter when it is tilled into the garden soil. The cover crop’s root system also provides organic matter and opens passageways that help improve air and water movement in the soil.” -Cornell University

Great cover crop options:

covercrops

 

Portia Westesen

Onions

I’ve run into some issues growing my onions this year. First year growing them and I’m¬†definitely¬†learning a LOT. Saying I love onions is an understatement. I remember hating fresh onions all my life until I was probably 16. I’m not really sure how it happened, somehow one sneaked into a¬†sandwich¬†and when I bit into it, it was like I never had an onion before! So for all you onion haters out there, just give your old potent, spicy, smelly friend a try one more time. Or maybe 15 times, I’ve heard it takes 15 or so times before your tastebuds get retrained to like something.

First lets talk about what onions love. Then we’ll dive into the many things I did wrong.

1) Make sure the soil is always moist for the first two weeks. This’ll make the difference between good and great onions.

2) Keep the weeds at bay. Onions grow so close to the surface and their roots are very shallow.

3) Sandy soil is the best for these guys. Keep it fertile and loose. ūüėČ

4) Onions from seed take a long time to grow, so give them a head start. 8-10 weeks indoors before last frost date.

5) Like number 1, even after the first two weeks they need consistent water, if the top inch is dry give it a good water.

6) Spacing for onion plants. If you want bigger onions you need to space them 4-5 inches apart. If you want a higher yield with average size onions, 2 inches apart, and if you want scallions, 1 inch apart.

7) Spacing for onion sets: Remember, if you are buying sets of onions, smaller is better! They are already a year old and are ready to set out flowers, which isn’t what you want, so to prevent that from happening find the smallest bulbs and plant as soon as possible. If you are planting in rows, space them 6-8 inches apart.

Okay, now onto my experience this year with onions. The good, the bad, and the ugly.

I started out growing from seed in February, but between my wonderful dog, and my baby girl they didn’t really make it. So I went down to our local gardening store and picked up some onion sets.

1) My first problem was I thought I should buy the biggest set of bulbs so I could produce the biggest onions. Wrong. Smaller is better. They are less likely to bolt, so look for bulbs about the size of a dime.

Everything was growing great and strong and the leaves had started falling over so I thought it was time to harvest. When I went to pull them I noticed that most of them were fairly small. I was expecting baseball size onions and instead got golfball sized onions. Major disappointment.

2) To much nitrogen. I’m not sure if this was the reason for the smaller size, but I’ve heard that to much nitrogen can produce lots of leaves with small bulbs. Next season I will test my soil just to make sure that levels are normal.

3) Spacing. I believe I was spacing for onion seeds not for sets. So instead of giving them 6-8 inches of space, I gave them 3-4. (I’m feeling a little embarrassed.)

4) Know where your plants are from. I’ve heard a rumor that sets are known to grow smaller onions anyways but also, I have no idea where my onions came from! It is best to buy plants locally, but if that is not possible find varieties that are known to grow great in your climate.

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Portia Westesen