Previous Capers

Saturday, October 29, 2011

17 Pounds of Potatoes in a 50 Gallon Tub

This year I planted the potatoes a little differently than I did last year. They went into the claw foot tub as usual, but instead of just poking them down a few inches I dug out 2/3rd's of the soil and then planted the potatoes. I stored the excess soil in garbage cans to use later. When the potatoes sprouted their foliage several leaf layers above the soil, I added more soil up to just below the top leaves. When they grew more, I added more soil until they reached the top of the tub. I would then usually mulch with straw, but the foliage was so dense I couldn't adequately add it, so skipped that part this year. When the foliage died back I harvested.

I got quite a few potatoes this year, more red than whites. The main problem I'm facing when harvesting is damaging the potatoes with my shovel. Some of them got sliced in the process. When I use a fork, they got skewered. I attribute this problem to having to dig in close quarters. Of course, I also had some escapees in the process (pictured above). However, I received some great advice from a gardening cohort on how to grow potatoes when you don't have huge amounts of plantable area in the ground. Garbage cans. What a great solution; potatoes grown in a vertical garden!

Next year I'm procuring a classic style garbage can for each variety of potato I plan to plant. I'm using galvanized cans, not those flimsy plastic things made out of petroleum products. Some folk use old tires. Although it is seemingly a good way to re-purpose some of the zillions of old tires that pollute our environment, the thought of planting something I'm going to eat in a petroleum product that God knows has what nasty chemicals leaking out, doesn't sound that organically appealing.

To plant the cans, it's important to have good drainage. I'll be drilling 3-4 drain holes in the bottom of each can and then elevating them on some bricks. I'll start with a foot of soil on the bottom of each can and then plant the potatoes. As with the tubs, I'll add soil as the potatoes grow taller. You'll need to fill a couple of extra cans with soil to use later or have a tarp covered pile stashed somewhere. When the potatoes are ready to harvest, I'll simply push the cans over to spill onto tarps and pick out the potatoes. Skewering and slicing problem solved. Just you and a friend pick up the soil with the tarp and pore it back into storage.

I'm not using potting soil (way too expensive) but an organic planting mix with plenty of compost to keep it fluffy and to add nutrients. A good organic phosphorus based fertilizer mixed in such as, fish bone meal will help increase the yield.

One last tidbit of advice: urban gardeners, keep your cans well away from the sidewalk so dogs don't get tempted and pedestrians don't toss things into them you wouldn't want to eat. Even with the lids off, one never knows, as the cans will be fairly empty looking for awhile.

Come next spring's planting season, I'll let you know how this technique is working.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Garden Coaching: The Hybridization of Filers and Pilers

Since I've gotten into the horticulture game, I've been made aware of a fairly recent phenomenon; garden coaching. Now, the imagery that comes to mind are pot-bellied plant geeks with clip boards hovering over the gardener yelling encouragement over how to plant zinnias. Cheerleaders with giant dahlia-like pom-poms are doing their cheerleader thing on the sidelines. In reality, garden coaches are rather an outdoor version of indoor organization coaches; helping gardeners clear the clutter of their beds and come up with creative ways to use what they've got to work with. People pay big bucks for the advice.

Last year I wrote about the difference between filers and pilers in the garden world ( I think a major amount of a garden coach's clientele are pilers. Filers may hire a coach as a desire to balance their lives with some piling attributes such as, lightening up about gardening. Pilers want to incorporate filer attributes such as, incorporating some order into a hodgepodge called a mixed border. The concept of mixed borders must have been invented by pilers.

Pilers often can't make up their minds because they want everything and are subject to impulse buys at the nursery. They just know that they can fit that fancy new cultivar somewhere. It's hard for pilers to edit out plants. They gravitate towards an Italian style that one of my hort. instructor calls "Oneofeachie."

Filers can't make up their minds in fear of making the wrong choices. They're often so worried about making the wrong choices, they often do, at least in their minds. I usually get free plants from filers. I only get free plants from pilers after they've seen a garden coach. I guess that makes me a piler. Guilty as charged.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Fiddling with Filderkraut

This year I was so intently focused on the fact that our tomatoes actually turned red, I rather neglected other crops in the garden. Almost daily, I zipped by the bed of brassicas as three cabbage plants got bigger and bigger. I had planted a variety of cabbage called Filderkraut last spring. The Territorial Seed package description states:

This arrow-shaped variety was bred for the cold regions of Europe so that self-reliant gardeners could make batches of sauerkraut for winter consumption.

I liked the idea of an "arrow-shaped" cabbage; the ones in the stores are mostly round with the exception of Napa cabbage. We are also rather self-reliant, I guess, even in an urban environment. We're probably more self-defiant than anything. We both have 'Kraut' genes, too. The problem is, neither of us eats that much sauerkraut, even though Roland is Swiss. In fact, he doesn't eat cheese, mustard, vinegar, mayo, or salad dressings either - but that's another post. In spite of these noble brassica's original purpose, I was thinking more along the line of making soups and stews.

By the time my focus shifted (when the weather turned colder - like it ever got hotter much this year), one of the heads was so heavy, it flopped over in the bed.
To harvest the thing, it took some large loppers to cut through the 3" caliper stem. The leaves pretty much shaded out everything within a 5 mile radius and worst of all, this behemoth of a brassica became a snail and slug nursery! I spent the better part of harvesting this thing stripping off the layers of outer cabbagey leaves and disposing of the mollusks that hid deep down in the crevices near the base. After all, Roland doesn't eat escargot either. After that, I managed to wash off any goo residue and stored it in the refrigerator. Mr. Roland stood for a portrait of him and the cabbage for scale.

Growing monster vegetables serendipitously gives you a good excuse to have to clean out the refrigerator. Luckily, the fridge has heavy duty shelves as the thing must have weighed close to 10 pounds.
Cabbages can be as dense as bowling balls.

The cabbage leaves have a rather peppery flavor. Even at this large size, it cooks up tender and goes great in soups and with pot roast. It's comfort food time, so I don't think I'll have much problem using it up, although it's taken us several weeks to eat down just this one cabbage. There are several more just like it still waiting their turn; however, they haven't flopped over yet, so I figure there's time. I wonder if they'll sweeten up like Brussels sprouts do after a frost. Oh, did I mention? Roland won't eat those either.

I may have to try my luck at making sauerkraut.
After all, I seem to have good luck growing brassica crops. I remember Roland telling me that his dad scraped the mold off his batch every couple of days while it was doing it sauerkrautie thing. Luckily, Roland will eat it. Go figure.