Tag Archives: edible gardening

2011 Spuds: Seed potato shopping!

It’s that time of year. I bought seed potatoes. In the past, I went to Black Lake Organic for seed potatoes. Good prices, good selection, all organic, what more could I want? But BLO is shifting their focus and they no longer carry seed potatoes. So now I drive to Yelm to visit Gordon’s Nursery. It’s kind of a haul for potatoes, but I like shopping there. They have many varieties of organic seed potatoes and I can usually justify buying “just one more” blueberry or huckleberry or strawberry. I brought home six varieties of potatoes this year, but I could have bought a lot more.

I picked three full size potatoes: Cal White (early), Viking Purple (mid-season), and German Butterball (mid-season). I have grown Cal’s in the past and I loved them. I picked the Viking Purples because I try to grow a purple potato each year, and they are scab resistant. I picked German Butterballs because they’re prolific & delicious & our teenage German Student child loves most German food, like beer and sausage, at least in theory.

Krista loves to cook with fingerling potatoes. We prioritize growing them because organic fingerlings cost a small fortune. I picked up three fingerling varieties: French Fingerling, which we grew last year and loved, Russian Banana, another beloved 2010 spud, and Princess La Ratte. A lot of people love La Ratte potatoes in the PNW. I have never grown the Princess because it’s such a pretentious name for a potato, but I thought maybe 2011 is the year for a pretentious potato.

Last year we grew potatoes in wooden stacks that Krista built. I also grew some fingerlings in re-purposed burlap bags from a local coffee roastery a la Sustainable Eats. The year before that, we grew potatoes in recycled tires. I’ve discussed why we switched to wooden stacks. Although I was happy with the yield of both tires & wood boxes, the stacks had better drainage and were easier to manage. It’s difficult to compare my results from each method because there were many variables: temperature, water, different soil, different microclimate and so many potato varieties. So when people ask how I recommend growing potatoes in small spaces on small budgets, I don’t have enough information to answer them as effectively as I’d like.

Fortunately, Organic Gardening Magazine did some fieldwork for me. This article is long over-due in my opinion, and I couldn’t be happier that they wrote it. O.G. found that growing in the field (hill/mound method) is good enough, as potato farmers from centuries ago could have told you. But not all of us have that much space. Growing in raised beds is more productive than a field of hills, but requires a lot of dirt. Growing in wooden stacks is as good as raised beds, but energy-intensive to start. Growing in wire cylinders, grow bags, trash bags and straw are less ideal for reasons like yield, drainage, moisture, pests and cost. I want to see more data about with which varieties respond best to aggressive hilling (or stacking). Growing varieties that respond well to aggressive hilling is crucial to produce a lot of food in a small space. You might notice I’m not growing Yukon Golds this year, even though we love to eat them. They don’t respond well to being buried. Also, some methods will inevitably work better in different areas than others, adjusting for issues like drainage, temperatures & soil quality. But the Organic Gardening article is a big step in the right direction. Growing potatoes is such an experiment. I love the resourceful, creative ways people try to produce such a humble food.

Considering the Organic Gardening findings and the resources we’ve already sunk into the stacks, we will be growing potatoes in our wooden stacks again this year. Honestly, I have to grow potatoes in these stacks for years to make them cost-effective and I really enjoy using them, so I would use them no matter what Organic Gardening said. It’s convenient that I happen to love them.

I admit that if I see organic seed potatoes around town in the next few weeks, I will pick up a few more lbs. I can’t really help myself. Homegrown potatoes are worlds and epic legions better than potatoes from the store. I love growing & eating potatoes, but they are also an important crop. Potatoes are probably the best way to grow the most calories in the smallest amount of space. I don’t foresee my family adopting a 1-block diet, but the more calories we get from our yard the better, especially mashed, baked, french fried and roasted.

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Spring Sprang Sprung

I know it’s spring because I find myself gazing admiringly at crocuses and making photo collages of them. It’s not that I love crocuses so much, but I love what they’re telling me.

And my spring reading is starting to pile up. This stack of books follows me from the dining room table (ahem, I mean, our garden design and planning office) to the bedside for about five months. I’m always muttering to myself, “Now, what was that about companion planting strawberries and leeks?” or “I need second opinions on making your own biochar!” or “Can you pickle broccoli raab?” I am a wonderful person to live with right about now.

Girl, we are up to all kinds of tomfoolery with the garden plans. I started 50 tomato seedlings (8 varieties), which is simultaneously the best and worst idea ever. This year, we signed up for an additional 400 square feet of gardening space at a plot in a community garden. Our plot was described as “esoteric” and has an extraordinary amount of buttercup & lemon balm to conquer. This will be the year that we fell some of the (bad) trees in our yard. We are making the honey bees look lazy with all of our planning and scurrying. We’re buying seed potatoes like the zombie apocalypse is coming. Hey, maybe it is! Happy Spring!

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Edible Gardening @NWFGS 2011

I’m interested in all sorts of plants and the weird things they do. I admire beautiful flowers and strange foliage and interesting growth patterns. I love almost every plant, even the mean pokey ones (except you, English Ivy, you are my enemy). But the plants that get my heart racing are the ones you can eat. So of course my focus at the Northwest Flower & Garden Show is finding interesting or creative ways to grow food-bearing plants. Last year, the inimitable Jessi Bloom created a “Little Farm in the City” (cough cough urban homestead cough) with Seattle Tilth. It was a thing of beauty – chicken tractor, rhubarb border, compost bins, rain barrels, goat pen, and so on. Here’s a photo of the chicken tractor at the Little Farm in the City in 2010:

After that bar was set, my expectations might have been too high this year. I did find some crops in the demo gardens this year, but I had to look a lot harder. Wight’s Garden, “Once Upon a Thyme” included creative use of edibles. They had blueberry bushes and a variety of herbs not pictured here. This child-sized mushroom table sat in a carpet of lettuce — not such a practical application because children trample lettuce, but it shows how lettuce can fill an empty space.

Also in Wight’s garden, I spotted a table centerpiece made of alpine strawberries growing in burlap bags. At home it would be a challenge to keep the strawberries moist enough. I am lazy about watering, which I get away with because of my location. This is an issue of “right plant, right place.” My garden is not the right place for anything that needs a lot of attention. All issues of practicality aside, I like the strawberry-bearing centerpiece.

In the Shamazan garden, there was a focus on native plants and a meadow, which provides medicine, food and fiber. There were some unusual edible plants in this display garden – native rhubarb, amaranth & miner’s lettuce. I wouldn’t have noticed them if I didn’t read the designers’ supplemental pamphlet. While this garden was not my style exactly, it was good to see a functional alternative to lawns. Us beekeepers wish more people planted meadows instead of lawns. And now I’m trying to figure out where I can tuck a little (lot) of amaranth into my yard.

I also found food-bearing plants at the Christianson’s Nursery garden, “A Day Well Spent.” This garden was an example of a small family run nursery of olde times. There were some berry bushes, maybe some rhubarb, and possibly some other edible stuff I can’t remember. Their plant list isn’t online, so I can’t verify any of this. I love the rusty metal stock tank, too.

Edibles were wildly popular in the Marketplace, though. I saw vendors hawking seeds (e.g. Irish Eyes Garden Seeds) and a variety of edible perennials (e.g. Raintree Nursery). Fungi Perfecti brought their ever-popular kits and spores for growing mushrooms at home.

Someday when life slows down a little and our teenage child gets over his objections to mushrooms, maybe we too will become mushroom farmers. In the meantime, I plan to continue foraging for mushrooms in small quantities. In lieu of a Fungi Perfecti mushroom log, I brought home some new raspberries and huckleberries.

I wish there had been more edible landscaping at the garden show. My fingers are crossed for next year. Every time I turn around, there is a new report that more people are gardening. Food prices are out-pacing our incomes. The likes of Michael Pollan, Vandana Shiva, Joan Gussow & Slow Food International are spreading information about our industrial food problems. You can bet your galoshes that people are planting berries and tomatoes instead of tea roses and creeping juniper. I believe display gardens should jump-start the imagination and give you an opportunity to dream about beautiful possibilities, but I want those beautiful possibilities to be delicious ingredients, too.

So what kind of food are you growing this year?

My other 2011 Northwest Flower & Garden Show posts: Chicks and Bees, Container Gardening and Themed Display Gardens

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