Friday, April 2, 2010

Planting Potatoes

To grow potatoes, you plant potatoes.  By March, your local garden center should have seed potatoes available.  Seed potatoes are just potatoes that are certified to be disease free.  We've also grown potatoes from the grocery store produce section.  I don't recommend getting them from the grocery store because they are treated to delay the eyes from sprouting.  

Once you've grown your own potatoes, you'll have your own seed potatoes from the previous year's harvest sprouting in the pantry. 

As far as the timing goes, you can plant anytime in the Spring.  If you want to plant really early like in February, don't cut the potatoes.  If you wait until the soil warms, you can cut the potatoes, just be sure to let the cut dry overnight.

Dogs like potatoes

The eyes have sprouted
The plant (stems and leaves) grow from the eye.  

There are a couple ways to plant.  You can plant in a large pot or in the ground.  The potato plant will grow upwards from the potato.  If planting in a pot, put a couple inches of soil in the bottom.  Place the potato in with the eyes pointing up.  Put a couple inches of soil on top.  Allow the plant to grow about 6 inches tall.  Add 3 inches of soil.  As the plant grows keep adding soil until you're within an inch of the rim of the pot.  Potatoes will grow all along the underground stems.  

If you're growing in a bed, create a trench.  Place the potatoes in the bottom with the eyes upwards.  Pull a couple inches of soil over the potatoes.  As they grow, pull more soil around the stems until the trench is full.

The potato tuber stores water, so you shouldn't have to water until we get warm and dry Summer weather.  

Next Topic: Fruit Trees 

Seed Starting- Outdoors

Some seeds are best planted directly into the garden.  Plant cool-season crops in Winter and very early Spring.  We've had a mild Winter so this February & March we planted:

  1. Garlic (from sets)
  2. Bulb Onions (from seeds and sets)
  3. Green Onions (White Bunching Onion)
  4. Leeks
  5. Turnips
  6. Peas
  7. Beets
  8. Bok Choy
  9. Kohl rabi
  10. Radishes
  11. Lettuce

Our local garden center has the sets available in the Fall, but we didn't get around to purchasing any until January.  Luckily they had some left and they were on sale! We planted 3 different kinds.  Of course, I didn't keep track of what variety they are, but I do know what we got a combination of hardnecks and softnecks.  The hardneck variety will produce a flower stem in the middle of the bulb and will not store as long as the softnecks.  The hardneck we got will also mature earlier and be hotter.
Garlic is very cold tolerant and can be planted in the Fall for an early Summer harvest.   Last year, we didn't plant any until March and they were ready in late August.  

Bulb Onions
Onions can be purchased as seeds or sets (little bulbs or bunches of starts).  We have tried all methods.  The first year we did seeds.  We didn't get them started until the middle of Spring and only got small onions.  This year we're trying seeds again.  We started some in the house for transplanting and started some directly outside in early February.  The ones we put directly outside are doing just as well as the ones we transplanted.  We're hoping that we put them out early enough for them to produce good sized bulbs.
Last year, we tried both types of sets.  We bought Yellow Rock and Red onions as little bulbs.  They are available in Fall and Winter.  We planted them in late March last year.  They grew well, but the Red onions bolted (flowered) and so we didn't have many to store.  Once a bulb onion bolts you need to use it right away or the bulb will shrink as the energy is put into flowering (even if you try to cut the flower off.)  The Yellow Onions did great and we were able to store enough to last all Fall and into January.
The onion sets that come as bunches are available in March and sometimes April.  We grew Walla Walla Sweets this way last year.  They turned out awesome!  The ones we planted in very fertile soil grew huge bulbs.  The onions we planted in a less fertile area grew small bulbs.  Onions want plenty of Nitrogen to grow large green tops.  The energy in the tops will then feed the bulbs.
The year we planted more Walla Walla Sweets this way as well as from seed.

Green Onions
We've grown White Bunching Onions and Egyptian Walking Onions.  They last all Winter!  
We grow the White Bunching Onions from seed and they are perennial.  The second year they'll flower and if you let them go, they'll product seeds for you to collect or you can let them drop into the bed and replant themselves.  
The Egyptian Walking Onions we received from a friend.  They grow little bulblets on their tops that fall over and plant themselves.  You can eat the greens or use the little bulbs for cooking.

I'm trying Leeks for the first time this year.  

We grew turnips for the first time this past Fall.  They were easy and delicious. 

We've grown peas with great success the past few years.  We were excited to get an early jump on the season, but we've already had to replant three times. The peas kept disappearing.  We thought it was the birds, so we put wire over them.  Then we tried plastic over them.  Then we tried them in pots outside.  Then we noticed the burrowing.  IT WAS MICE!!!   We placed a trap with peanut butter on it in the bed.  We put a black plastic pot over the trap and weighed it down with a brick so the dogs wouldn't get to the trap.  We made a little burrowed path under the edge of the pot to lead the mice to the trap.  It worked.  Terry trapped four of the little buggers.  
We waited a week and replanted the peas.  They're finally starting to come up.

What is interesting about beets is their funky seeds.  They're actually a seed capsule that contains several seeds.  You'll notice a few plants emerge from each hole.  After they are a couple inches high you'll want to thin them to the strongest one.  Use scissors as to not disturb the roots.  Last year was the first time we grew beets... a Spring crop and a Fall crop.  The Spring crop had problems with leaf miner, the Fall crop didn't.

Bok Choy
A super fast easy crop.  Just try to keep the slugs away.  We use Sluggo which is safe for pets and people.  Also stagger plant, otherwise you'll be overwhelmed.  If you can't keep up with the harvest, let a couple plants go to flower and you can collect the seeds to use next time.

Kohl Rabi
It's related to Brassicas like Broccoli except instead of eating the flower you eat the swollen stem that is round like a baseball.  We slice it and eat it like carrot sticks.  

Super, fast and easy.  Radishes are fun to grow because they germinate very quickly.  The key is to plant them in soil that is somewhat poor.  In the past, we've made the mistake of growing them in soil that has high amounts of Nitrogen from Tagro or manure.  It makes for lots of leaves and little radish.    

We tend to grow mesclun mixes and Romaine lettuce.  The Romaine that we planted in the Fall overwintered as well as did mustard greens.  We put some plastic over the lettuce beds in January and February when we seeded to get them to perk up quicker.  We've been harvesting already for a couple months.  

In Tacoma there is no reason not to grow year round.  Even when we're holed up in the house, veggies can be growing along in the garden.

Next Topic:  Growing Potatoes

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Seed Starting- Indoors

There's nothing that helps you overcome the Winter Blues like planting seeds.  It's like planting a little wish.  

What you need:
  1. Little Pots (used latte cups)
  2. Sharpie/Marker
  3. Sharp thing to make holes in cups (Skewer)
  4. Seedling Mix
  5. Seeds
  6. Plastic tray
  7. Water

 Collect Pots
My husband works in cubicle-land with environmentally minded folks.  When they saw a growing pile of used Starbucks cups in his cube they gave him the evil "why don't you use a reusable mug for your coffee" look.  He would smile and say "oh, I'm saving cups to start vegetable seeds in."  His co-workers' hearts melted and his seed-cup collection grew quickly.  

Being in the PNW and this being a mild winter, we were able to start cool season crop seeds in January.  Things like cabbage, kale, broccoli, onions, parsley and mesclun. 

Poke holes in the bottom of the cups for drainage

Fill pots with soil medium  
There is a variety of seed starting mixes available.  They tend to be more expensive than potting soil so sometimes we make our own mixes.  

The basic ingredients of a seed starting mix are: peat or coir, perlite and vermiculite.
This is very sterile, but not nutritious, so after the seeds poke up we usually add compost.

Leave room at the top of the cups for watering and sprinkling extra compost in later.

Plant seeds

Sprinkle seeds in the cups according to the instructions on the back of the package.  Either poke a hole and drop a seed in or sprinkle the seeds in the cup and sprinkle soil on top.

Label your pots!!!
We like to write the name and date.

Put cups on a waterproof tray
We set the cups into a clear plastic bin (we use the type made for storing things under your bed).  It is shallow, long and narrow.  Perfect for setting on our window seat.

Place the tray of cups into a sunny window and water 

Keep the soil moist, but not drenched

After the seedlings emerge they'll usually have a long stem before their first set of leaves.  Fill soil in around the stem below the leaves to help make the seedling sturdier.

In late February we started tomato, pepper, eggplant and herb seeds in cups.

Next Topic:  Seed Starting- Outdoors