Organic Vegetable Gardening

How to Plant & Grow Seed Potatoes

THE REWARDS OF GROWING YOUR OWN POTATOES

To me, all homegrown vegetables taste better than store bought. A few, however, taste so much better homegrown that I almost never bother buying them from the store. Tomatoes, eggplant, broccoli and cucumbers all fall into this category. I never thought that potatoes would be included until I finally grew them at home for the first time five years ago. A spud was a spud, I assumed, and they were so inexpensive in the grocery store anyways. The whole process of growing and “hilling” potatoes also intimidated me.

Indeed, I was wrong. I grew Red Pontiacs that first year and have ever since. Garden-fresh potatoes are so creamy and smooth, they truly taste as if they’ve already been buttered-up for you. My favorite recipe for them includes fresh garden sage leaves, and is so simple, easy and delicious, it has become one of my favorite dishes. I love this recipe so much; I tried making it after I ran out of potatoes one year and substituted them with store-bought. Well I learned my lesson. The homegrown potatoes were what made the dish so delicious. Those grocery spuds tasted like wax in comparison. How disappointing.

Potatoes are also pretty easy to grow. Here in Tallahassee they are traditionally planted around Valentine’s Day, and harvested by May. My friends Katie and Aaron, who run Full Earth Farm in Quincy, have a traditional Valentines Potato-date every February.

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growing-potatoes

LILLY'S PLANTING METHOD FOR THE RED PONTIAC

SEED: You’ll start with seed potatoes, which are just small potatoes that are disease-free and ready to plant. I recommend purchasing these seed potatoes from a local nursery; grocery bought potatoes are treated with a growth inhibitor and may carry disease. Cut these whole seed potatoes into pieces with one or two eyes, each cut piece being golf-ball size or larger. Although small potatoes need not be cut. Let these pieces dry overnight before planting to reduce the likelihood of rot.

SOIL: Potatoes like loose soil rich in organic matter, so work finished home compost or mushroom compost into your bed. There are many ways to plant potatoes, but the easiest and most reliable method I’ve found is as follows; Loosen up soil in your bed and remove any weeds. Make a trench 10 inches wide and 4 inches deep on level ground. If you have multiple rows, they should be at least 36 inches apart. If you haven’t already worked compost into the bed, you can add a layer of compost to the bottom of the trench. Use only finished mature compost that has completely broken down.

PLANTING: Drop potato pieces into the trench about 12 inches apart and bury 3-4 inches deep. If you want to increase the size of your harvest, you can “hill up” the potatoes once the foliage has reached 6-8 inches tall. This means you would pull soil up around the base of the plants, leaving 4 inches of the plant above soil level. Be careful not to damage the roots of the plants. Hill a second time 2-3 weeks later if your desire. Mulch with pine or hay straw once you have finished hilling, to prevent weeds. Hilling the soil increases potato production but is not necessary if you can’t find the time or inclination. I still get a good size harvest on years I haven’t had the time to hill.

GROW BAGS: If you don't have the space for a potato bed, the Geopot fabric grow bag is the next best way to grow your own delicious potatoes. The 15 gallon fabric pot with velcro opening makes it easy to plant, grow and harvest your own potatoes. Containers are completely breathable providing great drainage and aeration to the roots giving you abundant harvests.

geo-pot-grow-bag-potatoes

By the end of April, the green tops will start yellowing and dying back and that means those little taters are sizing up underground. I use a garden fork to lift up the tubers with the least amount of damage. This is my favorite part of the growing process, because it feels like you’re digging up buried treasure. Now all there's left to do is harvest and set a potato date!

Growing Organic Kale is Easy, Even for Beginners!

I eat at a lot of kale at this time of year. My young kale seedlings are just getting started and will soon produce bountiful harvests. I enjoy homegrown kale in salads, soups, sautéed, and even on pizzas. I especially love to mix it with fruits like apples, blueberries or pineapple, to make fresh green smoothies in my blender.

Kale is renowned as a nutritional powerhouse. Its health benefits are primarily linked to the high concentration of antioxidant vitamins A, C, K, and sulphur-containing phytonutrients. One cup of chopped kale contains only 33 calories, yet it yields abundant calcium, vitamins A, C, and lots of vitamin K. It is also a good source of minerals copper, potassium, iron, manganese, and phosphorus.

Eating more kale is an easy way to improve the quality of your diet, and growing your own is easier than you think, even if you have little or no experience with vegetable gardening. Fall is the best season for beginners here in Tallahassee and kale is an excellent introductory crop to grow.

For beginners, start out with fresh, healthy plants from your local nursery. You will want at least three plants to have adequate harvests. There are a variety of kales to choose from; my favorites are Lacinato, Dwarf Blue Curly and Red Russian.

Choose a site for a bed or container that gets the most sun in your yard. Even if you have only 3-4 hours of sun, choose the sunniest spot and you will still enjoy harvests. Kale is tolerant of partial shade, but will grow a little slower.

To prepare your bed:

1)    Remove all existing vegetation first, roots and all. This is important as you don’t want pesky sod or weeds competing with your kale for water and nutrients. Your bed can be as long as you need, but remember to not make it wider than four feet so you can still reach across to weed and harvest.

2)    Dig your bed at least a foot deep to loosen up existing soil and break up any tree roots within the bed. You can use a quality round point shovel, heavy duty garden fork, or a mattock. Add a fresh layer of mushroom compost, at least six inches, to your soil.

3)    Dust a layer of organic, granular, slow-release fertilizer like Espoma’s Plant-tone across the compost. If you have quality compost, you can tuck your kale plants right into it, allowing a good 8-10” between plants. Plant the stem just an inch deeper than it is in the pot. Water them in thoroughly with a gentle spray nozzle, and regularly check their watering every few days.

I would also encourage anyone, even beginners, to try growing from seed. Some crops can be difficult, but kale is very easy from seed. Just prepare your soil, sprinkle the seeds over and cover the seed bed with only a light dusting of soil, then water well. The bed should be watered regularly and the seedlings will appear within two weeks. Once they are 3-4” tall, I dig, separate and space them out where want them.

Newly planted kale will take a week or so to establish roots, and then will begin growing. When the plants reach 6” you can begin harvesting leaves. Always harvest the lower leaves first, leaving a few newer top leaves so the plants can continue growing. Watch them grow and keep an eye out for caterpillars, the most common pest on kale. If you begin to see holes in the leaves, look under those leaves and you will likely see a caterpillar. Don’t fret.  

You can just squish them or safely treat them with Dipel dust; a biological insecticide that only kills caterpillars, breaks down quickly and is safe for your organic garden.

Enjoy your harvests of fresh, organic kale well into early spring. Below I’ve included one of my favorite, mouthwatering kale salad recipes for inspiration.

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Ingredients

4-6 cups Lacinato kale, sliced leaves, midribs removed.
Juice of 1 lemon,
3-4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, mashed.
Salt & pepper, to taste.
Hot red pepper flakes, to taste
2/3 cup grated Pecorino Toscano cheese, or other flavorful grating cheese such as Asiago or Parmesan
1/2 cup freshly made bread crumbs from lightly toasted bread

Instructions

  1. Whisk together lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper, and a generous pinch (or more to taste) of hot red pepper flakes. 

  2. Pour over kale in serving bowl and toss well.
  3. Add 2/3 of the cheese and toss again.
  4. Let kale sit for at least 5 minutes. Add bread crumbs, toss again, and top with remaining cheese.

Homegrown taters!

homegrown-potatoes

To me, all homegrown vegetables taste better than store bought. A few, however, taste so much better homegrown that I almost never bother buying them from the store. Tomatoes, eggplant, broccoli and cucumbers all fall into that category. I never thought that potatoes would be included until I finally grew them at home for the first time five years ago. A spud was a spud, I assumed, and they were so inexpensive in the grocery store anyways. The whole process of growing and “hilling” potatoes also intimidated me.

Indeed, I was wrong. I grew Red Pontiacs that first year and have ever since. Garden-fresh potatoes are so creamy and smooth, they truly taste as if they’ve already been buttered-up for you. My favorite recipe for them includes fresh garden sage leaves, and is so simple, easy and delicious, it has become one of my favorite dishes (I’ll include the recipe below). I love this recipe so much; I tried making it after I ran out of potatoes one year and substituted them with store-bought. Well I learned my lesson. The homegrown potatoes were what made the dish so delicious. Those grocery spuds tasted like wax in comparison. How disappointing. Potatoes are also pretty easy to grow. Here in Tallahassee they are traditionally planted around Valentine’s Day, and harvested by May. My friends Katie and Aaron, who run Full Earth Farm in Quincy, have a traditional Valentines Potato-date every February. There are many ways to plant potatoes, but I’ve been most successful with the following technique;

Make a trench 10 inches wide and 4 inches deep on level ground. Place a 2 inch layer of compost in the bottom. Cut Seed potatoes in halves or quarters, making sure there is at least one sprouting ‘eye’ in each piece. Allow cut potatoes to air-dry and callus over for a few days. Press each, cut side down, into the compost in the center of the trench to form a hill about 7 inches above the ground. I like to then cover them with mulch to prevent weeds.
By the end of April, the green tops will start yellowing and dying back and that means those little taters are sizing up underground. I use a garden fork to lift up the tubers with the least amount of damage. This is my favorite part of the growing process, because it feels like you’re digging up buried treasure. It’s a great activity for kids (of all ages). So set a potato-date and save this recipe for your harvest!

Roasted Sage Taters

Method:

1. Preheat oven to 425°F. 
2. Scrub and dry the potatoes. 3.Pour the oil into a heavy oven-proof skillet, preferably of cast iron, and spread evenly. Lay a thick bed of sage leaves flat on the oiled surface, completely covering the bottom of the pan.
4. Sprinkle the salt over the sage. It may look like too much salt, but it’s not.
5. Cut small potatoes in half or large ones in quarters and arrange, cut side down, on the sage.
6. Bake, uncovered, until the potatoes are tender and the cut sides are crusty brown, usually about 35 min.

Ingredients:

2 lb. Red Pontiac potatoes
2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
20-30 fresh sage leaves
1 tsp. coarse sea salt 4 servings