Saturday, March 18, 2017

Not-Quite-Spring-Yet Gardening

My favorite spring comic by Dan Piraro.
Spring is showing up early this year.  The grass is already getting green.  I noticed a neighbor might actually have to mow this weekend or next.  It's kinda crazy.  But, we all know what spring really means.

Gardening.  Yup.  That's right.  Early spring gardening.

This last winter, I discovered a new YouTube channel called Hollis & Nancy's Homestead.  I was hooked from the first video.  Hollis & Nancy are in Virginia which is a couple of USDA hardiness zones warmer than mine.  But, I don't need to be in Dixie to glean a ton of useful information about things I already grow as well as learn a bunch of stuff about things I don't grow (yet).  I'm also learning a little about Asian cuisine through Nancy's Asian/Redneck Fusion cooking videos.  While I don't agree entirely with the way Hollis does all of his gardening, I can't deny that his methods seem to fill their larder and their freezer pretty darn well.

Plus, he's given me a few new ideas.  For one, I'm going to grow potatoes in big containers!

I know, I know.  Growing potatoes in containers is not a new thing.  I've even tried it before with dire consequences.  However, after watching the videos tracking his potatoes from planting to harvesting, Hollis has convinced me to try it again.  I can see where I went wrong before and I'm ready to go again.  I have five kinds of potatoes to plant this year:

  1. Red Norland: Classic, red skin potato
  2. Russet Norkotah:  They make good baked potatoes 
  3. Magic Molly I:  A fingerling potato that is either blue or purple.  It's hard to tell from the picture.
  4. Pinto Gold I:  Another fingerling potato with gold flesh and red skin with gold patches.
  5. Yukon Rose:  A gold potato with red skin.  Honestly?  We had these with fried chicken last week and they were so good!  I just took a few from the bag I bought at the grocery store.  I have them in the window and I hope they chit.

As usual, the packaging that accompanies the seed potatoes I chose is not terribly forthcoming with information.  Through Hollis, however, I have learned that, like their kin tomatoes, there are basically two kinds of potatoes: determinate which set and yield their fruit pretty much all at once and indeterminate which will continue to fruit until the plant just dies.  Indeterminate potatoes are difficult to locate in my neck of the woods as there aren't a lot of indeterminate varieties to start with.  So, mine are all determinate.  What's the big deal?  Well, I'll tell you.  It has to do with 'hilling'.

Ask any old timer you know who has grown potatoes and he'll tell you that you gotta hill 'em up as they grow so you'll get a better yield.  Well, yes and no.  For determinate type potatoes, the hilling in question does more to prevent the potatoes from being exposed to sunlight and thus producing chlorophyll and turning green than actually producing more potatoes.  There's an old wives tale that holds that green potatoes are poisonous.  They do contain a toxin called solanine which can cause headaches and bellyaches if you consume enough.  However, it is unlikely that you could consume enough by eating green potatoes to actually be dangerous to your health.  That said, I would always recommend NOT eating the green ones.  They don't taste as good anyway.

'Hilling' indeterminate potatoes will increase your yield not only by eliminating green potatoes, but by actually growing more potatoes along the stem. By incrementally burying the stems as they grow, you will encourage the potato plants to create more 'stolons' which are where the baby potatoes are born and raised.  Hollis does an excellent job of explaining this in this video here. As both he and I can attest, doing this to determinate varieties does not work.

Thanks to Hollis & Nancy, I'm trying a couple of new vegetables this year.  One of them is Watermelon Radish.  It's basically a GIANT white and green radish that is reddish pink on the inside.  Hollis swears it's not hot at all.  Nancy makes a couple of interesting dishes with it.  So, I'm in.  Let's try it this year.

Also new to the garden this year is Chamoe or Korean melon.  Since I don't read Korean, I had to hunt pretty hard online to find the seeds, but I finally did find some on eBay.  I plan to grow them on a trellis as Hollis has done in his garden.  I must say I am really looking forward to seeing how they do in my zone 5b garden.  If they do well, I plan to save some seed for next year.

Well, that's it for today.  I have a lot to do in the garden after all.  I didn't get much done last fall before the weather got too cold for my liking.  It's just as well spring is a little early this year.  That gives me more time to get ready!

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