Growing Potatoes

What a treat, digging up the first home-grown potato of the season!  If you never grown potatoes at home, you won’t believe the difference between an aged store-bought potato, and a freshly dug delight!

Start with the best!  There is a wide variety of cultivars to choose from – heirlooms and new.  Ask experienced growers what they have had the best success with in your area, but also experiment a little to find your favorite potatoes.  Always buy from a reputable source and make sure they are potatoes that are certified disease free and virus free.  Give them a little squeeze to make sure they are not soft, but nice and solid.  We only plant organic, GMO-free potatoes as well.

Here’s a word that will make people give you a second look, “chitting”.  I almost feel a little naughty just saying it!  Chitting is a process that helps you gain a few weeks while the weather is still unsuitable for planting, by laying the tubers in seed trays lined with newspaper, with the buds facing upwards.  Keep the tubers in a cool frost-free place with good light conditions but out of direct light.  Sprouts will develop a short, healthy green and a sturdy 1″ long growth by planting time.

To cut or not to cut!  You may want your seed potatoes to go a long way.  More bang for your buck!  By slicing your tuber into sections can achieve this, but make sure you have an ‘eye’ in each section.  I only cut my seed potatoes into thirds, leaving 3-4 eyes per section.  After slicing the potato, let it sit out for at least 6 hours to heal over before planting.  By doing this, it lessens the chance of wire worms and soil borne diseases from entering the healthy tuber.  When the potato has a leathery dark look on the cut end, its time to plant!

While you can grow potatoes  in buckets, grow bags and other container type methods, we have found that our extreme hot environment potatoes are best grown in the ground in a bed that we haven’t grown potatoes in for the past two to three years.    Potatoes like a moisture-retentive soil that has had plenty of organic compost added and cultivated deeply.  I apply an organic acidic fertilizer called ‘Acid Mix‘ at the rate of 5-10 pounds per 100 square foot.   Potatoes do best in slightly acidic soils that are reasonably fertile, so this fertilizer is a win win, feeds and lowers the pH slightly.  Now comes the hard part…not really!  I simply push the seed potatoes into the ground with the eyes up, until 2-3″ of soil are covering them.  Once they plants have grown to about 8″, I begin to earth up with compost.  Mound the compost around the plant, leaving the top leaves to see the sun.  I do this a couple more times during the growing season to increase the yield grown off the stem.  Once the potato plants start to flower, it’s time to increase the water.  This is when the tubers start to swell.

After plants have flowered, it’s time to start harvesting the early crop, which generally takes 12-14 weeks.  New Potatoes!  These are easily found by scraping the compost away you adding during the growing season .  Use these tasty, thin-skinned morsels right away.   The main-crop of larger potatoes will take around 16-20 weeks to fully develop large tubers.  These are found under all that compost you used to earth up around the main stem and can be lifted with a digging fork.  Cure potatoes in the sunshine for 3-4 hours to harden the skin and help them keep longer.

Some varieties that we have had very good success with are All Red, Yukon Gold and All Blue.  Most fingerlings don’t do best in our area, but the one we have had the most success growing is the banana fingerling.

We’ve planted nasturtium flowers near the potato plants and it has helped  repelled the Colorado Potato Beetle.  Plus it looks pretty in the garden!

Experimenting with Mycorrhizae

If you are a true gardener, you are a scientist! As a gardener I have to explore and test the water, or soil, of every growing aspect I can. Mycorrhizae is becoming more and more known these days and the question is: Does it work? I have played around with it for at over 8 years now.  First starting with potting soil. This was an easy adventure for me to test because they could be grown side by side in individually isolated growing pots . All my seedlings were started in a potting mix I made of peat moss, sterile compost, perlite and a little humate and bat guano. Tomatoes, peppers and zinnia flowers were being observed. One half of the potting mix I added mycorrhizae and left without. My results were phenomenal! REALLY!  The first few weeks there wasn’t much to note, but at the four week mark, the plants grown with the mycorrhizae potting mix had doubled. The same sunlight, same soil, same variety of plant and the same watering schedule. These plants were not leggy either. I was pretty impressed, but had to challenge this mycorrhizae even further. The next spring when our heirloom tomatoes went into the outside garden beds I used a teaspoon of mycorrhizae in each planting hole. Production was about 1/3 more than the neighboring bed of heirloom tomatoes.  When we planted a few new few trees, we used granular mycorrhizae in each transplant hole of a few and not the others.   After seeing the difference between a fruit trees planted with mycorrhizae and without, I’m pretty much sold!  Trees won’t go in without it now.
Mycorrhizae is a fungi that attaches itself to the root system of most plants.  This fungi stimulates root growth. The better the root system, the better the healthier the plant. Beneficial fungi helps combat bad fungi, so
something to think about is mycorrhizae is a fungi.  When you use a fungicide in the soil, it will kill off the bad fungi, but it will also kill off the good. The whole idea behind adding fungi to the soil it for it to become balanced. Unbalanced soils generally have a higher number of unhealthy fingi. The overuse of synthetic fertilizers will also eventually kill off living organisms in the soil as the opposite, organic fertilizers feed soil organisms.
Boost that Mycorrhizae with beneficial bacteria! Beneficial Bacteria works kinda work in the same way as fungi. It helps fight off bad soil dwelling bacteria. Many Mycorrhizae products can be found with these beneficial bacterias. These good guys help make it easier for plants to take up water and nutrients.  A good way to put it is, beneficial bacteria is like a pro-biotic for plants.

Soluble Mycorrhizae should be used as a soil drench, not a foliar spray.  Mycorrhizae is for the root zone.  While it won’t hurt the plant, it will not survive the UV rays or do any good when sprayed or poured onto the plants leaves and stems.  When adding water, use clean ‘non-chlorinated” water and be sure to use your solution within an hour.  Soluble Mycorrhizae is great added to compost tea at the finished stage.  You’ll get the best of both worlds.  Microbes and Mycorrhizae!

When buying mycorrhizae/bacteria, make sure it’s viable.  It has a shelf life.  Look for an expiration date and don’t buy it if it’s expired.  And use it!  While it’s still good at it date, it losses it vitality little by little.  After all, it is living!

So does it work?  Put it this way…It has become a part of my growing and feeding regimen.

Fall 2013

How can time get away from us so fast? Fall only began a few days ago, right? Fall planting for us began in August, when temperatures were still triple digits. We heavily sowed spinach, lettuce, arugula and other greens throughout August, September and October for a prolonged harvest. Cabbage, broccoli and all the greens we can pick have been the best we have ever had in fall. We have had a couple of freezes this year so far, but fair weather has blessed us. Brussels sprouts and cauliflower are just starting to head, so we are diligent to cover with frost blanket every night. While these crops are cold hardy, they really stay lush and grow a little faster with a bit more warmth in the coldest of nights. The turnips and beets are the size of golf balls. Perfect for roasting! I have never cared for turnips until I started growing them in the fall…..What a difference! Mabes, our spring adopted kitty (she’s six) likes to hide under the frost blanket. Every morning I remove the cover, she’s hiding under one of blankets to jump out like she’s saying “surprise, bet you didn’t know I was here”.

In the cold-frames we turned the soil with compost and a high nitrogen fertilizer to feed cilantro, mesclun and other small greens. Cold-frames are one of the best tools for our winter gardening. Spinach leaf edges can burn if they are left out in the harsh cold winds. One of my favorite winter time salads is mandarin oranges, spinach and toasted almonds with a balsamic vinegar dressing.
The greenhouse is bursting with lemons and limes for a winter treat. We do have to heat the greenhouse to keep it from freezing on those blustery freezing nights to keep the tenders safe and to set blossoms of new fruit. Because it’s warm at night in there, we can take advantage of growing cucumbers, tomatoes & basil for a taste of fresh summer in the dead of winter. We generally have tomato transplants ready to put in the greenhouse beds, but this year we had several volunteers pop up, so we are just going to let them go and see what we get. We should be eating delicious fresh tomatoes in January. Cucumbers are just now poking their heads through the soil. Once they are about 6″ tall we have to keep a close eye on the underside of the leaves for any insects, especially aphids. If aphids move in, we are on close watch to make sure they don’t take over. For a few aphids, we can rub them off. Spraying the leaves, including the undersides with an insecticidal soap will ward off any new comers.
Our crop of garlic this year has expanded to 58 cultivars. Rocomboles, silverskin, creole, artichoke, porcelain, asiatic, striped and turban are all planted with several cultivars in each group. This took several days of prepping the soil, garlic and getting it in the ground. Most were planted on the full moon, while other were put in the day before and after.  That is a lot of garlic to get in the ground!  Now that the garlic is starting to show its leaves, I’m questioning the amount I got in the ground… Your probably thinking, hum, bet she planted too much?! Nope, I think I had room for just a few more cultivars! Ha, garlic addiction!
New chicks arrived late September. Fall is a better time for us to add new chicks to the farm. They are laying by next summer, when the older girls are starting to slow up by hot weather and the new chicks lay right on through the first winter without slowing down when the days shorten. Plus, we are to busy in the spring time to give them the best care. The chicks are raised in a heated chicken tractor and when they are three weeks old, they are let to roam the orchard. The heat light is left on them until they are about 6 weeks old, when they have full plumage. Of coarse, if it’s really cold, we turn on the light at night. A few of our new chicks have found an attraction to Thistle, our black Nubian goat. They rest on her back several hours out of the day. I don’t know who likes it more. Thistle or the chicks. The chicks have a warm, wide perch and Thistle gets a great massage.
One of my favorite things about fall is the leaves. Such a palette of color from the golden yellows, rustit oranges and reds to caramel browns. We rake a lot here! And love every minute of it. The carpet of leaves on the lawns and in perennial beds are raked, moistened and tossed into the compost or turned into the soil so it can break down for spring.  If leaves are raked often, makes the work a little easier. Even if it’s only a wheelbarrow or two a day. I miss the days of our little kids jumping and hiding in the big heap of leaves. Plus they loved to rake too! Often times I find Casper, the perfect cat bedded right into a soft pile of leaves. Not a bad idea for a sunny fall day!
Every October we have a fall harvest dinner. We decorate with old glass bottles filled with fall flowers.  Tables and grass are dappled with pumpkins, winter squash and persimmons. Pumpkins are hallowed out and filled with dips and soups. The table is sprinkled with the deeply colored maple leaves, twigs and bark pieces from the sycamore.  Dinner reflects our bounty of fall harvests and a celebration of the new season to come.

Now that we are less than a week away from Thanksgiving and garden chores are down to a low roar, we somewhat get a winter break from watering, weeding and planting to replenish ourselves for early spring. Winter crops may need that occasional watering during dry spells, sunchokes can be dug for dinner, crops need continued harvest in cold frames and greenhouses and chickens still need to be feed. These are the things that a gardener can still enjoy during the winter months to keep grounded!

Have a Great and Happy Thanksgiving!

Joe-Pye Weed, The Overlooked Fall Bloomer

Years ago when we put up our first greenhouse, I wanted to start every herb I could get my hands on from seed. Joe-Pye Weed was agonizing. I could never get it to germinate. Perhaps the seed was old. Year after year I would buy more seed only to fail over and over. On one of our vacations we stopped at a small nursery in Moab Utah on the way home and there it was! Joe-Pye Weed! It was towering out its one gallon pot with its huge pink flower heads. I was in love and of course it come home with us along with many other plants from cute little nurseries on our travels…. And now that I have my specimen, I have no problems starting it from seed.

A little history; Joe-Pye Weeds botanical name is Eupatorium. It is also known as Boneset, Purple Boneset and Gravel Root. The King of Pontus, Mithridates Eupator discovered the use of this plant as a medicinal tonic and it was named after him, “Eupatorium”. Joe-Pye, its common name comes from the name of an Indian name Jopi who used it medicinally as well. It has been used to relief pain of the fever, break-bone fever, to fight typus, to dissolve kidney stones and an affective diuretic. Its quiet bitter to taste.

The roots are the parts used for making tinctures and can be harvested at anytime, but it’s best harvested in the late fall for the strongest qualities. Harvesting should be done after this perennial has been in the ground for two years.

Joe-Pye Weed is easily grown in full sun, moisture-retaining, but well drained soil. When grown in a shady spot it can get floppy. It is an excellent showy fall blooming plant that should be grown in the back of flower beds, reaching over six foot tall. It pairs beautifully with Snow on the Mountain and Goldenrod. Moderate fertility is enough to feed this awesome performer. Joe-Pye Weed does better when the soil isn’t allowed to dry out. It can be become rather scruffy and tattered looking if it doesn’t get enough water. It forms huge flower heads ranging from a light pink to a deeper rose-purple depending on the variety.

This plant is not flashy as a small immature plant in pots. We grow this every year for our nursery and most people snub it off. Perhaps it’s the name that has “weed” in it that turns their noses, but come summer time and they see it in our demo herb bed, most everyone says with great excitement, “what is that plant?”.  It’s not a weed or invasive so even if you don’t have typhus or kidney stones, but have a sunny location, you might want to give Mr. Joe-Pye Weed a spot in your landscape!