Our 2021 garden: two kinds of potatoes

I wasn’t going to harvest our potatoes yet, since they can stay in the ground until after we get frost. It is, however, Thanksgiving weekend here in Canada, and dangit, I want to have some of our own potatoes! 😀

The fingerling potatoes are still growing, but the Yukon Gem and Norland potato plants are completely died back, so those were my target for today.

Using old feed bags as grow bags was an experiment for us, and it was interesting to see that roots had made their way through the bottoms of the bags. These will definitely not see another year of use, and they were also weathered enough to start tearing a bit while I moved them, but that’s still pretty good, considering they would have been thrown out, otherwise.

That kiddie pool is, once again, the handiest thing ever! So are those old window screens I found on the barn. 😀 The bags got dumped into the pool, where I could go through the soil to find the potatoes and set them aside on the screen.

This is the contents of the very first bag I emptied!

Each variety was planted in five feed bags. We did gather some potatoes earlier, and I tried to take out just a couple from each bag, so there was originally a few more than what you can see here.

I had assistance from a Nosencrantz, ferociously hunting leafs!

By the time I was working on the Yukon Gem potatoes, the kiddie pool was too full, so I moved aside the remaining bags and started to return some of the soil to create a new bed for planting. For the amount of soil, the new bed will extend along the fence further than the rows of bags are, as I don’t want to to be too wide or too deep. Unless I change my mind at the last minute or something, we will be transplanting some perennial flowers that need to be divided.

One of the nice things I noticed while picking through the soil to find the potatoes, was how many nice, big fat worms I found! They managed to make their way through the bottoms of the bags. I could even see worm holes in the soil under the bags, too.

Here they are! All of the red and yellow potatoes we got.

Such a small harvest, but not too shabby, considering this year’s growing conditions. These will sit outside on the screens for a bit, but with so few potatoes, there’s no need to properly cure them. We’ll be eating them pretty quickly. In fact, quite a lot of these will be used up this weekend, with Thanksgiving dinner. 🙂

It should be interesting to see what we get with the fingerling potatoes!

As for how the grow bags did compared to doing the Ruth Stout, heavy mulching method we did last year, I would say these did better. I didn’t know about indeterminate and determinate potatoes before this. If I’d known, I would have specifically looked up indeterminate varieties for these bags, and would have kept filling them with soil and mulch over the summer. That would have resulted in a higher yield. It just happened that all the varieties we chose were determinate, so they grew all on one level. The main thing was that there was no sign of any slug or insect damage on the potatoes. With the Ruth Stout method, I found a lot of slugs as I dug up the potatoes, and quite a few holes in the spuds.

For next year, I am thinking we definitely want to look into doing something like this again; maybe grow bags again, or some other way of doing a potato tower. I think it will depend on what kind of varieties we go with next year, and if I can find indeterminate varieties. I was looking at different websites last night, including some that specialized in only potatoes, and just about everything is marked as sold out. I’m hoping that’s because of the time of year, and that they will come available again after harvesting and curing is done for the winter. I’d like to try sun chokes and sweet potatoes, too – there is one place I’ve found that sells sweet potatoes that can grow in our climate. I think I’m the only one in the family that actually likes sweet potatoes, though (the rest of the household just sort of tolerates them), so I wouldn’t have to grow many. I’ve never found sun chokes to buy and taste, so that will be something to try just to find out if we like them or not!

We’ll have to find a new place to grow potatoes next year, though, since this spot will become a flower bed. We’ll have to think about that! Especially since I hope to increase the quantity we plant. Over time, we’ll need to grow a LOT more potatoes to have enough for four people, to store over the winter, but we’ll get there little by little.

The Re-Farmer

So much colour

The sunflowers are so cheerful looking!

This is the Hopi Black Dye sunflower that has the one seed head that I think will have time to fully mature – and it has four more bright and cheerful seed heads opening!

I don’t know why my phone’s camera blew out this shot, but you can still see what a deep, dark purple is developing as the seeds mature.

When my mother found out I was planting sunflowers, she immediately mocked me, telling me that the birds would eat them all. This is the first sign of birds eating them I’ve seen this year. 😀

Not too long ago, while working on supper, I decided to dig into the potato bags and see what I could find.

The Norland (red skin, white flesh) and Yukon Gem (light brown skin, yellow flesh), we have picked before, but this is the first time I tried to find any of the fingerling potatoes, Purple Chief (purple skin, white flesh) and Purple Peruvian (purple skin, purple flesh). I did not find a lot, but I’m hoping it’s because I just wasn’t digging around in the right places.

I currently have them roasting in the oven with our own onions, both red and yellow, three types of summer squash, and purple beans. The only thing in there we didn’t grow ourselves was celery. Oh, and the dill we got from my brother. 🙂 I’ve got three chickens roasting, too, so we shouldn’t need to cook for the next couple of days! 😀

The Re-Farmer

Our 2021 garden: morning harvest and first potatoes, makes for an awesome breakfast!

I finished off my rounds this morning by doing some harvesting in the garden. The beans in particular had plenty to pick. 🙂

I found a yellow bean, growing on a green bean plant!

It didn’t get picked. It felt completely empty. Any beans it might have had did not develop. I did find one other yellow bean among the green beans, on another plant, that did have developing beans in it, but it was super soft for some reason.

There as a big enough haul this morning to need two containers! 🙂

Among the sunburst squash, we have the one plant that is producing green squash instead of yellow, though some of the developing squash have streaks of yellow in them. An interesting mutant plant! 😀

The yellow beans are pretty much done. We’ll still be picking them for the next while, but just a few here and there.

I found flowers on both green and purple bean plants! Just a few, but still a surprise, this late in the season. We’ll be having plenty of those to pick for a while, from the looks of it. Lots of little ones developing on the plants.

Our first potatoes! We could have picked potatoes earlier, but we’ve been leaving them for now. This morning, I decided to reach into a few bags and dug around until I felt a potato and pulled it up. These are the yellow Yukon Gem and red Norland potatoes. I did not try to pick any of the fingerlings, yet.

That’s a pretty good harvest for the day! There are enough beans there to do another bag for the freezer, if we want. 🙂

I used a bit of everything when I made breakfast this morning. 🙂

I made a hash using all three types of beans, a couple of sunburst squash, a zucchini, and one of each type of potato. I also used onion and garlic that we harvested earlier. Even the oil I used to cook with was infused with our chive blossoms, and the dried parsley on top is from last year’s garden.

It tasted great, too! 🙂

The Re-Farmer

Our 2021 garden: beating the heat, transplants, potatoes and … stalking goldfinches?

Today, we definitely heated up fast! I was outside early to do my rounds, the watering, and hardening off the seedlings, managing to finish before things started getting too hot. We easily reached 30C/86F and probably went a bit higher. We even got heat alerts, and air quality warnings for those places dealing with wildfires right now. We’re supposed to hit 30C again tomorrow, then the temperatures are expected to drop to highs below 10C/50F, with overnight lows of 2C/36F, so frost is still a possibility!

Our order of potatoes came in. It was expected to come in tomorrow, but when I checked the tracking number, I found out they had arrived on Friday! So they sat at the post office over the weekend. I was going to chit the potatoes this year, but it looks like I won’t have to!

We got only one box of each type, so we are not expecting to have a long term supply, even if they do turn out to be very productive. The Yukon Gem, which we tried and enjoyed last year, are likely a type we will grow more of in the future. We shall see how the others do. To have enough to last the winter for 4 adults who really like potatoes would require a lot more seed potatoes!

This afternoon, my daughter and I braved the heat to do some transplants.

The new lady haskap is now in. You can see the other two in the photo. The other female haskap is harder to see, since it has so few leaves! At least it is growing. Watering everything twice a day is making a big difference all over, but it’s really helping with the struggling haskap.

My daughter chose a spot for her raspberries. They’re now in front of the row of trees in the old garden. The ones that self seeded among my mother’s raspberries that she transplanted. I still don’t quite understand why she moved them from a full-sun location, into the shade. No matter. We now have our first two raspberry bushes planted! As we add more, we will build trellises for them, but that will slowly happen over the next couple of years.

Before we headed in, my daughter and I checked out where the potatoes and their grow bags are going to go. This is near an area of the chain link fence where we are allowing vines to grow. We’re tearing them out, everywhere else we find them, as they are so invasive. Right now, there’s last year’s dead vines on the fence, and we found a tiny little surprise.

This old nest was only about 2 or 3 inches across! We don’t have many birds small enough to have a nest like this. In fact, I can only think of one, and I find myself wondering if it was a hummingbird nest. What a delightful surprise!

After finishing the transplanting, we headed into the cool of the indoors for a few hours. My husband recently picked up a Roku media streaming device. We have Amazon Prime for the free shipping, but now we can watch shows on the big screen TV. That thing hasn’t been turned on in months. 😀 I’ve been watching Poirot lately, and settled down to watch an episode while having breakfast… er… lunch… whatever. Which is when I got another surprise.

A bright, yellow, feathered stalker!

It stayed there for a surprising length of time, watching me through the window!

This is not the first time we’ve had a goldfinch decide to perch on a window sill and check out the humans inside. The last time it was last summer, and the bird was trying to look in at my bedroom window. Too funny! And very adorable.

After things started to cool down (which is a relative statement; it’s past 11pm as I write this, and we’re still at 23C/73F), I started setting up the home-made grow bags for the potatoes.

We’ve got 4 bags for each variety. For now, they’ve just got a few inches of soil on the bottoms, which I hosed down thoroughly, after this picture was taken. Tomorrow morning, before things start to heat up again, the potatoes will be added to the bags and topped off with a few more inches of soil. As they grow, we’ll keep adding either soil or straw mulch, and the bags can be unrolled as more height is needed. Hopefully, this will give us a better yield, as well as protecting the potatoes from slugs. We shall see!

Once this was done, I did the evening watering.

I had company.

Rolando Moon kept following me around, then settled herself in the middle of our “found object” art display to watch me. 😀 She is so funny!

Once back inside, I had less fun things to deal with; a call with my brother, talking about the upcoming court date this Friday for the restraining order against our vandal. Last time, my brother took a day off work for the court date, only for us to discover everything got cancelled again, due to the province increasing restrictions again. We just had Mother’s Day and have a long weekend coming up, so the province increased restrictions again. :-/ I will call the court office on Wednesday to find out if court dates are cancelled again. It’s hard to know what will happen, but we’re trying to be as prepared as possible. Most likely, our vandal’s lawyer (which he can somehow afford, while claiming I’ve put him almost $200,000 in debt…) will just try to delay things to a trial date. If we are offered a mutual restraining order, I would only accept it if he agrees to stop drinking, and relinquishes his guns for the year the order applies. If possible, I’d request a psychiatric assessment, too. He’d never agree to any of that, though. In past experience (granted, in another province, but I really don’t expect this one to be any better), a lot will depend on whether we get a judge that’s able to set aside his/her own personal biases or not. The hard part is going to be staying focused on the matter at hand, and not allowing the lawyer to distract away with our vandal’s many imagined grievances. A judge, of course, would have no way of knowing that they’re imagined. Nor would his lawyer, for that matter. We shall see how it goes. If it doesn’t get cancelled again, of course. :-/

At least we’ve got lots of hard physical labour in the garden as a distraction and stress reliever!

I like manual labour! 😀

The Re-Farmer

Potato beds put to bed

Today, we took advantage of the warmer weather and dug up our two potato beds.

The first one got done fairly early in the morning, before we headed to the city. Having already dug up a few of them earlier, I had some idea of what to expect, but I have zero experience with growing potatoes the “Ruth Stout” way.

I first pulled up the potato plants, then carefully used my potato fork to lift off, then “rake” the mulch away. Here, you can see some of the potatoes I uncovered in the process.

I also uncovered several chilled little frogs! I carefully moved them to the mulch by the squash, where they could warm up in the sun.

I also uncovered slugs.

I did not rescue them. 😉

Almost all the potatoes I found were just sitting on top of the soil! Some took a little more raking away of the mulch to find, but not much more.

What had been rock hard ground when we started, the mulched soil was so much easier to work – even with all the rocks.

I took advantage of the situation and dug up the entire plot, so I could pull out as many weed roots as I could. The crab grass came out pretty easily. Then I hit a solid mass of roots near the surface, with a tap root of some kind that continued deep into the ground. I could not get it out with the fork! If I’d had the spade handy, I might have been able to cut through it, but since it seemed to be dead, I left it. It will be buried.

I did find a couple more potatoes in the process!

The end result looked like a 4×8 foot grave! 😀

When I finished pulling up as many roots as I was able, the mulch all went back – along with the potato plants that had been pulled up.

These are all the potatoes I got out of the one bed.

Also, note the one slightly darker potato with the arrow pointing to it. I’ll explain that, below!

When we got back from the city, I continued working on the second bed.

Once again, I was finding most of the potatoes on the surface of the soil as I pulled away the mulch.

These are all the potatoes I found, before I did any digging at all. Unfortunately, quite a lot of them had holes eaten into them. 😦 After digging, I found maybe 5 more.

Speaking of 5, do you see those 5 darker potatoes on the side?

Those are the original seed potatoes! The other bed had only one. While they had stems and roots that I broke off of them, they are just as hard as the day I planted them. I found the remains of some other seed potatoes, all mushy and used up like one would expect at the end of the growing season.

I got two 3 pound boxes of seed potatoes, which gave me 3 row of 6 potatoes in one bed, and 3 rows of 5 potatoes in the other, plus an extra. That’s 34 potatoes – and 6 in total never grew more potatoes!

As with the previous bed, I dug it all up, finding a few more potatoes, a whole lot more slugs, and pulling out weed roots.

Would slugs be the cause of those holes in the potatoes?

This bed had quite a few more rocks near the surface that I got rid of, too. My fork was hitting many more as I dug down, but I didn’t try to get them out, since we will continue to build these beds up. The mulch and old potato plants went back over the soil.

I then took all the harvested potatoes and laid them out on the dry straw mulch between squash beds, so they can cure (is that the right word for it?) in the sun. Except for the tiniest ones, which will be cooked and eaten right away. 🙂

I then had the 6 original seed potatoes. What to do with those??

Yeah. I planted them, almost the same way they were planted in the original beds. The only difference is that I did loosen the soil a bit, first. Not to bury the potatoes – there are so many rocks along this end, I could barely do more than scrape away the mulch on top! No, it was so I could push in the bamboo poles to mark where they are. Even then, I don’t think the poles will be able to stay up for long. I could barely get them into the soil at all. No matter how I shifted and searched, I kept hitting rocks just inches below the surface.

What will most likely happen is that the potatoes will freeze over the winter, and nothing will come of them. Another possibility is that they will be protected by the mulch and, as soon as it gets warm enough next spring, they will start growing and we’ll have early potatoes started.

We’ll find out next year!

As for now, the potato beds are put to bed for the winter. I don’t know what we will plant in those spots next year. We do intend to do potatoes again, but in a different location. We don’t want to entice the Colorado potato beetle by planting in the same location again. We didn’t see a single one this year, but one of my neighbours a mile up the road mentioned that his potatoes had been decimated by them! My parents always planted lots and lots of potatoes, and I well remember going through the rows, picking off the beetles or their larvae, and hunting for the eggs to crush. Even with several of us doing that every day, some years my mother had to resort to using a poison powder of some kind, to get them under control.

I’d really rather not have to deal with them at all, if I can avoid it!

As for the squash, for now I have stopped harvesting any more of the sunburst squash, though there are a couple of zucchini that are almost large enough to pick. I prefer them when they are quite small, but with the sunburst squash, I want to give them as much of the remaining warm weather as I can for them to grow. As I write this, past 6pm, we are still at 21C/70F. We are supposed to stay fairly warm over the period covered by the long range forecast, with no more frosts expected overnight. That should give our produce a bit more time before we have to harvest what we can, then prep for the winter – and next year’s gardening! 🙂

Our first year gardening since moving here has been quite interesting, and quite the learning experience. We will, for sure, continue using the Ruth Stout method until we are able to start making the accessible raised beds that are the ultimate goal. The extensive use of mulch is making a very noticeable, positive difference in the soil, even after just one year. My mother may be disappointing in our gardening, compared to what she had here, years ago, but I’m happy with our progress so far! 🙂

The Re-Farmer

First!

Among the things we chose to plant for our first garden since moving out here were Yukon Gem potatoes. My view when it comes to planting potatoes is, since they are so inexpensive and easy to find in the grocery stores, we’ll choose a variety that are not available unless we plant them ourselves. Yukon Gem are a yellow flesh variety that is supposed to be more resistant to disease, and are good for both fresh eating and storage.

We only got 6 pounds for our first try, so we’re not expecting to have any to store. At least not for long! 😀

The biggest thing we did differently, though, was to use the Ruth Stout method. When my mother had her garden in this location, she had my dad or my brothers to plow it for her, every year. She had a working tiller (we’ve got 4 or 5 lying about, and none work), and 5 kids to help pick rocks.

While the area did get plowed before we moved here, no one’s been picking rocks for ages, and the plow job was a bad one. So what we’ve got to work with is rock hard soil, full of rocks, and very little equipment. The traditional method of growing and hilling potatoes was simply not manageable.

Among my recommended posts is a Canadian gardener who tried the Ruth Stout method in his own garden. He sowed his potatoes on top of hard, grassy ground, covered them with a thick layer of hay for mulch, and at the end of the season, he had lots of potatoes, and the ground beneath was greatly improved.

I figured it was worth a try!

We didn’t have hay, so I used straw from the bale we got last fall. What we don’t use to cover our septic tank gets used for mulch, and we still have plenty left this year. Mulch was already a big part of our plans to improve and amend the soil.

Well, the potato plants seem to struggle through the mulch, and never got really bushy. They did bloom, however, and at one point I dug around under the mulch to see if I could get some baby potatoes to try.

Even though this was after a rainfall, and the straw was damp, the ground beneath was bone dry. The only potato I could find was the mushy seed potato.

So… I was beginning to think this was a write off. I don’t know if it was because I used straw instead of hay, but it seems like the straw absorbed all the moisture, and it never made it to the soil.

While going through the garden over the past few days, I’ve been watching the potatoes. Some of them have already died back completely.

This morning, I decided to dig up the 3 potato plants that had died back on one end of a potato bed.

After moving the straw, there wasn’t much to see.

That is the seed potato, and no sign of any others. Only after digging, did I find one tiny potato under this plant.

It wasn’t a complete loss, though.

A few others were visible once the straw was moved, and they were looking pretty good.

Time to carefully dig around with the potato fork and see what I could find.

The first thing I noticed was how different the soil was. Even with plenty of rocks to dig around, the soil itself was much, much softer. I even found worms, as well as a single slug. 😀

So even if we don’t get a lot of potatoes out of here, we will have at least improved the soil!

How many potatoes did I find?

Here they are! Our first potatoes!

I’d say these were from 3 plants but, really, they’re from 2 plants. You can just see the itty, bitty potato that I found by the seed potato of the third one.

Of all the larger potatoes, one had a hole in it from a bug. The rest were solid.

I’m rather pleased! After what I found earlier, I was really wasn’t expecting to find much of anything.

Now to think about how to cook them for supper this evening. 🙂 I’ll likely make them very plain, so we can get a sense of how this variety tastes, compared to what we usually have.

I’m really looking forward to them!!

The Re-Farmer

How does the garden(s) grow?

I realized I’ve neglected to take progress photos of some of our garden beds, so I got a few this morning.

Here are our two potato beds.

I was shooting blind, because my phone’s screen went completely black in the sunlight. Still, you can see the potatoes among the mulch, separated by a path of grass. Some have bloomed and the plants are starting to die back. We could probably harvest baby potatoes now, if we felt like digging under the layer of straw. I’ve never grown potatoes this way, so it should be interesting to see how they did.

This next photo is the second squash bed.

I just happened to catch a locust flying by in the picture!

We are currently inundated with grasshoppers and locusts right now. Hopefully, they won’t eat up too many of our vegetable plants.

This second bed is the one we planted the day after we were hit with one last frost. The sunburst squash are huge, with many flowers and many little squashes. The mixed summer squash has a couple of plants that are doing well. Interestingly, it seems that plants on the south end of the bed are struggling more than the ones at the north end, rather than any particular type of squash having a more difficult time.

Here is the first bed that got planted.

These are the ones that got frost damaged, even though we had covered them for the night. Some died completely, but a surprising number have managed to survive – with some downright thriving!

This picture is the same bed, from the other end.

The transplants had died at this end, so when some gourds in the seed tray actually germinated, I transplanted them here. Three of them are marked with bamboo poles. Much to my surprise, the one that got dug up by a skunk digging for grubs is surviving. Given how late they germinated and got transplanted, I’m not actually expecting much from them at all, but it will be interesting to see how much the manage to grow.

Then there are the pumpkins.

These were from seeds that were being given away for free at the grocery store near my mother. I had taken one (it even had a sign asking people to take only one), and then my mother gave me two more. Clearly, she didn’t read the sign, because she still had a pack she kept for herself and planted in her own little garden plot that she has this year!

The pumpkin in the above photo is the one from a pack that had 5 seeds in it (the others had 3 seeds). This is the only one of the 5 that germinated, and it came up much later than the ones that germinated in the other two mounds. One mound had 2 seeds germinate.

In spite of such late germination, this one is probably the biggest of the bunch.

It is also the Northernmost mound.

When we started planting here, I’d made a point of planting in the Northern 2/3rds of the area we had mulched. The south side of the area has a lot more shade from the spruces my parents had added to the north side of the maple grove. I didn’t even try planting at that end for that reason. The middle third of the area still gets a lot of sun, but the north third gets basically no shade at all, at any time of the day.

I think that might actually be why I’m seeing differences within the same beds of squash, and the pumpkin mounds.

Something to keep in mind for any future planting in here!

Then there are the beds we made where the old wood pile used to be.

This is the layout of what we planted here.

The beets we got were a collection with Merlin (a dark red), Boldor (golden yellow), and Chioggia (alternating rings of purple and white)

In the foreground, you can see the parsley bed in both photos. It is doing very well. To the left of the parsley bed are the deep purple carrots, with white satin carrots on the right. The carrots could be doing better, but overall, they’re okay.

In the midground of the photos, there is a bed of rainbow carrots above the parsley bed, and beets on either side . Another bed of beets is in the background, beyond the rainbow carrots.

I don’t know how well you can tell in the photos, but there are not a lot of beet greens. The deer have really done a number on them. 😦 We should still have some to harvest, though.

Of the two muskmelon we bought to transplant, one died. This is the survivor.

We planted a lot of kohl rabi, but this is all we have that came up and survived.

The large leaves that you are seeing are from 2 plants.

Yup. Out of all that we planted, only 2 survived.

Actually, there had been four.

It turns out that deer like kohl rabi, too. You can’t even see the second one that was nearby; it, too, was reduced to a spindly stem!

In case you are wondering about the plastic containers…

Those are what I used as cloches to cover the muskmelon overnight, to protect them from colder temperatures after transplanting. The containers used to hold Cheese Balls that we got at Costco. I just cut the tops off, then drilled holes around near the bases for air circulation.

I now have them set up near the surviving muskmelon and the kohl rabi. When watering the garden beds, I fill those with water. The water slowly drains out the holes I’d made for air circulation, giving a very thorough watering to the plants. The first time I’d tried this was with the muskmelon, which was pretty small and spindly. The next morning, it had grown noticeably bigger and stronger! So I put the second one by the struggling kohl rabi, and the difference the next day was just as dramatic.

Until the deer ate the two littlest ones.

This worked so well, I’m trying to think of ways to use other cloches we have, most made from 5 gallon water jugs I’d bought for the fish tank, to set up near some of the more struggling squashes.

This morning is the first time I’ve harvested some of the parsley, along with a few carrots. What I don’t use right away will be set up to dry. Which is what will happen with most of the parsley we planted, as we tend not to use fresh parsley all that much.

And now I’m going to stop struggling with our nasty internet connection, which really doesn’t like inserting photos right now, and start on the scalloped potatoes I have planned for supper. I think I’ll find a way to layer some carrots in with the potatoes, too! 🙂

The Re-Farmer

First!

The kittens were too active to get good photos this morning.

Plants, on the other hand, are much more co-operative.

The first potato leaves have made their way through the mulch!

Yay!

Sadly, we are also down another sunflower. We found another one with just a stem, the leaflets gone. Total count is one less than yesterday.

We’ll still have a decent “wall” of sunflowers, but it will definitely have large gaps. If we do this again next year, we’ll know to get at least twice the number of seeds to start, and maybe even start them indoors, first. The sunflowers that have developed their true leaves seem to be left alone.

The Re-Farmer

Potato beds, and new garden area status

Yes! Finally! The weather is cooperating, and I was able to get our potatoes in!

From a previous post, this is what I was starting with.

The frames are just there to mark out where the beds will be. As you can see, there’s a fair bit of grass and weeds. It has been a while since this area had any sort of gardening done in it.

While the no-till, no-dig method we’re using is something that can be done directly on the grass, I wanted to add at least some amendments, first.

I used a wheelbarrow to mix 1 bag of manure with a slightly larger volume of peat.

After spreading it out on one of the beds with a rake, I used another bag of manure mixed with peat on the second bed. I then topped them with a thin layer of straw, making sure to use the damp straw from the bottom of the bale, where it was starting to decompose already.

I had hoped to use some material from our own compost pile, but as I dug around, I did not find any usable material. I had tried to clean out some of the older compost, from before we moved here, but as I dug around, I found more stuff I missed. Twigs and branches are one thing. It looks like people had stared to use it for garbage, and I found pieces of wood that were probably used as support stakes, plastic trays from transplants, and even a piece of fabric. There was some well composted material, but it was so full of sticks, it was unusable.

I’m thinking we will need to start a completely new compost pile somewhere else. This one is looking like a write off. 😦

So, no compost of our own for the potato beds.

Once both beds were spread with the manure and peat mixture, I gave them a very thorough watering. Even though we’ve had rain for the past couple of days, the soil was still pretty dry.

After soaking the beds, I added the potatoes. Each box was 3 pounds of seed potatoes. That worked out to 3 rows of 6 potatoes (plus 1 extra, so I put 2 small ones together) in one bed, and 3 rows of 5 potatoes in the other.

After spreading the potatoes out, I went back to evenly space them and push them gently down to have contact with the ground. With one potato, I went to pick it up, but it wouldn’t move.

???

I tried again, but it was stuck to the ground.

Amazingly, in the space of a couple of minutes, this one potato that had direct contact with the ground and shot out a 3 or 4 inch root, with capillaries! I wish I’d made the effort to take off my muddy gloves to take a photo, but instead, I dug a quick hole in the ground where I wanted it to be and “transplanted” it. I still can’t believe a potato could grow a root so deep, so fast, even after seeing it with my own eyes!

The next step was to cover the potatoes with a deep layer of straw. Again, I used straw from the bottom of the bale, where more of it was already damp and some was starting to decompose already. I made a layer roughly a foot deep.

I then scattered more peat across the top, then tamped it all down with the back of the spade. This peat is as much to add some weight to prevent flyaway straw as it is to amend the soil.

After the above photo was taken, I spent the next while thoroughly soaking the straw.

With this method, I saw recommendations of putting a layer of hay (which I don’t have, so I’m using straw) 2 feet deep. This is definitely not 2 feet deep. Over the next day or two, I plan to soak the straw some more, add another layer, then soak it again. After that, I should not need to water it much, if at all, for the rest of the growing season. I’ve heard people using this method say that no watering is needed at all, because the mulch maintains moisture as it breaks down, but I expect to need to water it at some point. It all depends on whether we have another drought this summer.

After the straw has started to settle and pack itself down, I will remove the frames to be used elsewhere.

Once this was done, I checked out the area we are planning to transplant our squash seedlings. We had covered this area last year with straw, then covered with tarps, to amend the soil and try to kill off the grass and weeds. We still ended up having to use Round Up. Even covered with tarps, weeds where pushing their way through the straw and lifting the pegged down tarps off the ground!

This is how the area looks now.

The black tarps in the back are there to warm up the mulched soil on that side a bit faster.

I could not do this here, last year. In fact, the soil was so hard, we were bending tent pegs while fastening down the tarps. While working on the potato beds next to this area, I would sometimes shove the fork or the spade into the ground to set it aside while I did the next thing, and ended up leaning them on the bale or wagon most of the time, because the ground is just so hard. Yet here, I could sink the fork’s tines their entire length down!

I pushed aside some of the mulch and dug around a bit. There are still a LOT of quack grass roots in there. I pulled some up, and you can see the bundle of roots in the above photo. The soil is quite “sticky”. The exciting thing was uncovering a worm. A very good sign!

Which means our efforts last year are paying off. The soil is already improving. When it’s time to transplant into the area, we will still be dealing with rocks and root systems, but the ground is now workable.

It’s amazing, what a mulch can do to improve soil conditions!

The Re-Farmer