Thursday, June 16, 2016

Potato Lessons Learned

Like many that garden, I am driven to plant early thinking that an early harvest will follow.  Twenty-two years ago when we first bought this land, I drove past an old farm on my way here.  This family still turned their cows out to pasture and still baled their hay in the shape of right rectangular solids.  This farmer also planted his potatoes well into June.  Slow to learn, I continued to rush the season.

These seed potatoes spent two weeks on raised plastic trays in our hallway.  Mail ordered from Colorado, they had no eye growth when they arrived.  The time in the warmth with subdued light encouraged the growth of short tight eyes.  Chitting is the name of this process and it is reported to get the plants growing quickly.  The four varieties shown are Red Gold, Canela, Colorado Rose and Austrian Crescent.  Purple Viking did not make the photo due to their huge size.  This photo was taken on May 28th our chosen planting day.

In all of the years that I have gardened, cut seed potatoes never grew.  Planted early in cold soil, the seed rotted.  This year the cut seed were allowed to skin over for about an hour before planted.  This photo was taken on June 6th nine days after planting.  The near six plants or slits in the ground are the Purple Vikings.  The two plants that are clearly up were planted whole.  The four spots of cracked ground are from cut seed that are growing.  This is a first for us and we are thrilled.

Ten days later five of the plants look great and the runt is still holding on.  The two planted whole have produced larger plants but the cut seed is closing the gap.  What is somewhat laughable is that it only took me 22 years to learn to wait for the soil to warm before planting potatoes.

The bed on the far side of the stone path illustrates the consequences of work left undone.  Weeding did not follow harvest and the weeds were allowed to go to seed.  When clearing this area recently, the surface of the ground was covered with weed seeds.  We hope that soil disturbance while hilling the potatoes will curb the weeds.  If that is ineffective, we will resort to hand removal.  These weeds must not be allowed to form seed again this year.

Last year's health crisis prevented me from digging my potatoes.  Friends and neighbors helped but they were not experienced potato diggers.  Several missed potatoes are growing just fine in the bed that I have yet to weed.  There are enough potatoes growing here that they will hold this bed.  Corn was scheduled to be planted but with our lack of rainfall it may be best to pass on the corn.

These plants began growing ahead of the potatoes that I planted.  The dumb spud knew better that I when it was time for them to grow.  This fall I intend to have a planting bed cleared and ready before the crop is harvested.  As the potatoes are dug, egg sized perfect seed will be placed back into the ground as soon as they are unearthed.  This seed will grow on its own schedule and give us a well timed harvest.  Since disease may be introduced by replanting my seed, only one generation will be grown this way.

The rampant weed growth on the far side of the fence illustrates my attempt to turn pasture into planting beds without the use of power tools.  Lawn trimmings have been spread here for several years in a row.  Quack grass growth has moved out of the soil and up into the rotting grass clippings.  There it is an easy task to remove both the plants and their extensive system of roots.  Pumpkins and squash are presently grown in this area.  We hope to tame this ground into more usable garden space.

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