Monday, April 20, 2009

How to Drown Your Potatoes in One Easy Step

I have been busy gardening even if I haven’t been busy blogging about it! I’ve gotten my straw bales planted with five peppers, three tomatoes, one cucumber, one watermelon and some nasturtiums for added interest. To plant the peppers and tomatoes, I dug a hole in the straw twice as wide and twice as deep as the containers they came in. Well, ‘dug’ is a misnomer. I used a trowel to loosen the straw and then pulled it out by handfuls until I had a hole the size I wanted. It was slow, tedious work. Then I filled the holes with a 50-50 mix of topsoil and composted cow manure, sprinkled with a bit of soil inoculant. I used the straw I ‘dug’ out of the bales as mulch on my lasagna beds, so that was a bonus. I did notice that the bales are already showing signs of breaking down – I’m hoping they’ll last this season and almost certain they won’t last for a second. In all truth, it seems like doing things the hard way – sticking the plants in the ground would have been easier. But I didn’t have a suitable piece of ground to use, so the straw bales are serving a purpose. Once the bales were planted, I topped them with a soaker hose strung through some tile bricks I had lying around. The hose goes under the stairs, where the shade preferring potatoes and horseradish are planted, then winds its way through the lasagna beds – good system if I do say so myself. I may go with a timer for the hose eventually, but for now I can turn it on manually, walk way, and come back with the plants have had enough. Only I have to remember to come back, which I didn’t last time – hours later, I heard the water running and figured out why . . . .

On other fronts, I finished planting my third lasagna bed – ginger (which I ordered from Gurney’s – paid quite a bit for a tiny sliver – won’t do that again), a banana tree which came from a plant I just divided, and peanuts. I also planted my potato barrel. Hmmm.

Okay, the potato barrel. The idea is super: plant potatoes in a barrel and as they grow, add more soil --which increases the yield. When the season is over, dump out the barrel and pick up the liberated spuds – no digging, no potential for damaging the tater skins. Sounded great, so I bought a very suitable container at Wal-mart, had my husband drill the bottom with as many holes as possible, then mixed equal parts of peat moss, soil and compost as a planting medium. The potatoes (purchased from Burpee’s for more than I should have paid) had been languishing in their plastic baggie for way too long. When I bought them, I didn’t realize three things – one is that they are a cool weather plant, two, that the planting season in Florida ends in March, and three, that I wouldn’t find time to plant them for a while. One of the potatoes had already started to rot and the others were sprouting, but, hey, this is an experimental garden, right? It’s not so much about growing potatoes as it is about learning from my experience, mistakes and all. So the potatoes got planted and then I watered. Guess what? The water didn’t drain . . . well, it did, but very, very slowly. I’ve let the potato barrel dry somewhat and I’m going to dump it out and start over. I may kill my little sprouts in the process, but I’m almost certain that if I leave as is they will drown in our next big rainfall. When I redo, I’m going to crush some tin cans and put them in the bottom to improve drainage (oops, meant to do that the first time and forgot), then I’m going to mix some of our sand into the planting mix. Our sand is quite alkaline and potatoes like acid soil, so I’ll throw in some ironite to balance the PH. Then we’ll see how they do.

In the meantime, I’ve been reading, reading, reading. I’ve ordered a slew of books and getting ready to order more. As I have time, I’ll try to provide some book reviews. LOTS of fantabulous information out there! So much to learn, so little time!!