Analysing our 2022 garden: potatoes, sweet potatoes and sunchokes

Okay, it’s that time! I’ll be working on a serious of posts, going over how our 2022 garden went, what worked, what didn’t, and what didn’t even happen at all. This is help give us an idea of what we want to do in the future, what we don’t want to do in the future, and what changes need to be made.

I can say right now, when it comes to tubers, we had a really poor year in 2022!

We grew three varieties of potatoes, each with a different maturation rate. All were supposed to be good for storage.

They were grown in new beds, using the deep mulch method. The two larger beds had about half planted with potatoes, and the other half planted with melons. A third variety had a small bed all to itself.

The Results:

The early variety, Caribe, resulted in fewer potatoes than we planted. As you can see, there was slug damage, too.

The mid and late varieties got harvested at the same time. A lot of the All Blue potatoes seemed to have scab. The Bridget variety seemed to be clear of scab, but slug damage was a problem with both. Altogether, it was a very disappointing harvest.

Conclusion:

While we may not have gotten much out of them, the potatoes were actually quite delicious. I would be willing to grow all the varieties again.

The main problem is the slugs, and that was an issue the first time we grew potatoes using the deep mulch method.

Slugs were not the only problem, however.

The flooding took its toll. Under all that straw mulch in the above photo is a whole lot of water. Many seed potatoes simply rotted away, and among those that did grow, they never recovered enough to produce any tubers at all. It really is amazing that we got as many potatoes to harvest as we did, to be honest.

I think for 2023, we might look at getting indeterminate varieties that are good for growing in towers and try doing grow bags again. Or, we might get the same varieties, but grow them in raised beds.

The flooding we had in 2022 was more than anything anyone in the area has seen before, and it’s unlikely we’ll have a year like this again in our lifetimes. Now that it’s happened, though, we’ll know where the lower areas are and plan according, as we expand our garden beds.

Potatoes are one of those staple food crops so, in the future – once we’ve got the details worked out – we plan to grow a lot more potatoes for winter storage.


Now we move on to a crop that is more unusual for our area: sweet potatoes!

Most varieties require a much longer growing season than we have, but I did find a short season variety to try. They went into grow bags, and were not affected by the flooding.

Not that that seemed to help much.

The Results:

This picture is our entire sweet potato crop, from three grow bags.

The flooding may not have been an issue for them, but they just never did well. There are people in local gardening groups that successfully grow sweet potatoes, so I know it can be done. The problem is, I’m not entirely sure what, specifically, kept these from growing. I can think of several reasons, and it could even be a combination of them. I just don’t know.

Conclusion:

They may have been small but, when we tried them, they were delicious! I would really like to try them again. There’s only one place that I know of that sells short season sweet potatoes. I think that when we try them again, I’ll grow them in deeper containers that are black, which will help warm the soil, and mulch them earlier. We have not yet decided if we will try them again for 2023, or save it for another year.


Another new tuber we tried is actually in the sunflower family. Canada’s potato: the sunchoke, or Jerusalem Artichoke.

We got a package of 10 Jerusalem Artichokes and planted them in a bed near the garage. Unfortunately, the worst of the flooding in our yard was around the garage. There was basically a moat around it, and almost a pond behind it.

Still, it seemed to only result in the sunchokes growing a bit later. They survived, and seemed to do quite well.

The problem is, they never bloomed. In fact, they didn’t even start budding. At all.

By fall, I decided to harvest half of them, to see what we had.

The Result:

I was pleasantly surprised. The tubers I found looked quite firm and healthy, if small.

There certainly wasn’t a lot there to harvest, and I made sure to plant the largest tuber I found under each plant. So next year, one half of the bed should have just five plants in it, while the other half should have five clusters of plants.

Conclusion:

I’m not entirely sure why the sunchokes never fully matured. It could be because of the flooding and the late start, or it could be because they didn’t get enough sunlight. I did prune some branches from the trees above and to the north of them, so if that was an issue, it should be better next year.

The question is: will the tubers survive the winter? I have no idea. If they don’t, I would want to get more to plant. I taste tested them raw, while the whole family tried them cooked, and we liked them enough that they are worth keeping.

Sunchokes are something that come with warnings about being potentially invasive. I had that in mind when deciding where to plant them. Which means they should survive the winter and grow next year. If they do, as long as we keep harvesting enough of them in the fall, we shouldn’t have problems with them becoming too invasive.

We shall see!

The Re-Farmer

Our 2022 garden: harvesting sunchokes (Jerusalem Artichokes)

Yes, here we are, Oct. 9, and there’s still things to harvest!

Well… half a harvest.

I’d been leaving the sunchokes along, and this is how they look after being hit by frost, then rain, then more frost. This being Thanksgiving weekend here in Canada, I decided to go ahead and harvest some of them to include in our meal. There were ten of them planted, and I decided to only harvest the nearer five.

I was a bit surprised by how they looked. A lot whiter than I expected, but that may be because they never got to reach their full size during this crazy growing year we had. This bed is right next to where some of the longest lasting flooded areas in the yard this spring. The bed was slightly raised, which was probably the only thing that saved them.

There wasn’t a lot to harvest, and I also made sure to rebury at least one of the largest tubers under each plant, for next year.

As for the plants, I did a chop and drop. I’ll add more mulch to this bed before things freeze over, too.

To prepare them, since they were so fresh, I basically just scrubbed them. I’ve never tasted sunchokes before. These are supposed to be edible raw, so I made sure to try a piece. I don’t know how to describe the taste, other than “mild”. There’s nothing else I can compare it to in flavour.

I added them to the other vegetables that I tossed with olive oil and seasonings. I liked them better roasted. They take on other flavours very well. Roasted, they have a very smooth texture. All four of us liked them, which seems to be a rare thing!

If all goes well, we will have a larger harvest of them next year. 😊

The Re-Farmer

Morning finds

After yesterday’s heat, I made a point of checking the garden more closely. Some things, like the Kaho watermelon, seem to be struggling. Most things seem to be okay, though.

Some Wonderberries are starting to ripen.

The heat seems to have done a number on them, though. All three plants had wilted parts like this.

A deer walked right through the corn and beans patches. We’ll have to put something up to make them go around. They don’t seem to be trying to eat any of the plants. Just passing through.

The sunchokes are coming up! I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to tell them apart from the weeds, but they are very clearly a different plant.

A few of the newly germinated beans seemed to be having a hard time, but we planted quite a bit, so if a few don’t make it, it should be okay.

All in all, things seem to have handled the heat all right. Today, and for the next while, we are expecting more average, slightly cooler, conditions. It’s just a few degrees, but it makes a big difference.

The Re-Farmer

Our 2022 garden: remaining T&T Seeds order is in

Before I get into how the rest of the day has been going – aside from “wet” – the rest of our order from T&T Seeds came in! You can read about the whole order, and why we chose what we did, here.

We got our forage radish seeds a while ago, and it was the perishable stock that had to wait to be shipped in time for planting in our zone. I never got a shipping notification. I’d actually gone to the website a few days ago to look up my order and see if there was anything to tell me when it would be shipped, so we could be ready for it. There was nothing. Not even anything to say that the seeds got shipped already. So I tried their live chat function. I ended up getting an automated reply, apologizing for being really busy, and giving me the option of leaving my email with my question, and they’d respond later. I did that, but the only thing I got in my email was a transcript of the chat that didn’t happen.

Well, something must have happened, because suddenly, here they are!

We have decided the highbush cranberry will be added to one end of the rows of silver buffalo berry, where we’d grown corn and sunflowers last year. The sweet potato slips will be split between a grow bag and a bed where we’d grown potatoes last year. The sunchokes are still not 100% decided, but I think there’s really just one spot for them; in an unused bed near the garage. We’d tried to grow strawberry spinach there last year, but that didn’t work. There are invasive that keep trying to take it over, but sunchokes have a reputation for being somewhat invasive, too, and I think they’d win out on that battle. 😉

I also got a shipping notification for our TreeTime order. You can read about what we ordered and why, here. We’re expecting a total of 41 trees and shrubs that will need to be planted right away.

Which is going to be difficult. What came in today needs to be planted as quickly as possible, but it’s been very rainy off and on, all day today, and it’s expected to continue through tomorrow. In fact, we have started to get weather alerts.

There’s another Colorado Low on the way.

At least it’s bringing rain and not snow, though we’ve have a rather cool May, and it’s looking like June will be, too.

The warnings for our area is for heavy rain falls. Once again, the south end of the several provinces are expected to get the worst of it, as the system swirls its way east and west. There are even tornado warnings!

The transplants did not get taken outside today. They are probably okay with the temperatures by now, but being in pots, and the pots in trays and bins where they get watered from below, it doesn’t take much for rain to accumulate too much in their containers.

For the stuff that can’t be planted until after last frost, it’s looking like we won’t be able to get them out until after June 5, because of the overnight temperatures. Once they’re in and established, if temperatures dip again, we can try protecting them with row covers, but not while they are still undergoing transplant shock.

One good think about everything being in at least low raised beds: the paths may be full of mud and water, the the beds are still good.

Somewhere in there, we need a break in the rain – or at least the heavy rain – and get our T&T Seeds order into the ground!

The Re-Farmer

Our 2022 garden: T&T order, and McKenzie seeds

Well, this is it. Today, I placed my last order for our 2022 garden. While I was doing the first half of our monthly shop, I also picked up some pea seeds. I am now done ordering things we are planning to grow this year.

First, the peas.

There are so many varieties of peas, I have been struggling on which ones to pick. While at the Walmart, I saw a new McKenzie Seeds display, and finally settled on one. As much as I love edible pod peas, I decided to go with shelling peas.

Some selling points on these: very productive, heat tolerant and disease resistant. Plus, of course, they’re supposed to be tasty. While I hope we don’t get another drought this year, our summers to get as hot as our winters get cold, so heat tolerant peas are a good thing.

My daughters are not big on peas, but they have never had peas, fresh from the garden. The ones we grew last year did not really produce, due to the heat (just the odd pod, here and there), then the green peas got eaten by a groundhog! The peas sown late in the season, in with the corn, were planted for their nitrogen fixing qualities, and the few pods we got were there only because we had such a long, mild fall. Nothing reached their full potential in flavour. Hopefully, this year will be different, and we will get lots of delicious fresh peas!

Once I got home, I placed an order with T&T Seeds.

All images belong to T&T Seeds.

First up is Jerusalem Artichokes, or Sunchokes.

I just ordered the smallest size; a 10 pack. A friend on a neighbouring farm successfully grows them, so I know they will grow here.

We’re sort of taking a chance on these ones. We’ve never tasted them before. I’ve never even seen one in real life before. However, these are something that can easily be propagated from year to year, and are supposed to be quite delicious. If we like them, we have another good storage food to add to our inventory of foods for self-sufficiency.

If not, well, they are in the sunflower family and have pretty flowers.

We will be planting them in a location that can be permanent, so not anywhere in our main garden areas.

Covington Sweet Potato

This one is pretty much just for me, as I seem to be the only person in the family that actually likes sweet potato, so I got the smallest option; five slips.

This variety is the only short season variety of sweet potato that can grow in our zone that I have found. I think I will make a grow bag or two from our feed bags, and set these up somewhere near the south facing side of the house, just to hedge my bets, though I would need to make sure there is space for the vines.

Highbush Cranberry.

The girls and I debated whether to get Highbush Cranberry, or more raspberry bushes. We decided to work with the raspberries we already have, and go for the Cranberry. I ordered two.

In cleaning up along the east fence line in the spruce grove, I actually found an American cranberry (at least that’s what Google Snap told me it was). It now gets light and everything, but I would like to transplant it, eventually, to a better location. Not sure where, yet.

Forage Radish

Also called “tillage radish.”

We had tried to plant a daikon type radish to help break up the soil in the corn blocks last year, but I think something ate them shortly after they sprouted, because they all just disappeared. So I was quite excited to find these forage radishes.

They are sold as a green manure and a type of cover crop. They get planted, then left to die off. Their roots can reach up to 6 feet in depth, boring into the soil as they grow. After they die off and decompose, they leave behind root channels that other plants can take advantage of.

With our concrete-like soil, filled with rocks, the plan is to basically just scatter these in strategic areas, so we got the 500 gram/1 pound size, which can cover 5,500 square feet. I don’t expect to use it all this year, but who knows.

So that is it for this year’s seeds and trees, though it’s entirely possible we might still order more. I forgot to order more alternative lawn and wildflower seed mixes from Veseys, but those would be sown in the fall, anyhow. We shall see how the ones I sowed this past fall turn out, this spring.

We still have a monthly “seed” budget, though, and now it will go to other things we need. I did pick up more potting soil today, as we will be starting onion seeds and luffa soon, and have lots more seeds to start over the next few months. After much searching, the girls and I found some netting online that we will be using to help protect our garden from critters. It’s a netting that is 14 x 200 feet. We can get one roll this month, and another roll later. Some of it will be used for the temporary fencing we will need to build around larger blocks, such as the corn. We can also cut it to the sizes needed to cover individual beds. We simply have too much ground to cover, and beds spread out in too many places, to fence it all in from both deer and smaller critters. Particularly since so much of it is still temporary. We’ll also have to figure out what best to use to support the netting, in the different ways we plan to use it, and get what we need for that. We are shooting to have consistent sizes on the permanent raised beds, so that any protective covers we build will fit any raised bed. The low box raised beds are 3 feet by 9 feet (because that’s the size the boards I found resulted in). The high raised beds will all be 4 feet by 9 feet, but with the thickness of the logs we are using, the planting area inside will be smaller, and the 3×9 covers should still fit. Other beds, such as in the old kitchen garden, are oddly shaped, so they will need completely different ways to protect them from critters.

Little by little, it’ll get done!

The Re-Farmer