The Other Garden “Ato” – the Potato


I seem to celebrate the tomato as if it the crown jewel of the backyard farmer as many gardeners do. Tomatoes do seem to be a central theme with many garden bloggers, “how to” sites, mail order companies and farmer’s markets. That said, I would like to share my growing fascination with potato growing. I have tried barrel or basket growing in the past. This year I have a mix of conventional trenched and hilled in ground method, a barrel and two tubs.

I planted some Yukon Gold taters in the ground and the barrel at the same time. They are doing very well. I had a few leftover and a couple of weeks later I planted them in the Rubbermaid tub I had been using to house my vermicomposting worms. I need to add lots of soil to it tomorrow!!!! I planted another tub a week ago and the shoots have yet to break the surface.

The barrel planted potato eyes were placed in the barrel with about six inches of soil. They took off. I think they benefitted from the warming effect of the barrel. The soil level is up to about 40 inches now and I won’t add any more. The in ground potatoes are also doing very well. The plants are 30+ inches above the hilled up mounds. I have high hopes for a good harvest.


An old garbage barrel with  holes in the bottom. Potato eyes at the bottom, 30 + inches below support the lush green growth.

An old garbage barrel with holes in the bottom. Potato eyes at the bottom, 30 + inches below support the lush green growth.

The newest tub was planted with supermarket spuds that sprouted in the pantry. Supermarket spids are not the best choice as they are sometimes treated to inhibit sprouting. The Yukon Gold are actual seed potatoes purchased at Kingwood Garden Center. Helpful folks, lots of knowledge and support organic gardeners!

The tub as it appears when the potatoes are planted. About 6 inches in the bottom,

The tub as it appears when the potatoes are planted. About 6 inches in the bottom,

Soil in this one is up about 10 inches and needs quite a bit more this weekend.

Soil in this one is up about 10 inches and needs quite a bit more this weekend.

I am looking forward to filching a few “new” potatoes down a foot or so a little later in early summer. I will be watching closely….once they flower and the tops die back I will harvest. The nice thing about using the tubs and barrels is the no digging to harvest. Just dump the container and sort through bounty!

PS – lunch was tomatoes picked today used in a wilted spinach and fresh Chard salad with grilled chicken breast. Dressing was simply EVOO and a blackberry flavored aged Balsamic vinegar. A little fresh ground pepper and sea salt! Just perfect!



Worm Castings Harvested & More Yard Chores


If you have read my past posts you know that I measure summer yard work by how many T-shirts I soak through! Yesterday was a 4 T-shirt day and the work is still not complete. It will be at least a two T-shirt day today….need to finish that last chore so Ben and I can take the kayaks down to Galveston and harvest a few Redfish, Speckled Trout or Flounder!!!

The worms had being toiling away in my Rubbermaid bin eating up the kitchen scraps and providing lots of good food for the garden. As I was harvesting I noticed something that the worms wouldn’t eat…..the skins off of my tomatoes. Six or eight weeks ago I made salsa, tomato sauce and gazpacho. I peeled the skin off of the tomatoes after dipping them in boiling water for 30 seconds or so and then dipping them in cold water. The skins just slide off. That old phrase, “waste not want not” is always part of my “green” credo so the skins, cores and bad spots cut out of the tomatoes went into the bin…..Everything was eaten save the skins. I learned something. I went with the fast harvest practice and a pretty good number passed through the 1/4 inch screen but they will do fine in the garden. Compost worms work near the surface and they should be happy living in the compost I recently spread. The process is outlined in the pictures below.

Soaking strips of newspaper to be added as bedding as I transfer those that toil in the dark into their new home.

The new home waiting for the transfer. Newspaper strips are wrung out so they are not too wet!

That great garden supplement – worm castings….screen box in the background

I pulled weeds, cut back the canes on the rest of the blackberries, cut some flowers for Kathy…..yes I do grow a few flowers. My son Joe had cut John’s lawn and brought back a couple of sacks of grass clippings for my compost pile that I dumped on top of the watermelon rinds and remnants of the fresh pineapple we cored the night before. I sweated some more….made up some organic fertilizer to help the veggies along and then we, Ben, Sierra and I jumped into the next project.

Station 5 on my sprinkler system has needed repair for a long time….I had some young blood to help with the digging so in we dove. First we had to find the valve boxes. I knew approximate locations so it was soon done. Then to decide which valve wa number 5…… Now that was done. We uncovered it and found that it was an inexpensive valve, the diaphragm was horribly mangled so off to Alspaugh’s Ace Hardware I went…. no luck on parts so off to the internet…. part located but with shipping I can replace the valve with a new one….with parts that are readily available.

I order to replace the valve we need to enlarge the hole in order to cut the pipe……no screwed fittings – all glued! Problem two. As the hole was enlarge the signal wires got in the way of the axe…..oh yes an axe – lots of roots and the shovel…… now we have to do some splicing…..got that done.

I installed the sprinkler system in our yard back in Bakersfield California. I worked in the oil patch and was a fan of having the valves arranged in a manifold, with union couplings so if one needed to be removed for replacement I didn’t have to cut pipe. The other benefit is that all if the wiring was run to one spot, location known and protected…. I ran it in a pvc sleeve. The drawback is more PVC to run but that is dirt cheap. My current yard – no map for the valve locations…they are scattered and the wires run willy-nilly!!!!

Ok – glue one side in and move the piping just a little and the pvc behind the valve breaks off – I am on shirt # 4 and I am not changing again. We probe a little and discover that where the next cuts will need to be made there is another PVC line snuggled up against it……Let’s drink a good pale ale Ben and plan to finish in the morning…..Good choice a thunderstorm rolls in, fills the hole with water knocks the power ou as my wife was doing ravioli on the electric stove…….No problem, I am an ex-camper. I brought out my single burner stove and finished the meal off outside…..Hope the power comes back on soon as I am beginning to soak another T-shirt  – need my AC!

This hole keeps getting bigger and more complicated! Ben, Sierra and me…the old sweaty guy.

Ben and his rescue dog, Sierra checking on the progess.

Today will be a better day!






Potatoes Are Harvested

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Just finished up the potato harvest…..mixed results. The Rubbermaid bin seemed to be a little more prolific…. I had high hopes for my wire baskets. I was anticipating small new potatoes up the length of the plants that were systematically covered  with soil, mulch and compost. I found many more clinging to the plant stems in the bin. I may have had better success all the way around had not the leaves come under attack by a little critter….a little orange bug destroying the leaves….apparently the nymph stage of a leaf hopper. I did get some potatoes and we will enjoy them!

I did reap a bounty of composted material from the baskets and the bin. Two wheel barrow loads of the good stuff. I will try again next spring and probably use some 40 + gallon garbage cans or recycled 55 gallon food grade plastic drums. As a bonus the material from the baskets and bins were loaded with worms… the red wriggler composting types near the surface and some big fat earthworms churning away in the middle…. One wheel barrow load has been spread and I will work on the other soon….

Had garlic mashed potatoes last night….I really think I can tell a difference between the store bought spuds….who knows how long they have been stored and what they have been sprayed with….vs. mine, fresh from the garden! I also grilled some carrots that I recently harvested… That was a first for me and they were not bad at all….need to try that again. Tomatoes are really looking good – a real surprise is the volunteer plant that I let grow….loaded up with clusters of cherry tomatoes!

Click on the photos for a larger image.



Making Ready to Transfer the Worms

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The worm bin is getting to be well filled with that wonderful stuff euphemistically referred to as worm castings – worm poop – I use Rubbermaid containers…36 quart size to house them. They reside in the garage year round and the Houston heat does not seem to bother them. I actually made two bins when I ventured off into worm world. I have found that 4 months or so is an ideal time to let the little guys toil away in darkness before preparing their new abode and harvest more of the good stuff.

As part of my ongoing research into growing methods…..not really research, its just that I get bored easily and I am always want to try something new and different. The back-up bin was put to use growing potatoes. In addition to the 4 foot tall wire baskets housing potatoes I tossed a handful of extras into the bin filled with about 8 inches of soil. Over the next few months I kept adding shredded leaves and compost as the plants grew. Yesterday I decided it was time to make ready the bin for the worms and dumped the contents – potatoes, leaves, compost and all.
I was pleasantly surprised…with minimal efforts I have 8 or so pounds of naturally grown potatoes. My wife is wanting to cook the new potatoes today….I agree hun!



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