Previous Capers

Friday, May 24, 2013

Growing Potatoes in a Can

I love getting tips from other gardeners, especially when they work brilliantly. Last year, I received a tip about the best way to grow potatoes. Tired of skewering and slicing my potatoes while digging them out, this year I've planted them in a can: a garbage can that is.

I ventured forth to the big box store and purchased a galvanized garbage can with lid. I had Roland punch 5 drainage holes in the bottom. The bottom happens to be recessed up into the can (like the round ice cream containers) which makes drainage work well. I put about 12 inches of potting soil with some bone meal in the bottom. I then placed my seed potatoes down on top of the soil, distributing them around 4 inches apart. Since the bottom of the can is narrower, you can't place too many at first. I then covered the seed potatoes with more potting soil, around 4 inches deep. I then waited for the first signs of growth.

Now, several weeks later, the potato foliage emerged but it wasn't quite deep enough to add more soil, so I waited and then forgot about them. Several weeks later, KABOOM! With a spell of warm weather, I had potato foliage to the top of the can. I imagine if I had paid attention, I could have witnessed the stuff grow before my very eyes.

So, off I went to the big box store and picked up some more potting soil. 2-1/2 cubic feet later, I had gingerly added more soil to the top leaves of the potato plants. I'll add some more soil when the top grows more, but I can't anticipate them getting much bigger. Deeper soil layers helps keep the potatoes from becoming green, which you want to avoid since that's a sign that the tuber could be producing the nasty, toxic alkaline solanine, as potatoes are in the nightshade family. All parts of a potato plant are toxic except for the tuber.

Potatoes are light feeders, but bone meal helps increase yields. Potato tubers are actually underground stems that store food for the plant. Roots don't have nodes which are called 'eyes' on potatoes. Potato eyes are actually stem nodes. The stems grow out and produce more tubers for more food storage for the plant. Actual roots also come out of the tuber as does the plant the grows towards the sun. The potato plant actually produces seed off its flower, but it takes longer to get it to produce potatoes, thus the preference for 'seed potatoes' which is a form of vegetative reproduction. Growing potatoes vegetatively helps ensure a consistent, true to type crop.

The potato geek taxonomists have divided potato growth into five stages. Stage one involves sprouting and root growth. During stage two, the potato starts forming leaves and branches for photosynthesis. In the third stage, stolons develop out of leaf axils (nodes) on the stems and grow downwards for new tuber development as swellings on the stolon. If the weather gets much hotter than 81 degrees F., tuber formation often halts. The tuber formation bulks up during stage four, when the plant invests a lot of its resources into this process. At this stage it's critical to keep optimal soil temperature, nutrient availability and balance and pests control a top priority. The last stage is maturation where the plant canopy dies back and the skins on the tubers harden. This is when sugars convert to starches.

To harvest, I'll wait until after bloom and when the foliage starts to die back. All I'll have to do is dump the can onto a tarp and pick out the potatoes. I'll put the soil back in the can and put the lid on to store over winter. Next year, I'm getting several more cans so I can produce more varieties. I'll try stretching the soil with compost. Upon harvesting, potatoes need a curing time, but I'll write about that at that time.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Marcel in Recovery Mode

Marcel assumes his usual position.
Marcel had a followup visit at the vet yesterday. He's doing well and his stitches should come out next week. In the mean time, he taken to being a house cat quite well, although he may be a bit bored.

For Marcel's entertainment, Roland came home with a cat toy the other night. After a healthy competition to play with it, Snorky promptly confiscated the thing and buried it in the sofa cushions (where all his bones reside).

People in the neighborhood who know Marcel belongs to us have asked about him, since he hasn't made his usual schmoozing rounds lately. We haven't seen any missing cat signs go up though.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Marcel, Our $600 Free Cat

Marcel with stitches and a drain tube in his chin.
Our latest mog, Marcel is becoming another Floyd. Since I brought him home last summer, Marcel has become the neighborhood cat, visiting everyone in a daily routine, even venturing through neighboring cat doors and open windows while working the neighborhood kids for cat treats. He's fearless. Everyone within a 2 block radius knows Marcel. People have offered a trade in exchange for their cat. He just turned 1 year last April. Marcel has been all about adventure from an early age. He's the neighborhood snoop and project supervisor.

When he was 6 months old, the week he was due to go into the vet for shots and to get neutered he went missing. After several days, I put an ad on Craig's List and Roland checked the missing cat list at the local shelter. Low and behold someone 6 blocks away had taken him in to see if he was chipped (not yet) and left their name and number on the register. They also took Marcel back to their home. Apparently, he had wandered off (probably followed someone) and landed in this woman's kitchen with their other tuxedo cat. The day I called, the women had taken him into the vet to get fixed, chipped and shots. She obviously was ready to keep him. Marcel has a way of endearing himself to anyone.

"Oh, well we were going to have that done," I declared merely, just happy to have him found. "So I'd be happy to reimburse you for it. What's the total going to be?" (Thinking around $200)

"$394," she replied.

Swallow. Hard. "Oh, I see."

"We took him to a vet who's the mother of my daughter's best friend," She continued. "I hope you don't mind."

I called Cat's Expensive and paid the bill. I suppose my choices were to pitch a fit and not reimburse her, probably having to give up the cat or collect him with bad energy about the whole thing, or offer half declaring that she jumped the gun and that my vet would have only charged that much, but I decided to just pay it and move on. The woman is keeping our phone number just in case. Several weeks later, I took Marcel to the same vet for a follow up visit for booster shots and another $40 bucks, just to keep the chashectomy services consistent.

He developed a habit of sleeping on top of cars. Fast forward, several evenings ago, Roland got into his van to run to the store. He didn't see Marcel on the roof among all the lumber stacked up. So, off they go up the street with a neighbor running behind trying to flag Roland down to no avail. Roland didn't find out about it until he got back. At some point, Marcel must have jumped because he came running back and hid in his favorite bushes. A neighbor girl saw him and told me that he had a bloody chin. The neighbor across the street also helped look for him and Roland was able to finally coax him out of some shrubberies. Indeed, he had a lovely cut in his chin. The interior of his mouth had some blood in it too. No broken teeth though. He must have taken a leap when the van was in motion and the momentum cause a face plant.

So, the next morning off he goes to our vet, Dr. Zile at Greenwood Animal Hospital. An overnight stay, x-rays and 5 stitches later, he's now a house cat for the time being. He lays around on his back and takes his medicine well. No broken bones. Plus, this episode only costs us around $200 dollars with deferred payment. Dr. Zile knows that we're good customers.

"Just pay us when you get paid," exclaimed Dr. Zile. "I know you always pay us."

I love that vet!