Taming The Wild Cabbage

Many moons ago, my beautiful girlfriend acquired a sprouter so we could raise babies for eating. It’s truly a wonderful thing to raise babies; then eat them raw in salads and the like. Do not be alarmed… I am NOT talking about baby humans or other animals!! No, no… those would be much too crunchy. Possibly illegal too I think maybe. Rather, the sprouter is a wonderful little kitchen gizmo that’s used to grow plant babies. Some of our favorites are mung bean sprouts and alfalfa sprouts. We often eat them raw but of course mung bean sprouts are very nice when added at the very last stage of cooking up a stir fry.

Several years ago my ravishing honey pie brought home a fairly large packet of seeds labeled “Broccoli for Sprouting,” which had a very colorful picture of a mixed greens salad on the front. I’m guessing there was about half a pound of the very small, round, black seeds in the packet. We sprouted some, but weren’t at all smitten with the results. The flavor was OK, but not anything that really tickled our taste buds. So into the refrigerator went the seed packet to live in harmony with all the garden seeds I keep in there. Our thinking was we’d give them another try some other day.

“Some other day” never arrived. A few years passed, and the big seed packet was all too happy just to sit quietly in the paper bag that houses all my left over seed from previous gardening years. Seems I almost always buy more seed than I ever actually plant, and I can’t bring myself to toss the leftovers. I’ve learned that if seeds are kept dry and cool, like in the refrigerator, they stay viable for several years. Consequently, a small part of the fridge is pretty much always occupied by my seed collection.

We’re not sure how many years the “Broccoli for Sprouting” packet shacked up with the seed collection. However, it became clear to me that these would never know the inside of our sprouter again, so I decided to plant some. I figured, hey, if it’s “broccoli for sprouting” maybe it will grow some broccoli for eating. So way back in 2010, I planted the seeds and waited for the wonderful broccoli to appear.

Seedlings appeared pretty quickly and from what I could tell, pretty much all of them grew into baby plants. As they started crowding up the bed, I did the usual practice of thinning them out and bringing the seedlings into the kitchen for several suppers. Once the plants had plenty of room to stretch out, my sweetie and I noticed that they were very vigorous and had much bigger leaves than we expected. Leaves were abundant but no florets were appearing; which was the whole idea in the first place. As winter neared, still no broccoli. Lots of leaves, but no florets.

All was not by any means lost though. Since both my lovely girlfriend and I both very much enjoy collard greens, kale, and the like; we figured if the plants won’t make broccoli we’ll just harvest the leaves for dinner. Little did we know we were in for such a treat!! The leaves were fleshy and robust like collards, but much more tender. The flavor was similar to collards, but sweet enough to eat raw. And when cooked for just a little bit they were simply delicious. We found a “new” favorite vegetable! Unbeknownst to us, however, was the fact that our “new” favorite vegetable has in fact been an important food plant for several thousand years. It was obviously from the same family as broccoli, but now we just had to know: what the HECK is this amazing plant??

Took me awhile, but extensive research on the interwebs got us the answer: it’s wild cabbage; and bears the Latin name Brassica oleracea. Click here to read more about —>Brassica oleracea. It’s almost unknown here in the US, but in Europe it’s been grown as a food crop for at least 4,000 years. In fact, broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower all trace their origins to wild cabbage.

Above is a picture of some plants that survived the winter. Plants in the cabbage family are very tough, and survive our Michigan winters pretty much unscathed. If covered in snow, they can even withstand subzero temperatures with no problem. I can’t find any more seed for purchase anywhere except a website in Germany. So, being the seed saver I am, I’m gathering my own to do my part to preserve this wild cabbage. I even have enough to share some with friends and family! As it happens, I’ve found the same plant listed on the Seed Savers Exchange and it’s called German Smooth Kale.

I’ve been saving seeds every year since. And because they make so many seed pods, I don’t feel bad about harvesting young flower clusters for some springtime meals.

Here’s a picture of a flower cluster from a second year plant:

“OOOhh!!,” you might say, “That looks kinda like broccoli!! Only much smaller…” Well it kinda tastes like broccoli too. Yes boys and girls, I’ve decapitated several of the plants and we have enjoyed devouring their reproductive organs in several dishes since spring has sprung. We’ve had them raw, put them in our lunches to microwave them at work, and had several delicious stir fry meals with wild cabbage leaves and flower clusters.

Pretty darn yummy!

The Delicate Weeding (and thinning) of Beets

Beets are one of my Beautiful Girlfriend’s (the one who let me marry her) favorite vegetables. Mine too, and we love the greens at least as much as we love the roots!

Beets are planted about 1/2 inch deep, 4 inches apart. If planting in rows, space them about a foot apart. The seeds are actually clusters that produce more than one plant. After they start to grow, use a sharp pair of scissors to snip the heads off of all but one plant in a cluster. Snip just below where the leaves come together. Trying to thin the clusters by pulling will damage the root system of the plant you want to keep. The remaining plant may die if the roots are damaged too badly.

Some choose to allow beets to grow a bit before thinning. Today, I thinned some very small seedlings; because I saw that weeds were invading and didn’t want them to overrun the beets. With some nice sifted compost soil in one bucket and some pulverized leaves in the other, I went to take care of the beets.

When weeding the delicate beet seedlings, scissors are again used to snip any invaders away from the tiny beet plants. Pulling weeds that are very close to the seedling will damage the roots of the beets you are trying to save. I use my trusty Swiss army knife scissors for this delicate task.

After thinning and weeding, I carefully placed the sifted compost soil around the beet plants; being careful not to “smother” them. The leaves should stick out of the soil; but the stem of the beet should be covered. Then I carefully applied the pulverized leaves for mulch. That helps keep the weeds in check, prevents moisture loss, and of course keeps the soil healthy.

Below are some “before and after” pictures of my beet thinning excursion. To illustrate why I thought I’d better get my hiney in gear to save the beets, I wanted to point out what I was saving by (crudely) drawing a red circle around the beet seedling. The next photo shows the soil applied, and the final picture shows the end result with pulverized leaves for mulch.

In Praise of Swiss Chard

Seems to me Swiss Chard is a very underrated vegetable. Very easy to grow, very nutritious, and an excellent substitute for spinach in any recipe. You can eat the stems as well as the leaves. We even use it in place of lettuce on sandwiches. Just tear the leaf from the rib and place it where lettuce would go.

Chard seeds are planted about 1/2 inch deep, 4 to 6 inches apart. If planting in rows, space them 18 inches apart. Chard is a member of the beet family; so like beets the seeds are actually clusters that produce more than one plant. After they start to grow, use a sharp pair of scissors to snip the heads off of all but one plant in a cluster. Snip just below where the leaves come together. Trying to thin the clusters by pulling will damage the root system of the plant you want to keep. The remaining plant may die if the roots are damaged too badly.

After the clusters are thinned and are growing nicely, thin again so there’s about a foot or maybe even a little more between plants. Any that are spaced more closely will be produce an end result of smaller plants. Toss the plants you remove into your favorite stir fry or perhaps even a quiche.

If planted early, chard can be harvested pretty much all season long. It’s even frost hardy to some degree; but when the temperatures stay below freezing the leaves will be damaged significantly. If you’re a seed saver like me, when fall starts to slip into winter be sure to trim the leaves down; then give the plant a good covering of mulch. With any luck it will endure the winter and produce seed the following year.

I find the plants are most productive when the leaves are allowed to grow to good size, then trimmed off the plant till just a few small ones remain. With young plants, I cut the leaves off with a sharp knife as close to the root crown as possible; being careful not to cut too close and injure the plant. When the plants become more substantial, I just grasp the base of the stem near the bottom of the plant and gently push downward and tug slightly till the stem breaks away. If there’s any remaining stem sticking out from the plant, I generally cut it off with a sharp knife; again being careful not to cut too close to the center. Pictures below show some before and after pictures of today’s harvest. As you can see, I did some substantial trimming; but so long as a few healthy leaves are left behind; the plant will flourish and provide several harvests.

I used this technique because I’ll be blanching and freezing the leaves. I have several plants, so when I want fresh leaves I merely harvest one or more plants less aggressively.

Hail Rhizobia!!

Hail Rhizobia (pronounced “rye ZO bee uh) !!  No, this is not a chant honoring some strange country.  Rather it’s an exclamation of happiness.

I was doing some much needed weeding in the corn today and pulled a few “volunteer” scarlet runner bean plants.  I’m sure these volunteers were the result of growing a boatload of beans on the south garden fence last year.  Although I’m growing more beans this year, the new ones will be trained to live with a row of sunflowers on the north side.  Gotta rotate your crops you know.

Anyway, when I pulled the volunteer bean plants I was happy to see many little nodules growing on the roots.  These beautiful little nodules house the rhizobia bacteria that will actually produce nitrogen while they grow.  All legumes, including of beans and peas, will form a symbiotic relationship with these bacteria if the soil conditions are favorable.

Organic growing methods promote good soil health, and the “proof in the pudding” is finding your bean plants with root nodules.  When the soil is happy, the rhizobia are happy.  And when the rhizobia are happy, they benefit not just the beans (or peas and other legumes) but the plants nearby.

Below is a photo I took today of these beautiful nodules; and I drew a few arrows to point them out to you.  Click on the picture for a better look.

A Nice Year For Okra

This year, our Western Michigan summer has been full of warm days, warm nights, and just barely enough rain.  Okra just loves these conditions, and ours has been producing quite nicely these past few weeks.

Here’s a link to the Seedsavers page that shows the Burgundy Okra we planted this year,  The plants and pods are simply beautiful.  They take awhile to grow, but once they start flowering it’s wise to watch them daily as the pods will grow very quickly.  If the pods get too big, they are very fibrous and no fun to eat.  We only have about a dozen plants but they are yielding several new pods just about every day.  Today I noticed one got pretty big, so I left it on the plant for seeds.  We pick them when they are about 4 to 6 inches long.  Sometimes I’ll get them when they’re a little longer… but that can be a gamble.  Best way to pick is to use a sharp knife and carefully slice the stem from the plant.

When we travel, one of our favorite dishes is the deep fried okra at Cracker Barrel.  However, we don’t deep fry much stuff.  That’s a very good thing for us, we just don’t want to clog our arteries very often (once in a great while is kinda fun though).  We mostly use okra in soups and stir fry dishes.  It’s a wonderful thickening agent for either.  Obviously, we don’t eat okra every day so we cut it up and freeze it.

Our method is pretty simple:

  1.  Remove the blossom leftovers from the pod.
  2. Cut the tops off
  3. Slice into 1/4 inch pieces (no need to be precise).  Some folks might toss the tapered ends, but we eat them.
  4. Place on a greased pan.  Lightly coat the pan with olive oil or vegetable oil, I used a couple spritzes of olive oil spray and wiped the excess away with a paper towel.  Then finally…
  5. Place the pan in the freezer overnight.

    Okra ready for cutting. Dried blossom remnants have been removed from both top and bottom.

    Okra ready for cutting. Dried blossom remnants have been removed from both top and bottom.

    Sliced okra on pizza pan lightly coated with olive oil. After all the okra is cut, into the freezer it goes for an overnight nap.

    Sliced okra on pizza pan lightly coated with olive oil. After all the okra is cut, into the freezer it goes for an overnight nap.

Once the pieces are frozen, we stash them in a quart size freezer bag until it’s full,  Then downstairs it goes into the big upright freezer.  The nice thing about storing okra this way is that it remains loose in the bag, so it’s easy to get just the amount you want to cook at any given time.

Important note:  Mr. Olson, our friendly Muskegon Appliance Dealer (God rest his soul) taught me years ago that It’s important to use a non-frost free type of freezer when storing frozen food for extended time periods.  Frost free freezers are constantly freezing and thawing; which is the culprit responsible for freezer burn.  Following his advice, we bought the non-frost free type.  Only have to thaw it out every couple years or so.


Weeding To Mulch, Mulching With Weeds

Made some good progress in the Popcorn Patch today.  Well OK it’s more of a row than a patch; and I’ve interplanted some snow peas and cucumbers.  I got the weeds out of a good chunk of the row; then watered thoroughly, then laid some mulch down.  For those of you who don’t know, laying mulch down after a good rain (or in this case, watering) will help keep the soil moist; and it also prevents weeds from taking over again.  An added bonus is that mulch will also enrich the soil as it decomposes.

For many years, I’ve been mulching with whatever leaves I can get.  Come fall, I travel around the neighborhoods with my trailer and pick up as many bags of leaves as I can,  This of course has to happen after I help my Honey Pie get the leaves off the lawn at our house.

I didn’t get as many leaves last year as I was hoping; and I’ve used some already.  However,  I’ll need the rest to make “leaf dust.”  I pulverize leaves with our lawn mower and then sift the leaves to get a nice pile of really small particles.  That’s the perfect stuff for getting in between the carrot seedlings you see.  Anyway, I didn’t want to use up all my leaves, so I pondered a bit on what to use as mulch for the popcorn,

Our trailer is full of wood chips right now for my Beautiful Honey Pie’s ornamental gardens.  I’ll use some too, for covering my walkways in the vegetable garden.  But since the trailer is full, I won’t be using it to get more mulch right now.  During this time of year everyone’s bagged leaves are long gone, so I’ll go after lawn clippings.  Those are in bags too, but again, I need the trailer to go get them.

The answer:  use weeds for mulch!  Say what??  Well you see we are blessed with 5 acres, and although we only use a fraction of it; there are lots of “wild” places where all kinds of things grow.  One area behind the vegetable garden is near our pond.  I’ve mowed the monster weed growth a couple times; and have even planted some squash down there.  But there’s also a large stand of very tall weeds down there.

Today, the light bulb lit up inside my tiny brain.  Might as well use those weeds for mulch!  So I grabbed the wheelbarrow and the sickle that our Good Friend Mike gave me; and got to hacking weeds.  Also cut some new growth off the sumac saplings that were down there.  Turned out to be the perfect material for mulching behind the corn.  The photos below are not the best quality because I took them with my phone, but you can click them to get a better view.








I showed my beautiful girlfriend my idea and she was a little doubtful.  “Won’t they make more weeds?” she asked.  A very good question!  The key to using weeds for mulch is to:  1)  make sure the roots are removed first and Q) make sure you don’t use any weeds that are going to seed.  Flowers are OK, but seeds are not so good.

Because the weeds I used are green, they won’t rob any nitrogen from the soil.  They may even add some.  And the worms will love my offering.  And to top it off, all I have to do is wait, and I’ll have plenty of new mulch growing in the back!

Popcorn: A Really Fun Crop

I love growing a little bit of everything; and popcorn is one of my favorite toys in the vegetable world. Only problem is: I don’t really have enough space to grow a lot of popcorn; but because it’s so much fun I’ve been hooked on raising it these past several years. Before popcorn I grew some sweet corn, but here in Beautiful West Michigan sweet corn is very plentiful and inexpensive come harvest time.

My garden is about 50 long and about 20 feet wide. As I said, I like to grow a little bit of everything; most of which is in beds rather than rows. Through companion planting and crop rotation, this method has given me pretty good yields over the years.

To save space in the garden, I started off growing only grow one row of corn. However, I found that pollination was not reliable unless I pollinated the corn by hand; which is very labor intensive. These days I plant two rows and pollination has been pretty good.

If you must plant only one row, you’ll need to hand pollinate the corn to get good kernel coverage on each ear. Here’s what I learned: the tassels make the pollen which falls onto the silk to make corn babies. As soon as the silk pokes out of the ears, I skim some of the flowers off the tassel and rub it on the silk. Then I repeat this every couple days or so until a) the tassels quit making pollen or 12) the silk starts to turn brown at the end. This process can be used if you have even less space than I do. In other words, even if you only have enough room for one plant, pollinating the corn by hand will ensure you get cobs full of kernels. If pollination doesn’t happen effectively, you’ll still get a cob but very few kernels.

Here’s a video I made awhile ago that shows how I help the corn pollinate:

Once pollination is finished it’s just a matter of waiting for fall to arrive. I wait for the ears to turn brown; or more accurately a light tan or paper color. Then I make sure I pick them when the weather is dry to prevent molding. Then I pull the husks back (but not off) so the corn will dry.

After the husks are pulled back, I’ll lay a length of bailing twine (string works fine too) down on a flat surface; and place 6 to 8 cobs down with the husks positioned so they all lay on top of the twine. Then I pull the twine up and tie the husks together tightly so they can be hung up. I make sure the twine is a bit longer than needed so hanging is easier.  Each year I hang the bundles on a coat rack that stands near our pantry.  Click the image below for a better look.

A coat rack with lots of hangers has been commandeered and renamed "The Popcorn Tree."
A coat rack with lots of hangers has been commandeered and renamed “The Popcorn Tree.”

I keep the ears in the house to prevent mice from chowing down on my popcorn. After about a month or so the popcorn is dry enough to cook. Before Santa Claus brought me a corn sheller, we’d leave the cobs hanging until we wanted some. Then I’d just pull one cob at a time from its husk (and off the bundle). To remove the kernels, I’d get a deep pan or plastic storage container; then hold the cob toward the bottom of the container and rub my thumb forcefully over the kernels to get them off the cob. Doing it this way prevents kernels from flying all over the place; as they tend to shoot off the cob when they’re dislodged. I’ve learned the hard way that it’s a good idea to wear work gloves while doing this!  Otherwise, you’ll get ouchy hands.

Now that I’m blessed with a corn sheller I can process lots of cobs much more quickly. We get about 10 pounds a year, and believe me, you don’t want to shell that much corn with your hands alone.

One good sized ear of popcorn yields enough to make a pretty good sized bowl of deliciousness when popped. We use an air popper, but everyone has their favorite cooking method.

After all that, it’s time to melt about a tablespoon of butter and drizzle it on top; followed by some garlic powder, salt, pepper, maybe even some cumin. Depends on our mood. Then I put a bowl of equal size on the top as a cap and shake until the seasonings are mixed with the popcorn thoroughly.

And you know what?? HOLY MOLY IT’S GOOD!!

Makes you want to settle in and watch a movie or something, doesn’t it??

Did You Eat Your Weedies Today?

Anybody remember that old commercial slogan, “did you eat your Wheaties today?” Well if you do, you may not want to admit it; because it means you are getting older. Maybe not as old as me, though. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I’m old enough to remember when The Beatles came to the US on the Mayflower!! Sure, I can remember that; but I can’t for the life of me remember when I had my last bowl of Wheaties.

Well, this post is about a bowl of “Weedies.” Yes, I’m talking about just what you might think that means. During this time of year, I’m known to feed weeds to my to my Beautiful Girlfriend and our family.  We’ve eaten them many times, and we all survived! Yep… I’ve made many a “skillet dinner” and weeds that I harvested from the garden were thrown in there for extra yumm and nutrition.

My two favorite weeds from the garden are delightful, annual “volunteers,” as Grampa Bunny would call them. In other words, I didn’t plant them… they just magically appeared from somewhere. Some of you may recognize them: lamb’s quarters and purslane. Click on the images for a better view.

Lamb's quarters above, purslane below.

Lamb’s quarters above, purslane below.

purslane6-28-13 - compressed

A closer view of purslane.

Before I knew better, I spent several years cursing their very existence. Now we are glad to see them because they are one of the first things that are ready for picking in the garden. But one may well ask, “ummm first things ready in the garden?? Aren’t they weeds??” Well lots of folks call them weeds, and as I said, I thought that way also. Then I learned that both plants are not only edible; but taste pretty darn good! And an added bonus is they are packed with vitamins and minerals!! And to top it off, purslane has the highest concentration of omega-3 fatty acids of any leafy food plant.

Yet another cool thing about purslane:  it’s a succulent, which means it requires very little moisture to survive.  It lays pretty flat to the ground and becomes a sort of “living mulch” as it spreads.  This is good for the plants I actually wanted to grow.

Lamb’s quarters have been eaten by humans for thousands of years, and have even been cultivated as a food crop.  Just like purslane, the leaves and tender parts of the stems are of course edible, but lamb’s quarters seeds are very nutritious too.  Those are great in soups and stir fry dishes (can you tell I like skillet recipes?).

But hey, we just eat them because they’re yummy. We like lamb’s quarters and purslane either cooked or raw in salads.   Sometimes I’ll bring them to work for lunch. I think my friends at work are beginning to wonder whether I’m from a different planet. I often kick off the silliness by announcing what I’m going to eat:

“I’m having weeds today… anybody wanna try some? I picked them from the garden.”

“You actually eat the weeds??”

“Oh yeah,” I reply. “I actually mulched some of the purslane because it was doing really well. I wanna get some more of that stuff.”

Then comes a few quizzical looks, and the question, “you actually want weeds to grow in your garden??”

“Only the good ones,” I say, smiling. Then the person or people will get a glazed look over their face… and I can tell they don’t really want to know any more.

There is hope for us “weed eaters,” though.  Restaurants, for example, are getting interested in wild foods again; and “weeds” like lamb’s quarters and purslane have gained recognition as valuable additions to various dishes.   Apparently they’re even being sold at local markets!!  One year our daughter confessed that she paid $4.00 / lb for lamb’s quarters.  I couldn’t help but chuckle when I heard that, and told her I had all she would ever need for free.  This year I did try to sell her some at $3.00 / lb; but she wouldn’t take the bait.

Oh well, maybe when I retire I’ll try selling some weeds.  I’ll need the money a lot worse then I’m sure.  I can picture it now… a customer leaves my house in a hurry with a bag full of purslane on the front seat.  They get stopped by the police for speeding, and the officer spies the produce and says, “what’s that on the seat there?”

“Oh nothing officer, I just bought a bag of weeds.”

Tomatoes: Up To Their Necks In Dirt

Finally got the tomatoes in today.  I buy plants from Weesie’s in Montague, Michigan.  They do a great job with starting my tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants for me so I don’t have to worry about it.

One neat trick I’ve learned about tomatoes is to plant them up to their necks in the dirt.  I use a similar method with eggplant and pepper transplants; but the entire stem of the tomato plant will grow roots if given the opportunity.  Because of that, I’ve learned that planting them that way makes a much stronger plant.  I put some pictures for examples below, you can click on each to get a better view.

I always start with a hole that I fill with compost.  Usually go down about a foot, and the hole is a bit over a foot wide.hole for compost - compressed

Next I take my plant and trim all but the very top set of leaves off.  I use my fingernails, but if I don’t have nails I use the scissors that come with my Swiss army knife.  Depending on how long the stem is, I either dig straight down into the compost and place the root ball in the bottom; or else I lay the plant at a slant with the root ball below the surface of the soil a few inches.    The example below shows a small stick i used to lean the tip of the plant on so it will grow straight up.

after trim3 - compressed

After setting the plant where I want it, I cover all but the top set of leaves with soil.  I let the leaves protrude from the surface a bit to allow room for the next and last step, the cutworm collar.   I also water thoroughly at this point… and I’ll water again after the cutworm collar is in place.after trim5 - compressed

If you’ve ever transplanted something in the garden only to find it lying on the ground next to its stem a day or two later; you’ve been the victim of a cutworm’s naughty deed.  These little buggers hide just beneath the soil, and if you find a plant that’s been whacked, it’s likely you can unearth the culprit very near the stem of the plant if you notice the damage quickly enough.  I’ve had this happen once, and since then I’ve always protected tomato, pepper, and eggplant transplants with cutworm collars.

I make cutworm collars from toilet paper tubes.  That’s right, toilet paper tubes!  I start saving them in the fall until I have enough for what I think I’ll need.  To make the collars, I cut slits into one half of the tube.  Then I slide it over the plant so the leaves are just barely sitting over the top of the tube.  To be effective against cutworms, I make sure the tube sits above the soil an inch (2.54 cm) or so.   Then I anchor the tube by brushing soil over the  flaps.  Finally I take some soil and sprinkle it into the tube until it is at soil level (NOT all the way up).  Anchoring the tube with soil is especially important to prevent the tube from being removed on windy days.

OK, done!  Now to repeat the process for the remaining plants.  These days I get fewer tomato plants and space them a little farther apart.  I’m down to 6 plants now, and I space them about 2 “giant steps” apart.  I grow a few different varieties for the fun of it.  This year it’s Cherokee purple (one of my all time favorites), red cherry, red grape, Roma, and an heirloom variety called Stupice.

I’ve also been planting marigolds near tomatoes for some time.  Marigolds help the tomatoes stay strong and the flowers are good for attracting bees.

Fun tip:  I’ve been planting a few onion sets at the base of each tomato plants for several years now.  Since I’ve been doing that, I have had very little disease and absolutely NO tomato worms.

Nothing beats a garden fresh tomato.  Can hardly wait!!

Potato Planting Time!!

Pretty much everyone I know likes potatoes, and gardeners know that the ones that taste the best come out of their own soil.  They are easy and fun to grow; and can be even more fun when growing colored varieties like my personal favorite, Adirondack Blue.  Those things are blue on the outside and the inside!

I practice what’s been called “intensive gardening,” and I am really happy inside when we get a good harvest.  Therefore, every square foot of soil takes some planning in order to get lots of food.   I had to go on the interwebs to be reminded of the spacing, etc. for potatoes, and this is what I did today.

First, I dug a trench with my large hoe (I have two and use the smaller one for weeding).  The recommended depth of planting is 3 to 4 inches, but I planned to put some compost in the trench so I went down about 5 or 6 inches.   Recommended spacing was 1 foot between plants.  That’s easy enough, but I decided to mark where each seed potato would be placed so I could plant some peas and beans in the near future.  I wanted to put the peas and beans near the potatoes but not right on top.  Beans and peas are legumes, so their roots have rhizomes which actually add nitrogen to the soil.  This in turn benefits the potato plants.

The markers I use are dead stalks from my Beautiful Girlfriend’s woodlands sunflowers she grows in her flower bed each year.

step1-dig trench - place markers

Trench with markers. Click the image for a closer view.

After I got the trench dug and marked, I dug into my compost pile and filled my wheelbarrow; then put a partial shovel full of compost next to each marker.   I keep my compost pile covered with leaves to prevent it from drying out.  After digging out what I need, I get more leaves (or whatever other mulch I have) to cover what’s left in the compost pile again to protect it.   When compost dries out, the micro-organisms that keep soil healthy will die; and that of course makes the compost less valuable.

After the compost has been placed by the markers, it’s time to put the seed potatoes in for planting.  I push them into the compost a bit to get that 3 to 4 inch depth I mentioned earlier.  The seed potatoes usually have something sprouting out of them when I plant, so I orient the spuds so those sprouts are pointing upward.  These are sometimes mistaken for roots, but rather they are the shoots that will emerge from the ground and grow leaves.

place spudssprouts pointing upwardFinally, I cover the seed potatoes carefully with the soil that’s been pushed to either side during the trench digging process.  I don’t pack the soil down, the rain will do that for me.

There are lots of different ways to grow potatoes, but I have some room so this method works well for me.  If I had less room, I could always just scale back the amount planted.  One plant can yield up to two pounds of potatoes, so if you just want a taste you can always just throw a couple in the ground for the fun of it.