let kids watch beauty and the beast

Starting seed potatoes and why we do it on Good Friday

Seed potatoes are traditionally planted on Good Friday, so I thought I’d share a potato post for anyone thinking about planting potatoes this spring.

why we plant seed potatoes on Good Friday

Also, I would like to note that this whole planting potatoes on Good Friday thing is just a tradition dating to way back when. Way back when, potatoes were a rather new thing in Europe. Way back when, Irish Protestants were not so fond of potatoes as they are now. In fact, way back when, they sort of had this idea that potatoes shouldn’t be eaten because they weren’t mentioned in the Bible. Irish Catholics skirted the issue by planting them on Good Friday, thereby baptizing the little spuds and making them holy. So now both Protestant and Catholic Irishman are well known for their love of potatoes. And the rest of us are stuck planting them on Good Friday and not even knowing why.

Or so I’ve read.

Either way, the whole Good Friday thing has nothing to do with what is best for the potato. But if you plant on any other day, every single person you mention it to will let you know that potatoes are to be planted on Good Friday. Nevermind the fact that the date varies every year. And that some Good Fridays we could be under a foot of snow.

Potatoes are to be planted on Good Friday and that is all.

But first you need a seed potato.

seed potato

Seed potatoes are potatoes set aside from the previous year’s harvest for the purpose of putting them back in the ground to start new potato plants. They aren’t seeds at all. But they haven’t been dusted with chemicals like most potatoes in the store which prevents them from forming eyes.

They should look healthy and almost like something you’d like to eat if it weren’t for all the eyes looking back at you. They should not be shriveled up sorry looking things that were thrown in a bucket at the front of the store in hopes that someone who knew nothing about seed potatoes would be attracted by the price and buy them anyway.

Last year, that someone was me. I was never all that interested in planting potatoes. We eat a lot of potatoes but they just don’t cost that much. Why bother? But then we moved out here and with 3000 square feet in my garden, why not throw in a couple of potatoes? Half of them never sprouted. But the ones that did? Oh my were they delicious. And I also found out that you can start harvesting new potatoes as soon as the flowers disappear. And that you can continue harvesting potatoes until they’re gone. You don’t have to wait until the plant dies back in the fall. That’s only necessary if you want to prepare them for storage. And if you lay down enough mulch, theoretically you can store them right there in the ground. I thought, “How cool is that? I can harvest potatoes all year long and not worry about storing a single one!”

So this year we have twice as many. And I started with healthy looking seed potatoes that start arriving in stores a little before Good Friday.

After you’ve collected all your healthy seed potatoes, it is time to cut them. Each cut should be at least two inches and have a couple of eyes.

seed potato with eyes

Those eyes, by the way, form the plant, not the root. Cutting your seed potatoes not only gives you more plants for less money, it actually makes each plant healthier. If you did not cut your seed potates, each of those eyes would try to become a plant, resulting in potatoes with a lot of vegetative growth, but not a lot of actual potatoes.

So cut them. Unless they are small to begin with and only contain a couple of eyes. Those can be planted whole.

After cutting all your potatoes, you need to spread them out and find a cool place to store them for at least two days.

preparing seed potatoes

This allows the cut to scab over and “heal.” A tough surface develops that will make your little cut potato pieces more resistant to soil borne illness, mold and just turning to mush in moist soil after planting.

When they are suitably hardened off, it is time to plant them. Usually, you plant them cut side down a few inches deep with at least a foot between each plant. After the plants come up, you hill another 6 to 8 inches of soil on top of them to keep the potatoes nice and deep and out of the sun. We plant them just beneath the surface and then mulch with 6 inches of straw.

Then, when those first new potatoes are ready, we pull back the straw and enjoy garden fresh potatoes whose skins are so soft and tender they are somewhat prone to washing off right along with the dirt.

And yes, my potatoes are already in the ground. And yes, I know that I’m supposed to wait until Good Friday.

let kids watch beauty and the beast

Triumph and defeat in the garden

I’ve never had much luck with starting seeds indoors. Every year I look at the cost of a packet of seeds in comparison to started plants at the nursery and decide to try again. And every year I think that in future I should save the money and frustration and just plan to buy the started plants at the nursery in future.

That whole damping off thing is a killer. Of plants, of gardening enthusiasm, of all my vague dreams of harvesting my own seeds in the fall to start the following spring.

This year was going to be different. This year I started with heirloom varieties, partially because of that vague dream of saving my own seeds, and partially just because I like the stories behind them. It’s like planting a little piece of agricultural history as you read that the corn you are planting was the first yellow corn found acceptable for human consumption.

This year I planted them with much more soil and did away with the flimsy plastic greenhouse cover in favor of monitoring the moisture daily with my finger.

This year I had nowhere to go during those most critical days of a newly sprouted seedling. In years past, it was often a weekend away that resulted in too much or too little moisture for wee little sprouts who barely poked their heads out of the soil before returning to it.

This year my seedlings grew. Thrived, even.

If it weren’t for Abby, the herbicidal cat, and Pepper, the pepper killer, I’d likely have had more tomatoes and peppers than I knew what to do with. As it was, I had seven tomato plants and twelve pepper plants sitting in their containers. Outgrowing their containers. Begging me to move them to the garden.

My husband and I sat down with some old fencing we found in the barn and made cages for the tomatoes. I wanted them to get just a little bigger, just a little more resistant to goose nibbles and rabbit munches. I wanted them to live.

I found a strange pleasure in buying tomatoes and peppers at the store. Every time I looked over the pinkish tomatoes, not quite finished with their ripening after being picked green in California or Chile or somewhere else warmer than Nebraska, I thought of vine ripened sweetness from my own garden. Every time I winced at the price of green peppers and thought of breaking down and buying them frozen, I thought of fresh abundance in my harvest basket.

Then planting day came.

Then a storm came.

I carefully plucked the tomato leaves out of the muck and propped them against the bottom wire of their cage so they could dry out. The peppers seemed to savor the rain. I thought all was well.

Then a real storm came.

A storm with wind that shook the house. A storm that forced rain under a section of the roof which proceeded to pour down the bathroom wall and into the basement. A storm with hail. Quarter sized hail that flattened the corn, drove the tomatoes back into the muck and broke the spirit of the pepper plants that seemed so joyful the day before. By afternoon, it was clear the tomatoes and peppers were dead. The corn I’m still not sure about, but it persists in looking healthy, even if it is growing at a 45 degree angle.

Today, I took no pleasure in buying two tomatoes and a green pepper.

Buying started plants was like an admission of defeat.

Who knew a simple vegetable garden could be such an emotional roller coaster?

let kids watch beauty and the beast

The importance of site selection in organic gardening

I feel like I’m sort of stating the obvious here, but sometimes the obvious needs to be said.

You know those plant tags that come stuck in the soil of potted plants? They’re there for a reason. They tell you really neat things like how often your plant wishes to be fertilized, whether it likes sunny locations or prefers shade, and whether it likes acidic soil or something more neutral.

You can even find out things like that on a seed packet. It is amazing all the information that comes packed in such a small space.

I know people pretty much want to do what they want to do. We want to stay up late, so we invent light bulbs and caffeine and then complain of insomnia. We have a spot in the yard that needs a bit of color so we plant a rose bush, never mind the giant oak tree shading out even the most tolerant of grasses. Then we spend the life of the plant researching pests and disease and figure we just aren’t cut out for roses when it finally succumbs.

Now, when you begin to plant, you have a choice: Follow the instructions and have a pretty good chance at a healthy plant, or stick it wherever you want and guarantee seasons of fighting pest and disease because the plant isn’t getting what it needs from the day you put it in the ground.

The people who owned our last house before us were obviously gardeners. The property was full of irises, peonies, tiger lillies, roses, tulips and many other lovely plants. Some of them I still can’t identify, but they were beautiful.

Still, they stuck the tiger lillies under the water spout where they only got a few hours of sun each day. They limped along, with crinkled foliage, and crinkled flowers that bloomed weeks after our neighbor’s show was over. I moved them over to my butterfly garden to provide a bit of a windbreak and they did better there the year they were transplanted than they ever had before.

This property, on the other hand, was left vacant for at least two years. Weeds had taken over all the flower beds, and waist high grasses hid the flower beds from view. Even with years of neglect, an abundance of flowers have fought their way through the tangled mess of weeds to give us quite a show and the encouragement to help them a little in their struggle.

Because they started out healthy and were given every chance to succeed, they’re coping with a little hardship. Whether that is weeds, a dry spell or an insect attack doesn’t matter. A healthy plant has its own natural defenses.

Seriously. After selecting the right cultivars for your area, planting it according to the directions is the most important factor in a healthy plant and a healthy plant is the key to not needing an abundance of chemicals to help the plant along.

For more on beginning organic gardening, well, it’s a whole series! Just click the link or the button at the beginning of the entry!

let kids watch beauty and the beast

Free chicken treats, or Organic June bug control

I left the children’s water table under a porch light the other night and woke to my walkway carpeted with June bugs.

I thought what any chicken owner would think: FREE FOOD!

My chickens were delighted. So the next night I made sure the water table was parked there and placed a bucket under our other porch light. Suddenly I’m motivated to fix the other two outdoor lights we have.

What’s more, June bugs are a bit of a pest, defoliating shrubs and trees in early spring. By mid summer, their grubs are ready to start damaging your lawn and even your vegetable patch.

A healthy lawn is usually able to handle a mild attack of June bug larva, but they can become a problem when conditions are dry (as they usually are here in Nebraska come August) or if the larva population is just too large. My chickens are doing their part to keep the numbers under control!

I may even go sweep up all the beetles that crash land on my sidewalk and patio. I think they’ll store nicely in a bucket until morning.

let kids watch beauty and the beast

Preparing the garden

First, we planned a beautiful garden on paper. A garden that would provide a significant source of food for our family. A garden big enough that we’re going to have to buy another freezer to store the harvest in, if we ever get the harvest planted.

Then we plowed. It was April. A little late to get started since I had snow peas, lettuce and spinach that were all good to go in the ground. But to plow, you need a tractor and a plow and that all takes time.

Then it rained. It rained so much that Nebraska’s wheat harvest is struggling with mold and fungus issues.

As the last frost date quickly approached, I wondered if we would be able to get the garden tilled in time to even get in the carrots.

Then we had a late freeze. A late freeze that took out between 40 and 60% of Nebraska’s sugar beet crop. I learned that having a garden, even if it is just sitting there waiting for you to do something with it, makes you pay attention to the news and the weather report in a different way.

Finally, we gave up on the idea of purchasing a disc harrow for the tractor and decided to rent a tiller. But we still had to wait for it to stop raining.

It finally did. For three days in a row. On the third day, the ground was dry enough to till.

Then we waited for the rain so we could plant.

And waited.

And waited.

And finally bought a hose.

I planted 100 square feet of corn as the sun went down, approximately 1/4 of what is planned for this garden. Today, the goal is to finish the corn and the beans.

As much work as planting is . . . well, I’m trying not to think about what the harvest will be like.

At least I’ll have help with the weeding.

Check out more Saturday on the Farm posts at Linda’s Lunacy!