Tag Archives: potatoes

Visiting the Early February Garden

In the wintertime, I rarely take the opportunity to visit my Northeastern Ohio vegetable garden. This is doubly true in February, as this month is when I often forget I even have a garden. So on a cold, partly cloudy, early February Sunday afternoon, I breached my protocol and took a backyard tour.

Early February 2017 Garden
Early February 2017 Garden

Temperatures hovered in the low 40s, which I have to admit is mild for this time of year. I’d actually been out digging in the dirt a few weeks ago when we got up into the 60s. Why would one be working a shovel during a notoriously slow garden period? To dig up some food, silly. I purposely left potatoes, turnips and Jerusalem artichokes underground to store them. The earth is a much better place to keep these root vegetables from going bad than the refrigerator or the basement. Looking around, those uncovered places were now a dark rich brown. Everywhere else I inspected, the ground was covered with plants or other mulch, just as I planned it.

Garlic Under Straw
Garlic Under Straw

My garden design employs a blanket of organic material, whether it is fall leaves or common weeds. Covered soil is happy soil. Even in this bleak winterscape, the soil is alive with activity, albeit slowed down by the cold. I observed green even underneath the blobs of snow that dotted my raised beds and garden paths. Of course this green was not the bright vivid green of spring, but a dull representative of a future only a month or two away. After closer examination, I discovered some living leaves to sample. The citrus taste of lemon balm, the bitter garlic of garlic mustard, the spinach tang of Swiss chard, and the distinct flavor of oregano all reminded me that warmer weather was around the corner. The straw-mulched garlic peeked out from its blanket, becoming greener by the day.

Garlic Peeking Out
Garlic Peeking Out

Gazing around my semi-frozen field, I realized I had left plenty of untouched vegetable remains as tributes to fall’s frosts. Dead pepper plants stood blackened, as they can’t withstand even a touch of cold. Lamb’s quarters branch towards the sky, spreading their millions of tiny seeds with every winter blast. Tomato vines, long dead, twine through my fencing, reminding me to start their seeds soon for summer planting. Again, leaving these all here was done intentionally, as overwintering “good guy” insects need spaces to hide and survive.

As I returned to my house with numb hands and eyes squinting from the unusual bright sun, my thoughts turned to my perennials, as those need less care and return year after year. Strawberries were visible, even now, though it would be April or May before I’d see flowers. My Egyptian walking onions, so named because they spread themselves around the garden, were weak but present. The sage sat with a few leftover leaves on top like helicopter blades. Twelve-foot high Jerusalem artichoke stalks whipped in the winds, each one marking a treasure trove of calories and fiber we will enjoy this spring. Even the infant trees (maples, walnut, and honey locust) which coexist with my annuals made their presence known, though they all were still hibernating. I guess it takes a gardener to truly see what the future holds for this mostly brown dull rectangle of possibilities.

How to Grow Potatoes in Clay Soil

The Snarky Gardener loves growing potatoes even though heavy clay soil dominates his region of Northeastern Ohio.

New potatoes
New potatoes

I recently came across an article on the Internet about growing potatoes in the garden from the Penn State Extension Office. I decided to read through it even though I’ve been successfully growing them for the last 10 years or so. According to this article (much to my chagrin), I’ve been doing it wrong this whole time.

Potatoes mulched with fall leaves
Plants mulched with fall leaves

“Potatoes grow best in soil that is well drained, loose and high in organic matter. Soil that is too sandy, rocky, or clay is not good for potatoes.”

This is true, but we don’t always have perfect conditions. My research found mention of taters being used to break up clay soil back in the day, especially in areas previously covered with grass. I believe the process of hilling up soil and organic materials around the growing plants assists in the soil building process. I’ve used both straw and fall leaves to cover the stems with nice results.

“The soil should be tilled at least 10 inches deep or double shoveled and raked. The PH for growing potatoes is 5.5 to 6.0 which is lower than most vegetables as potatoes favor a more acid soil.”

Um – normally I don’t till and all this shoveling and raking sounds like work to me. Usually I just dig a small hole or run my hoe down east and west to make a furrow. Then I drop seed taters in and cover them up with soil and/or leaf mulch. As for pH, it’s never been a major concern for my little gardening mind.

“Last years potatoes or grocery store potatoes should not be used as seed potatoes, use only certified seed potatoes which are state inspected.”

This rule is usually not broken unless I have spouted stored potatoes and extra ground to bury them in. I’ve been known to plant a potato variety I’ve seen at the farmer’s market if I haven’t seen anywhere else. This being said, my recommendation is to buy certified seed whenever you can.

Potatoes need 1.5  inches of water per week, more during dry spells. Do not water from above but by drip irrigation or soaker hose. Weeding potatoes is essential to disease and pest control, however you can grow potatoes using plastic mulch. The mulch can be cut with a bulb planter every 12 inches and hand planted in rows about 18 inches apart. Drip irrigation works well with this method of planting.

As a rule, I don’t water my garden unless we are in a drought. Spuds I’ve grown in the past seem to have survived just fine without the water. Hoeing and hilling the dirt around the potatoes keeps weeds down naturally. Also, I’m not one to use non-organic materials for mulch, but if you want to, be my guest.

“Potatoes can get early blight which are small circular brown spots with a target like spot in the middle. This will kill plants and is caused by plant debris overwintering in the bed you plant them. Plant rotation is extremely important with potatoes. Do not grow in the same bed for 4 years. Clean up the garden in fall.”

I try to keep from growing members of the nightshade family (tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, eggplants, and ground cherries) in the same place for 3 years, which is the minimum time suggested by most experts. I’m not always able to accomplish this as I grow A LOT of tomatoes and taters. To keep this all straight, I utilize GrowVeg.com planner software. This platform lets me know if I’ve grown something from the same family in a specific spot in the last 3 years. I don’t always take the advice (especially with legumes like beans and peas) but the Nightshade family does get my respect.

“Common Scab is caused by a bacteria that can be in the soil for a long time, even when potatoes were not planted  in that spot. The main cause is decomposing material such as vegetable matter not cleaned up. Using an acid based fertilizer can sometimes help, or find another place to plant.”

The Snarky Gardener’s tubers were infected with common scab a few season’s back. They tasted just fine, but it was a concern. After reading up on the subject and doing a soil test the following year, I traced the problem down to high pH (7.4). I haven’t planted nightshades in that area since and haven’t seen scab on my taters grown in other places either.

Mulching potatoes with straw
Mulching potatoes with straw

My takeaways from the Penn State Extension Office article:

I’ve been growing potatoes in our Northeastern Ohio clay for the past decade. Besides a small common scab issue, I’ve had little to no problems. I do appreciate advice given by people who have WAY more experience and knowledge than the Snarky Gardener. The article was written from the “maximizing potato output” point-of-view. My gardening designs lean towards minimizing labor, soil disturbance (“low-till”) and “outside my property” inputs. This means I might not get the biggest or best harvests, but I will always get something. And isn’t that the goal of every gardener?

I’ve also learned that I don’t follow instructions well (never have, never will). For me, gardening is as much art as it science. If we aren’t allowed to try our own systems and practices, the fun of the garden is removed. And I’m all about having a great time out in my yard, even if it’s hard work sometimes. Nothing beats growing plants, harvesting produce, and eating meals created with food that you grew (even if you are not following the directions).

By the way, here’s a really cool Ruth Stout interview including her planting potatoes. It doesn’t get any easier than that.

The Snarky Gardener’s Beginning Vegetable Gardening Video

On April 21, 2016, the Snarky Gardener gave a presentation on vegetable gardening for beginners at the Kent (Ohio) Free Library. The audio isn’t the greatest, but hopefully you’ll gain some new information.

Subjects covered:
1. Gardening Definitions
2. Plant Families
3. Easiest to Grow Veggies
4. Gardening Advice

Here’s the video of my dog that didn’t work:

Turkey Cottage Pie with Sunchokes and Turnips

The Snarky Gardener welcomes Brooke the Cook to the blog. She has created a recipe to use up his abundance of sunchokes, potatoes, and turnips.

SONY DSC

Photo Credit: gkdavie cc

Turkey Cottage Pie: is it a shepherd’s pie or pot pie?

Inspired by the bounty of root vegetables at Snarky Acres, this recipe combines the rich filling of a shepherd’s pie (sans sheep), the abundance of turkey left-overs available after the holidays, and is topped with low-glycemic white root vegetables to balance the body.

sunchoketubers

I recommend pairing this delicious casserole with a side of steamed asparagus or green beans, and a fresh salad of mixed greens.
Serves 6.

Ingredients:

  • 4-5 cups root vegetables (choose low GI: (Jerusalem artichoke/sunchoke, celeriac, white turnip)
  • 1 potato (see note below)
  • 2 stalks celery
  • 2 carrots
  • 1 large onion
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1 cup sweet peas, fresh or frozen
  • 1lb / 450g turkey
  • 1/2 tsp thyme
  • 1/2 tsp chilli powder or reduced sodium Old Bay spice
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup flour (all purpose, gluten free or chickpea)
  • 1 cup white wine (or filtered water)

Topping

  1. Roughly chop the root vegetables and potato. Boil in 3 cups of water until soft (15-20 minutes). Partially drain and set aside.

Note: Russet potatoes will give it a lighter-fluffier mash. Yukon Gold will give a smooth but heavy texture. Red or white skin potatoes can quickly turn gummy. For the best texture use a masher. Do not use a mixer or it will go gummy.

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Filling

  1. Finely dice the carrot, onion, garlic and celery. Sauté for 5-7 minutes, or until soft. Sprinkle flour and add wine and spices. Stir well and cook for 3-5 minutes more. Set aside in a dutch oven or oven-proof casserole dish.
  2. Scramble fry ground turkey, drain. If using left-over roast turkey, chop finely 1-2 cups and pan fry 3-5 minutes to warm. Add the turkey to the vegetables. Note: For a vegetarian option, replace the turkey with 1-2 cups of cooked lentils and/or quinoa, combined.

Assembly

  1. Mash root vegetables with a pinch of salt. Beat until smooth. Spoon evenly over the filling. Bake 40 min at 375F. Let stand 5 min.
  2. Serve with steamed asparagus or green beans, and a salad.

What’s your favourite way to use up left-over turkey?

In health and friendship,
Brooke

Brooke loves to cook, hence the nickname. She is passionate about eating for pleasure and nutrition. Her recipes are health-conscious, though she does enjoy a satisfyingly-rich dessert. If you like what you read, please leave a comment below and subscribe for new recipes at weekbyweek.ca.

Shade Gardening in Northeastern Ohio

A shade covered yard shouldn’t keep you from growing your own food.

Snarky Acres in the shade
Snarky Acres in the shade

Not everyone is lucky enough to have a sunny plot. Trees are great to climb and sit under, but not so much if you want grow vegetables. The first question you should ask yourself is “How much and what kind of shade do you have?” Not all shade is the same. Dappled shade under a tall tree is not equal to total shade on the north side of a building. There are several ways to determine how much sun you have on a given site.  If you are more technological, there are devices that will give you an exact reading, like the Suncalc Sunlight Calculator.  Just pop it into the ground in the morning on a sunny day (which isn’t always available here in Northeast Ohio), and by evening, it will tell you how much sunlight you have at that specific spot. I would recommend setting a phone alarm on your phone to remind you to pick it up at the end of the day. I once forgot about it for several days and thought a mushroom had popped up in the yard until I had a flash of memory.

Here is Suncalc’s definition of full sun through full shade:

Full Sun 6+
›Partial Sun at least 4 hours up to 6
›Partial Shade 1.5 to 4
›Full Shade less than 1.5 hours

Stick it into the ground at your site in the morning, and by evening you'll know how much sunlight you have.
Stick it into the ground at your site in the morning, and by evening you’ll know how much sunlight you have.

Another way to determine how much shade you have is to observe the current plants growing in your yard (including weeds). Both violets and ground ivy (shown below) are indicators you have at least partial shade (if not more sunlight). If the spot in question has issues even growing grass, you probably don’t have enough sun. Just remember that different times of the year will have different amounts of sunlight. For instance, in the spring before the trees leaf out will have much more sun than in the summer.

If you don’t have the time or patience to just observe the site, try some limited trial plantings in pots first. I’d also advise starting with the 2 to 4 hour veggies listed down below, especially the leafy greens.  If those are successful, you can then try plants that need more sun.

violet
Violets
Ground Ivy or Creeping Charlie
Ground Ivy or Creeping Charlie

›Front Yard Herb Shade Garden

My shade perennial herb garden receiving its one hour of direct light of the day
My shade perennial herb garden receiving its one hour of direct light of the day

2 to 4 hours
Herbs – Chives, Cilantro,Garlic,Lemon Balm, Mint, Oregano,Parsley,Thyme
Asian greens – bok choi, komatsuna, tatsoi
Mesclun
Mustard/Turnip Greens
Scallions
Arugula
Lettuce/mache
Kale
Spinach/Chard

4 to 5 hours
›Peas/beans – bush
›Root veg – beets, carrots, potatoes, radishes, turnips
Swiss chard with stalks

More than 6 hours per day
Tomatoes
Peppers
Eggplants
Corn
Squashes

Identify and Utilize Your Current Weeds

One possibility you probably didn’t think of is identifying and eating your yard weeds (of course only if you don’t spray chemicals on your lawn). Many of the “weeds” we despise are actually edible and good for you. Dandelions are an excellent example of this. The leaves (in the spring), flowers,  and roots all can be eaten. I have a complete list at “Northeastern Ohio Edible Garden Weeds

Mushrooms

Mushrooms are another solution you may not thought of. There are plenty of kits on the Internet that allow you to grow mushrooms under your trees, in your yard, on logs, or even inside your house!