Garden Daybook 3/21/13

potatoes 1

Ten pounds of Kennebecs and ten pounds of Yukon Gold. Two ten pound bags of “certified seed potatoes”. Hard to believe these two bags will produce at least 200 pounds of potatoes. Enough potatoes to store and last the winter. Not a bad deal for $7.49 a bag. I always buy my seed potatoes as soon as I see them lined up on the racks at Farm and Home Hardware. My imagination tells me that EVERYONE will want to plant potatoes this summer so I better get mine NOW. Why I think I NEED to get those potatoes home NOW is not clear because every year the rack is refilled and refilled and everyone has their potatoes to plant. My potato anxiety is there all the same.

potatoes chitting 1

Potatoes go into the garden as soon as the ground is 50 degrees and dry enough to work, usually mid to late April in my garden. Both bags of my potatoes are already laid out to “chit”. Chitting potatoes simply means that you lay the potatoes out in the light for 4-6 weeks. I stand my seed potatoes in egg cartons in a room with good light and a temperature of about 50 degrees. Inspect each potato and place the end with the most sprouts up and the end that was attached to the plant stem down. Just make the best decision you can about which end up and which end down – I know it can be tricky. Chitting potatoes for 4 to 6 weeks before they are planted into the garden allows them to break dormancy/green sprout. Then – – when they are finally planted sprout end up in a trench in the garden, they have a 10 -14 day head start. I usually inspect the potatoes just before planting and break off all but the strongest 4 sprouts.

spring chaos 1

This time of year the house turns into garden central. Finding room for seed starting, heat units, seedlings, chitting potatoes, boxes of seeds, and the seasonal accumulation of all the necessary “stuff” needed to begin a serious food garden is never ending. Stuff overflows every flat surface and much of our limited floor space. Living in our very small farmhouse, notice I said SMALL farmhouse, becomes a seasonal struggle between “have to do it now” gardening, boxes and baskets of class materials, and everyday living. Right now the gardening stuff is winning. We do have an unheated, notice I said UNHEATED, hoophouse. Daylight warmth in the hoop house is fabulous but the nighttime dark is still too cold for vulnerable seedlings. Sometime in April we can carry things out into the real sun and warmth. Until then . . . . AAARAUGH!! Come on Spring!

just transplanted seedlings

A few hours of work and I have a tableful of transplanted seedlings stretching their roots in enriched soil and ready for the basement lights. So far I have transplanted onions, celery, cabbages, cauliflower, broccoli, white and yellow Alpine Strawberries, lettuces, Marshmallow for the herb garden, and an edible Dianthus with the delicious name of ‘Chianti’. Still waiting to be transplanted into their own pots are this years peppers, leeks, violas, narrow-leaved echinacea, and spiked thyme.

Transplanting Fresh Heart seedling

I transplant my seedlings when they grow their second set, or true leaves. I am holding this seedling by the cotyledon or seed leaf. The bigger leaf is a “true leaf” or a leaf that has the shape of a mature leaf. A leaf is the strongest part of a seedling. Tear a leaf when transplanting and the plant can, usually, replace that leaf with a new leaf. Damage the stem and the plant cannot recover. Always hold seedlings by a leaf when you transplant. The appearance of true leaves is a signal that the plant is finished feeding itself with what was within the seed and that it now needs fertilization. I fertilize my seedlings with half strength fish emulsion every 10 days.

damp off on onions 2

Damp-off – the perfect example. Darn! These onions will not make it into the garden. Damp-off is a soil fungus inherent in soil. This fungus lies in wait and waits for the seed to germinate when it destroys the seedling at the soil line. I preach the need, when starting seeds, to use a sterile soilless medium and to sterilize pots that previously held soil. I have no idea why damp off destroyed these onion seedlings. I did everything I could to prevent this loss. You can start seeds successfully year after year and then POW – it LIVES! and wipes out newly germinated seedlings. Fight this fungus by using a sterile soilless mix, sterile pots, not over watering, thinning seedlings if they germinate too closely, and providing good air circulation around your seedlings. This picture is the perfect example of why I always start more seedlings than I think I will need. I would rather be able to share excess than be caught short.

3-16   1

I am waiting anxiously for the garden soil to dry out so I can plant peas and spinach. I look down at my neatly filed finger nails and tell them to “Watch out! Your days are numbered!” When things dry out in the garden my bare hands will be deep in soil and nails and cuticles will not be a priority. I do not wear gloves when I garden. Gloves are a barrier to that lovely feel of warm soil on skin, cancel out the feel of a weed root giving up its hold in the ground, and frustrate me. I deal with eyesight problems and adding gloves into the mix adds a second “disability”. No thanks! Here’s to dirty hands!! Until next week . . .

Hey from the farm,
Fran The Country Cousin


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