potatoes

Potatoes Are Popping!

My potatoes are nestled all snug in their beds…

potatoes nestled in hay

Bursting with joy as spring finally arrives! They’re gorgeous, aren’t they?

white and red potatoes

And quite content. After surviving a few frosts, the girls are popping. This is a mix of white and red potatoes and will be ready in another few weeks. I could harvest them now and walk away with “new potatoes” for my next meal, but I prefer to wait. There’s nothing better than fresh from the garden potatoes. They’re buttery and creamy and unlike anything you’ll get at the grocery store.

rosemary potatoes and parmesean

I might roast them with fresh rosemary or bake them with cabbage. (Recipes for both can be found in my recipe section!)

potatoes and cabbage steaming hot out of the oven

Either way, garden potatoes are a treat. And no issues with my 2016 crop–woohoo!

Have You Planted Potatoes, Yet?

I have and they’re going gangbusters. Just look at those gorgeous girls!

potato beds in early January

Yes, those are vacant spots in my row. Apparently, some of the gals haven’t sprouted, yet. Seems they’re taking their sweet time to emerge from the soil. Could be the weather. Could be my watering schedule. Could simply be a matter of nature. Not everyone grows at the same rate, you know.

There’s also the possibility of “theft by animal.” A few mornings, I awoke to find deep tracks through my garden. Wild hogs, armadillos, raccoons… I’m not sure who has been visiting me, only that somebody has.

Ugh. Living with nature is a beautiful thing, up to a point. But I will turn my positive attitude cap around and look on the bright side: I can always refill my bed with new potato sprouts. Besides, wild animals have to eat too, right?

mulch potato plants

Of course they do. I simply wish they’d chomp elsewhere. Now, back to my potatoes. I’ve planted them in a nice organic mix of compost from my backyard pile (shown below) and composted cow manure and have mulched them well. Mulch provides the moisture retention potatoes need, as well as encourages them in their upward growth habit. For complete details on how-to grow potatoes, check my How-To section.

Compost gold

 

I have one bed of red potatoes and one bed of white. Different size, different flavor–variety is the spice of life! And in about 2-3 months, I’ll be reaping my first gems from the ground. Can’t wait!

Potato Planting Begins

Here in Central Florida, it’s time to plant the potatoes. Potatoes prefer cooler conditions, but are susceptible to frost and freezing. While neither happens often if Florida, they do happen, and we will have to cover our plants accordingly to protect them. But I digress. First things first, we need to plant them or there won’t be anything to protect!

basket of potatoes

As an organic gardener, I rotate my crops from bed to bed to stay ahead of the bugs and maintain healthy soil. We follow beans with potatoes, so we’re using our old Lima bean row this year for our new potatoes. We’re growing red potatoes, though many varieties exist. To keep things straight, I use an excel spreadsheet, though pencil and paper work fine. Whichever method you choose, you’ll be glad you did. It helps to keep your beds straight from season to season.

Before you begin, keep in mind that you will be “hilling” your beds as the plants grow.  This means that as your potato plants begin to grow leaves and attain some height, you’re going to want to draw or “pull” in more dirt around the base of the plants.  Hay mulch can also be used to serve this purpose.  The idea here is to ensure good coverage of the developing “tubers” or new potatoes as they grow.  Potatoes have an “upward” growth habit, whereby they will grow upward as the root system expands.  If they near the soil’s surface and become exposed to sunlight, they will turn green, and green potatoes are NO good.  (They’ll make you sick if you eat them.)  You can also start with a trench when planting potatoes.  Makes it easier to hill in the future, but with my garden I simply plant them “low” and hill as they grow.

my potatoes

We’re planting ours next to our peas because the two are great companions in the garden. However, tomatoes are not, so keep them apart. Tomatoes and potatoes are prone to early and late blight and can infect one another. Other good companions for potatoes include: bush bean, members of the cabbage family, carrot, celery, corn, dead nettle, flax, horseradish, marigold, petunia, onion and marigold. Other bad companions include: asparagus, cucumber, kohlrabi, pumpkin, rutabaga, squash family, sunflower, turnip and fennel.

potato holes

After we till our soil to improve aeration, we amend with compost and composted cow manure (they love the stuff).  Next, we form holes for our potato seed—about 2 inches deep.

Now it’s time for cutting our potato seed. Inspect each potato seed and look for the eyes. Eyes are the sprout nubs covering your potato. The idea here is to cut your potato seeds in half or even quarters, depending on the size of the potato and the number of “eyes.”  Each cut piece should have at least one eye, as this is where the future sprout erupts!

eyes on the potato

When planting, I like to put the cut potato piece “eye-side-up”—don’t want to make it too hard for my babies!—though I’ve learned that potatoes are prolific growers and will thrive in your compost pile without a second thought from you, without any regard to their “eye” orientation.

But just in case—keep it easy and plant “eye-side-up.”  Cover your potatoes with a mix of dirt and all-purpose organic fertilizer and water well.

Potatoes are heavy feeders so feed them every so often with a nice mix of fish emulsion, or a dose of good old-fashioned worm poop.  Potatoes are “pigs” when it comes to consuming nutrients which is why you want that cow manure and fertilizer mixed in at time of planting.

organic plant food

Another consideration is to stagger your planting. “Staggering” your planting dates means to plant only a portion of your potato seeds at one time, say a third of the row, then another third in two weeks, followed by the last third two weeks later. This ensures a constant supply of fresh potatoes. An important consideration in my home, because our “fruit cellar” (aka garden garage) is not sufficient to store potatoes long-term. Too warm. Staggering also prevents whining from the family.

“Potatoes for dinner?  Again?”

Apparently they don’t want potatoes for dinner EVERY night.  Hmph.

In about 2 – 4 months after planting and continuous hilling, you’ll reap a lovely bounty of fresh potatoes. And trust me, there is a difference between fresh-from-the-garden-potatoes and store-bought.  They taste sweet pie and smooth as butter.  We like to roast ours with garlic and rosemary.

prepping potatoes

And remember, no matter how you prepare your potatoes, they taste better when you grow them yourself. 🙂  But do remember these babies are not frost-tolerant and must be covered should the air turn cold. You can use a frost blanket or a household sheet, but either way, make sure you cover them from in the event of frost or you’ll wake up to this ugly site.

frost bitten potato

Brrrrr. I get the chills just looking at those poor suffering beauties! So do be cautious and happy gardening!

Winter in the Garden

I realize that “winter” is a relative term when it comes to Florida, but we really are experiencing some cold weather this month. It’s been in the 30s…!!! Brrrrrrr. Thank goodness there’s no negative sign before that number. I think my face would fall off! Instead, it’s seasonably cold, just enough to give us a taste of winter.

A taste my cabbage plants are loving. They thrive in brisk, sunny temps.

cabbage is happy

Peppers normally don’t, yet strangely, I haven’t lost them. I didn’t bother to cover them, deciding on a minimalist approach this year yet look at them. They’re fine! Sort of. More

Ten Cool Things To Know About Potatoes

As my potatoes grow and flourish and my mouth waters over these buttery delicacies, it occurred to me that many folks don’t know much about these gems, other than the fact they LOVE to eat them.  But potatoes don’t have to be an enigma.  How much do you know about potatoes?

1 — Most everyone has heard that the skins are where the nutrients hide.  For example, the flesh contains less than 20% of the potassium, a third of the vitamin C and about 10% of the niacin.  Where’s the rest?  In the skin!  So for your healthiest meal, be sure to keep it include it during consumption.

2 — While there are tons of different varieties, potatoes come in five basic types:  russets, yellow-skinned, white, red, blue/purple.

3 — What makes a “new” potato new?  Think of them as the baby crop, the first potatoes harvested in spring when you simply cannot wait to get them into the kitchen.  The potato vines are still alive at harvest and the skins are near papery thin.  It’s the main way we eat ours!  But if you allow the vine to die back and the potatoes to cure  underground, this gives their skins a chance to toughen up.  Older potatoes store better.  Another difference is in the starch.  “New” potatoes are sweeter and less starchy than their more “mature” counterparts.

4 — When it comes to food prep, all potatoes are not treated equally.  Russet potatoes are fluffier when cooked due mostly to the fact that their densely packed starch molecules expand and separate during cooking.  Wonderful when serving mashed potatoes.  Idaho potatoes work well for this purpose, too.  But if you’re in the market for a sturdy gratin-style potato, opt for “waxy” potatoes like Red Pontiac and Reddale.  Some middle-grounders are Yukon Gold and Kennebec.  These are tend to be more moist than “starchy” varieties yet fluff relatively well and hold together, too.

5 — For best storage, these guys like it dark and preferably around 45° – 55°.  If you don’t have a root cellar (ideal conditions) then try a dark corner of your pantry or garage, depending on your climate.  Warmth and light can cause potatoes to sprout.  I found a basket to place inside my pantry that allows them air flow, but keeps them in the dark when the door opens and closes.  Don’t refrigerate:  this converts some of the potato’s starch to sugar.

6 — Sweet potatoes are not true potatoes.  They ‘re root vegetables; an enlarged part of the root used by the plant to store energy.  Potatoes are tubers that form from the stem of the plant, only underground.  Who knew!

7 — Green potatoes are not green because they’re young or old, they’re green because they’ve been exposed to sunlight.  This is one of the primary reasons we “hill” potatoes.  Due to their upward growth habit, potatoes can break the soil surface and will then turn green.  And green potatoes = green face (as in sick :()  The culprit? Solanine; a mildly toxic compound that occurs naturally in the night shade family (Solanaceae) of plants.  The exposure to sunlight increases toxicity.  Don’t eat potatoes raw, either.  (Your belly will thank you!)

8 — Move over rye and wheat, potatoes can make some pretty tasty Vodka.  Did you know that you can mash the potatoes, heat them in a pressure cooker until the starches turn to sugar and then using a distillery kit, run the potato juice through (to remove any impurities) and voila —  potato vodka!  Blind taste tests tend to rate it distinctively delicious! 

9 — Potatoes are excellent producers IF you know how to coax them into continual production.  Ever heard of the Lutovsky box?  Designed by Greg Lutovsky a system whereby you can grow 100 potatoes with one plant in the space of 4 square feet.  How?  Basically you build a raised planter bed, 2 X 2 and plant your potato seed as normal.  As the potato plant grows, you build up the sides of your box, adding dirt as you do so (mimics hilling effect) and the plant will continue to grow, upward, upward, upward, increasing production. 

**You’ll need to choose late-season potatoes, those that mature 90 days or more as they will continually produce tubers.  Short-season varieties won’t work because they produce a limited number of potatoes and then the plant dies.

10 — Some varieties of potatoes produce fruit after they flower that look like green cherry tomatoes and can confuse a garden gal like me.  How did a tomato plant make its way into my potato bed?  That’s bad—very bad!  While these two are part of the same plant family, they are NOT good companions.  But my fears were for not.  This little fella was normal (simply a first for me!).

So there you have it.  And if you needed one more reason to try your hand at growing these wonderful plants, homemade potato chips may be just the thing to change your mind.  Forget deep fryers, we eat healthy around these parts.  How about slicing them paper-thin, coating them with a fine layer of extra-virgin olive oil (or safflower), bake them at 375°F for about 45 minutes, or until desire crispness has been reached and then dig in.  Kids adore them and you’ll feel better knowing they are good for them. I do love win-win. 🙂

 My weekend harvest yielded a wagon load of buttery sweet and delicious potatoes.  Mmmmm…..

In Full Bloom

The kids’ garden is in full bloom this week and looking quite gorgeous.  From cucumbers to potatoes, beans to sunflowers, we are growing awesome…

Do you recall when we “hilled”our potatoes?  That’s the process for drawing dirt and/or mulch up around your potato plant as it grows.

We do so because potato plants grow upward, forming new potatoes along the way.  If we don’t “hill” the plant, the top potatoes may be exposed to sunlight and turn green.  Not good.  Green potatoes can give you a belly ache (so don’t eat them!). 

With the warm weather we’ve been having in Florida (across the country for that matter), our potatoes have become a bit “leggy” — a.k.a. tall and spindly.  Just look how tall they are compared to these weed warriors—they’re almost 3 feet tall!

Which is fine.  They’ll still produce some beautiful potato babies.  Speaking of kids and potato babies, you can see what happens when the first batch becomes over-excited planting the second batch—we have stray potato plant sprouting in the middle of the walkway!  Sheesh.  We’ll leave it be.  It should still develop and deliver a wonderful bounty.

Unless of course these beasts get their way.  We found them devouring a few of our plants, but no worries!  One by one we plucked them off.

Our radish are roaring up and out of the ground.  The kids covered them with the hope it will give them more time to mature.

The same with our sweet onions.  They were popping up through the mulch!  (And weeds.) 

But since their tops are not falling over brown, we know they’re not quite ready to harvest, so we covered them up as a well, giving them a bit more time underground.

The tomatoes are bushy and beautiful.  We pinched the suckers to encourage better growth and fruit production.

 

We even spotted our first few tomatoes.  Can’t wait to harvest those plump ketchup-makers—or salsa, whichever we prefer!

 

And look!  Our first black beans are forming.  When these pods turn deep purple, we’ll know it’s time to harvest.

Speaking of harvest, don’t the corn and squash look incredible?  Ahhh….

We actually harvested quite a bounty of squash this week. Plan to eat some and save some—for our seed-saving-selling fundraiser next month, of course!

 

Look for more on how the kids plan to create and design their own seed packets next week. 🙂

Learn Something New

Did you know that basil can kill rosemary? I had no idea.  Did you know that some plants don’t like to be near each others while others do?

This concept is called companion planting and very important when planning an organic garden.  As you know, the kids and I are moving the garden, planting in a new spot this spring, but “planter beware” when it comes to what goes where…

Cucumbers love sunflowers, so we’ll plant them both along the fence.  But potatoes?  Not so much.  Best to keep them away from each other.  How about corn?  It wants nothing to do with tomatoes and vice versa, but it enjoys the companionship of squash and peas.  And bush beans?  Can’t stand everything about the onion family or basil, but they like potatoes!

Are you confused yet?  Don’t be.  It’s just a matter of using your reference guide well.  Here’s a good list from Absolute Astronomy to get you started, but there are a ton of others out there so don’t be shy—click your mouse away!  The main thing is to keep a plant’s needs in mind.  For instance, in our garden here’s what we’re planting by row:  cucumbers, tomatoes, peas, corn, squash, bush beans, potatoes.  Along the fence next to our cucumbers will be the sunflowers.  (We LOVE sunflowers!)  On the opposite side, we’ll plant a small herb garden.  We’ll interplant some herbs with our vegetables (basil with tomato, etc.) but we wanted to keep this area separate, as our rosemary and lavender will continue to grow.  No sense pulling them out!  Wanna see? Take a peek at our excel file: School garden layout

We’ve planted potatoes already and today the kindergarteners planted corn.  Very exciting.  You’ll notice we keep track of our progress by recording the dates of each planting. 

I like to color code according to rotation group as well (another key tenet of organic gardening) such as beans (blue), leaves (green), roots (orange) and fruits (pink).  Have to keep it fun!  Corn is part of the grass family so it has its own color.  And while potatoes are technically in the same family (nightshades) as tomatoes, I treat them differently when it comes to crop rotation. 

As we move forward, we’ll talk more about the “what” and the “why” of how we plant, but in the meantime, check out the Garden Elements section of this website.  You’ll find tons of information to get you started!

Happy gardening!

Hornworms and Fungus (& other fun stuff)

Ashley has been busy!  Doing what, you ask?  Harvesting, of course!

One of the more glorious times in the garden, she is reaping what she sowed (is that a word?).  Anyhoo, she is happy as a lark with her first bounty of potatoes, zucchini and beans.  You know this by how CLEAN they are!  I assure you these babies didn’t look like this when she dug them out of that inky black dirt.  Way to grow, Ashley!

And while you may not be aware, she was privately battling a topsy-turvy experiment gone wrong (one stiff breeze whacked the entire contraption from her tree) but is happy to report:  success!

Isn’t it beautiful?  You’d never know the trauma this poor thing endured by looking at it, would you?  And quite lush now that it’s comfortably (and safely) secured in a real planter with real support. Not that I have anything against topsy-turvy, mind you.  In fact, I’ve heard of several that have done fine, just not this one.

Off to Julie’s and lo and behold, we discover this unfortunate sight.

Yep, those white spots are fungus (or mildew) and are not good.  Most probably a result of humid conditions (surprise — it’s Central Florida!) and/or leaf watering, but if these leaves aren’t removed and quick, this nasty stuff will spread.  Some might attempt to spray it with a mix of antibacterial soap and water, allowing the mixture to dry before rinsing it off with a hose, but me, I’d remove them and move on.  Because I don’t have time to spray, dry, rinse and repeat.   Of course…my kids are home on summer break…  Why, there may be all sorts of things I suddenly “have time” for! Division of labor works wonders on a schedule. 🙂

Another more gruesome discovery were these piles of frass (poop).

“Oh, hey–thanks for sharing!” 🙁

Sorry, but I had to show this photo.  It’s important you learn how to spot signs of hornworm invasion–other than the more obvious stems-without-leaves syndrome!

These are common pests and quite the pigs, I might add.  Found one myself this morning during my daily garden visit.  The beast was so big and fat I thought he’d explode at my mere touch!  Of course he was dispatched immediately.

Prevention would be most opportune in combating these fiends, specifically Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis).  Purported to be organic and safe to everything but hornworms, this may be the answer.  One thing for sure, I’m going to check into this magic potion because I absolutely dread the “hornworm search.”  Unless they’re HUGE, I have a hard time seeing them (don’t usually wear my glasses to the garden) and HUGE hornworms can down a plant in a matter of days so by the time they reach this size, I am so-out-of-luck.

I’ll keep you posted!

Bounty of Spring Squash

Would you look at Ashley’s squash?  They’re fabulous!

“Time for dinner, kids!”  And while she’s at it, she’ll throw a little fresh salad together.  Why not?  She has plenty! (Sure they look a tad peaked, but it was hot today!  Not to worry, they’ll clean up fine.)

I don’t know about you, but I’ve never seen potato plants this big.  These things are monsters!

And despite conventional wisdom (and space restriction on our part), they DO get along with squash.  Like old friends these two, wouldn’t you agree?

See, we can get along, without any trouble at all.  Though her cucumber needs some assistance.  This baby is sprawling–like she owns the place–antics for which we simply have no room.  Like a good mother, Ashley will guide her to the fence and encourage some good climbing behavior. 

Speaking of good mothers (with sensitive spots), Julie’s garden is doing well, though she hasn’t the heart to remove this stray melon. 

While it may seem fun right now, this fellow has no business mingling with those carrots.  It’s Julie’s job to remove the wayward lad–before he gets unruly.  Which he will.  He’s a melon and talk about wandering!  Don’t get me started.  He’s only going to get bigger.  Sorry, but the boy needs to go. 

Her tomatoes are doing well, even sporting little tomato sprouts.  However, they’re also sporting squiggly white lines. 

Do you know what that means?  (I didn’t either until I looked it up.  Never posed a problem at my house.)  Anyhoo, these lines indicate she has leaf miners.  Not good.  Granted the damage is mostly cosmetic, unless of course a large number of leaves are affected.  If so, the overall vigor of her plant could be significantly reduced.  If left intact, the tunnels–those lines are actually tunnels–can allow fungus and bacteria to enter.  

Best thing she can do at this point is to remove the damaged leaves, water well and keep it healthy.  Beneficial wasps are natural predators for leaf miners, so sending an invitation to her neighborhood wasp center could prove helpful.  Otherwise, her tomato plant is healthy and robust should recover from the trauma.  Good work, Julie!

Cooking up a Spring Harvest

I do love harvest time.  Not only do I find it more enjoyable than weeding (and a lot easier than tilling), it means it’s time to EAT!  And who doesn’t love to eat fresh veggies from the garden?

Nobody I know.  Especially when a basket full of potatoes and sweet onions are involved.  These are a mix of Yukon Gold, Red Cloud and a batch I planted from an organic potato purchase from my local grocery store. (Yes, you CAN do that–but don’t tell anyone I told you so.  Master gardeners tend to frown upon this sort of corner-cutting.)

Add a few sprigs of rosemary the herb garden, a little olive oil and next thing you know you have all the makings for an excellent side dish to dinner!  Roasted potatoes anyone? 

A bit of minced garlic would be the perfect mix-in for this dish.  Which I also just happened to harvest this weekend!

Very yummy.  And for those leftovers:  reheat them, crack an egg in a skillet and cook until it’s sunny side up, then scoop it over top of the potatoes for a hearty breakfast.  But whatever you do, don’t let the original chef know you squirted out a dollop of ketchup to go with them.  They were once a gourmet dinner side.

Like I said, for me, harvest is all about eating, though there is a “fun-factor” involved.  One of the students at school sent me a picture of her home garden harvest and there were more exclamation points in one paragraph than I have seen in quite some time! 

But can you blame her?  Look at the size of those zucchini!  Beans…and a tomato, too.  She’s AWESOME!

Harvest time is a wonderful time.  Especially in spring, because this is the only time I have fresh sweet onions and garlic–veritable staples in the Italian diet.  Remember:  I’m after the perfect sauce.  Just as soon as those tomatoes of mine are ready, I’m all over it!

P.S. For those of you reading this thinking I could never grow vegetables like those–think again.  If these black beans don’t prove it to you, I don’t know what will.  Sure, I put the cage around them–but only AFTER I noticed they were blooming completely on their own.

Roma tomatoes, too.  These babies are twice the size of my garden tomatoes.

So please, if my compost pile of dead leaves can grow these black beans and Roma tomatoes without a lick of help from me, than so can you.  Trust me.  Mother Nature WILL help you.  She wants you to grow and grow to your heart’s content!  (Less work for her.)

P.S.S. One more reason to start that compost pile!  As if you needed another…