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The Other Garden “Ato” – the Potato

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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.

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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!

TTFN

Bishop

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Tomato, Tomato Regardless of How You Say it – They Both Taste Yummy

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I should be rewarded with my first ripe tomatoes in less than two weeks and they will not be the commercial hothouse or worse varieties. There is just something special about YOUR tomatoes, picked at the peak of ripeness, sliced and savored! Granted, my first ones will be of the cherry variety so probably not sliced but nonetheless, savored.

Cherry type, Sweet Million - just love those clusters

Cherry type, Sweet Million – just love those clusters

Years ago I worked at a produce warehouse loading and unloading trucks at night while trying obtain a degree during the daylight hours. It was a bit of a challenge. I did learn quite a bit about produce! Some lessons were painful, i.e., thoroughly was your hands after handling Seranno or Jalapeno peppers! Apples had to be my favorite – the apple room was kept quite cold, a real blessing in the hot weather and because I was the tall guy, I stayed in the room to stack the boxes. The hand trucks carried boxes stacked 5 high, I had the job of adding 3 more boxes after the lads dropped them off. Crisp cool air and the wonderful scent of apples.

Here were other rooms at the warehouse that were not as pleasant. Tomatoes were shipped to us as “breakers”, meaning the shoulder of the tomatoes were just beginning to show color. The rest of the tomato was green and extremely firm! The tomato boxes are designed for air circulation for a reason. We stacked boxes in the tomato room “loosely” – each stack stood independently a few inches apart from the others. Once the room was full we shut and sealed the door, turned up the warmth, humidity and added ethylene gas. From Wikpedia –

“ Commercial ripening rooms use “catalytic generators” to make ethylene gas from a liquid supply of ethanol. Typically, a gassing level of 500 to 2,000 ppm is used, for 24 to 48 hours. Care must be taken to control carbon dioxide levels in ripening rooms when gassing, as high temperature ripening (68F) has been seen to produce CO2 levels of 10% in 24 hours.” http://ne-postharvest.com/ripening.htm#controlledatmosphereripening

It was a similar process in the banana room and once the fruit had been gassed and gasses evacuated, well mostly evacuated, then we moved them out and loaded the local delivery trucks. I would guess that we walked over 15 miles during an 8 hour shift, excepting the Friday night shift, which was typically 14 hours and more. The Saturday local runs were huge!

I have a diverse mix of tomatoes this year, two types of Cherry, Celebrity, Mortgage Lifter (standard and a grafted variety, Brandywine Red and Pink –both grafted varieties, Patio varieties – determinate, most of what I grow are the indeterminate types, Cherokee,  Juliet and a volunteer of some sort. The volunteer is starting to set fruit and it appears to be a smaller cluster variety. I had great luck with a volunteer plant last year….it was prolific!!!!

Celebrity Variety - 4-5 inch size and does well when it is hot.

Celebrity Variety – 4-5 inch size and does well when it is hot.

The newest tomato on the patio plant.

The newest tomato on the patio plant.

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One of the Patio varieties.

Other garden notes, the barrel and in ground potatoes are kicking butt! I have not had such vigorous and tall growth in my limited potato growing experience. The pole beans are reaching skyward on the arches made from the Crepe Myrtle cuttings, Snap Peas are in their last week of production, asparagus is coming up, I have Chard and more Chard…. I will use some Chard in a smoothie today and may even try some of the kale in a smoothie.

Some of my Swiss Chard

Some of my Swiss Chard

The Yukon Gold Potatoes as of the middle of April. They are much bigger now!

The Yukon Gold Potatoes as of the middle of April. They are much bigger now!

The blackberry vines have a heavy set going on and I hope I get to harvest before the birds find them. I also have my Pineberry – a white strawberry with red seeds and my Alpine strawberries producing. Hopefully I can propagate the Pineberries to make a bigger planting for next year and the Alpine berries…..so tasty but so tiny…fun, tasty but mostly ornamental!  I had to stop typing and step outside to sample the Pineberries and the Alpine berries. Very yummy. It is tough to gauge the ripeness of the Pineberries. The color change is minimal, my best gauge is the firmness and it appears that when ripe they pull off of the stem easily. I have lots of Pineberry runners showing up so hopefully I have a bigger patch next year.

A ripe Pineberry. At this stage it is almost overripe. The best stage is just a blush of pink and the seeds are red.

A ripe Pineberry. At this stage it is almost overripe. The best stage is just a blush of pink and the seeds are red. The flavor is similar to a pineapple with a hint of strawberry.

One of the many blackberry clusters.

One of the many blackberry clusters.

My commercial vermicomposting bins are working very well. I have added the third box on the top, two more to go before I harvest the bottom box. The design of the bins has a liquid collecting pan and spigot. I pulled about a quart of worm poop water off the bottom yesterday. I mixed a pint with two gallons of water and fed some of my potted plants and the strawberry towers. Everything seems to be happy in the garden right now! The summer, or at least a real summer heat has not appeared yet. May is tomorrow and the heat wave can start at any time!

TTFN

Bishop

Carrots out the Wazoo – Now What?

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On the heels of last nights awesome rainstorm across the Houston area, close to 2 inches overnight, I decided it was time to pull up the carrots. Some have just exploded with growth. See photo below.

Exploded/split carrot....they taste OK but my wife refuses to let me cook them.

Exploded/split carrot….they taste OK but my wife refuses to let me cook them.

I am in the process of prepping for cucumbers and squash plantings in the next week. The sugar snap and snow peas are still producing but the heat that disables them is just around the corner. My early planting of Yukon Gold potatoes is off to an amazing start. I am using a barrel, a big tub and of course – some planted in the back bed.

Yukon Gold Plants needing to be hilled up a little deeper!

Yukon Gold Plants needing to be hilled up a little deeper!

The Brussels Sprouts are still forming, I hope well enough to harvest before the heat sets in! Good looking plants, not sure what to expect as this is my first attempt at growing them. I found a good recipe and cooking advice over on – http://promenadeplantings.com/2013/04/11/brussels-sprout-cheddar-and-apple-salad/

The freezer is full of strawberries waiting to made into wonderful jam. As they fade in the garden I am loving the evidence of a potentially great blackberry harvest! I enjoy them fresh but he low sugar jam I make helps extend the enjoyment into the fall or if lucky….till 2014 arrives.

I added more strawberry scraps to the top level of my worm bins. I am now on level five and the migration up towards the top bin is underway. They seem to be a little chubbier than usual…..could it be the abundance of strawberries in their diet? – Quite possibly – they have been binge eating strawberries for many weeks now! I still recycle….lots of scraps going into my compost bins.

I need some variety in recipes for Swiss Chard – at the moment it is an abundant ornamental in the garden. I can only eat so much fresh in with salads or wilted like spinach….Help!

Carrots and more Carrots

Carrots and more Carrots

A look down the garden path toward the back beds. The poles in the foreground arch up over the entrance and soon will be covered in 3 varieties of pole beans.

A look down the garden path toward the back beds. The poles in the foreground arch up over the entrance and soon will be covered in 3 varieties of pole beans.

 

TTFN

Bishop

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.

TTFN

Bishop

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!

TTFN

Bishop

Companion Planting vs. The Smörgåsbord Approach

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I have been out pulling weeds, removing early berries on the strawberry plants, checking on the blackberries and I just loving seeing it all grow!!!!!
Here is a picture of a mixed bed. I have heard that there are some real benefits to utilizing the companion planting techniques. Problem with that is-  there has to be a plan….. I sometimes just group stuff by height and width…. makes sense to me. So… if you look closely I have;
Swiss Chard, Romaine lettuce, garlic, carrots, asparagus ferns, beets,a few small weeds, potatoes way out in back and empty plastic jugs waiting to be put in service…. they will be mini greenhouses. I call it Smörgåsbord grouping. I can pick a salad without taking a step.
I was down at the farmers market this morning and saw Romaine lettuce going for $2-$3 per head and they didn't look nearly as good as mine. Swiss Chard-  bunches of 5 leaves for $3 to $4 an bunch. People were carting out bags of the stuff. Makes me wonder if maybe I can have a fourth or fifth career selling organically grown veggies….. Hmmm. Maybe I should pull out the business plan forms I picked up a couple of years ago and give it a try. The booths selling eggs ran out by 9:30 AM except for one and the line was 10 back…. $3/dz. for white eggs and $4/dz for brown. Same feed, same pasture, same bugs to eat….. there is not an advantage to buy brown eggs, they taste the same …….. the farmer likes the perceived differences!!!  
Check out my new photos from today's garden visit, Oh, by the way, my latest batch of beer is ready to drink – Farmhouse Ale…. go figure. Even my wife liked the finish, not too hoppy- just right.

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