Saturday, October 30, 2010

Towanda…Fried Green Tomatoes

It’s been a few years since I’ve practiced my skills of frying up green tomatoes but with the bumper crop of green tomatoes this fall I decided it was time. So, I put on my apron, let out a quick warrior cry of “Towanda” and headed to the garden to pick a mess of big green unripe fruit.

Everyone seems to have their own ‘secret’ recipe for fried green tomatoes and I always enjoy hearing the different ways folks prepare and season them. Over the years I have developed a pretty straightforward simple recipe that people seem to like (at least there are never any leftovers).

First, wash and slice tomatoes about ¼” thick. Allow the slices to sit and sweat for a 30 minutes to an hour. Sprinkle them with a seasoned salt, Emeril’s Essence which I make up myself (recipe below) or just sea salt and fresh ground pepper.

Coat each side with corn meal and let them sit again for 30 minutes or so. Yeah, I know seems like there is a lot of sitting around.
Heat (med-low temp) enough vegetable oil or coconut oil in a heavy cast iron skillet to cover the bottom to about ¼”. Fry until light to golden brown, then flip each slice over and fry. Add more oil as needed with each batch. Place on paper towels before placing on serving dish. Serve warm (with a pinch of grated parmesean cheese on top). They are actually quite good cold out of the refrigerator too.
• 2 1/2 tablespoons paprika
• 2 tablespoons salt
• 2 tablespoons garlic powder
• 1 tablespoon black pepper
• 1 tablespoon onion powder
• 1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
• 1 tablespoon dried oregano
• 1 tablespoon dried thyme
Combine all ingredients thoroughly and store in a grinder or shaker jar.

Monday, October 25, 2010

A Couple of Sweet Potato Queens

It seems The First Lady and I share some common ground… in the garden. Yes, we can both grow some ginormous sweet potatoes. I think it is safe to say, maybe even politically correct to imply we are a couple of Sweet Potato Queens, both a bit surprised at the size of our taters perhaps but proud none the less of our garden produce.
I planted a 4 x 8’ raised bed with sweet potato starts this year and was pleased at the amount of ‘Beauregard’ sweet potatoes that small area produced considering that I planted them in June and pretty much ignored them until September when I started sneaking a few here and there to cook for dinner and finally last week (Oct 25th) dug them all up, left them lay in the garden for a couple of hours then brushed off the extra soil and spread them out on a table in the garage out of direct sun to cure for a couple of weeks.
Sweet potatoes can deal with heat and less rain which was good this year since we had close to record breaking temperatures with near drought conditions mid to late summer.
I should have mounded soil up around the potatoes during the growing season as necessary but didn’t. A few tater tips were sticking up out of the soil and were a bit green. I will cut those ends off and not worry about it.
The vines grew out beyond their borders and I did trim them up a couple of times when they encroached on the strawberries. Geoff with CobraHead Tool Company lives in Austin, TX and told me he eats the sweet potato vines when he trims them. I had never heard of that and am excited to try it next summer. He says to blanch them first then sauté them in a little butter with salt and pepper. The moles did enjoy some of the fruits of MY labor as well, apparent on a few of the taters. Next year I will be more vigilant and proactive by using mole-ridding products - ‘I Must Garden Mole and Vole Repellant’ and ‘Liquid Fence Mole Repellent Worms’. I may also try placing chicken wire at the bottom of the raised bed – after all, it usually takes a village to control these tricky critters.

Sweet Potatoes pack a powerful punch when it comes to health. Dr. Robert Cordell claims that a sweet potato a day keeps the doctor away @ He continues…
“The sweet potato ranks extremely high in nutritional value according to the Center of Science in the Public Interest. The Center strongly recommends eating more sweet potatoes since a nutritious diet is one that is high in fiber, provides protein, Vitamins A, C, E, iron and calcium, is rich in complex carbohydrates, and low in fat.

More Fiber
The sweet potato is a good source of dietary fiber, which lowers the risk for constipation, diverticulosis, colon and rectal cancer, heart disease, diabetes and obesity. The fiber in sweet potatoes provides a feeling of fullness and satiety, which helps to control food intake.

More Antioxidants
Antioxidants play a role in the prevention of heart disease and cancer, and sweet potatoes supply plenty of the antioxidants, vitamin E and beta-carotene. These substances are effective in neutralizing free radicals, which are responsible for damage to cell walls and cell structures. Vitamin E also protects against heart attack and stroke by reducing the harmful effects of low-density cholesterol and preventing blood clots.

Antioxidants are essential for good brain functioning and in delay in the effects of aging on the brain. A low level of vitamin E has been linked with memory loss. A Columbia University study showed a delay of about seven months in the progression of Alzheimer's disease when subjects consumed high levels of vitamin E. This fat-soluble vitamin is found mainly in high-fat foods such as oils, nuts, and avocados. Only the sweet potato provides vitamin E without the fat and calories.
Sweet potatoes contain 1,922 mcg - RAE of beta-carotene (vitamin A) in one cup, which is more than the USRDA. You would have to eat 16 cups of broccoli to consume the same amount of beta-carotene. Health professionals believe that carotenoids give protection from the formation of free radicals and are chemoprotective against cancer. “

So go ahead and enjoy sweet potatoes as often as you can. They are easy to prepare by baking, roasting, boiling or get creative and make soup, pies and fries – you are only limited by your imagination.

One of my favorite uses for the orange tuber is in soup - here is a recipe to try...

Cindy Sue’s Sweet Potato Soup

Sauté in heavy steel pan with 1 tablespoon of butter on low heat until tender:

1 large onion, chopped
3 large sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped
1 tart apple, peeled, seeded and chopped

Melt 2-3 Tablespoons butter in a large heavy stainless steel pot sautae onion, potatoes and apple until tender.

1 can chicken broth (15 oz)
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon curry
1/8 to ¼ teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
½ Tablespoon fresh grated ginger root
Simmer on low until all is cooked (mushy)

Add 3 cups cream or milk, use a hand held blender to mix until desired creamy texture is achieved. Some small chunks are okay.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Watermelon Radishes at Kiteley's Farm Market

Kiteley's Farm Market in Charlevoix, MI offers the usual suspects when it comes to produce and sometimes they offer some of the more unusual veggies for the daring or budding gourmet.

"Watermelon" radishes are just one of the discriminating varieties that customers and restaurants alike have enjoyed at the farm this year. “Red Meat” is another name for this radish but I think “Watermelon” does a better job of describing plus you have to admit it just sounds more appetizing and maybe even a bit exotic.
This is the first year they have grown these little rascals and Sue couldn’t wait to show me. I of course an enthusiastic audience; I mean just look at these, what is not exciting about them? Cut them in half and they look just like a tiny watermelon without the seeds of course.

Sue tells me that they are a great keeper after being picked; just cut off the greens which are edible (but only keep for 2-3 days) and toss the topless mini melons in the bottom of the crisper drawer in the refrigerator. They will stay crisp and tasty for a couple of weeks. The flavor is intense and sweet; just what you would expect from a radish parading as a itsy bitsy water melon. Cut them up and serve them with a dip, slice and pile them on a sandwich or shred over a salad for a color burst of flavor and texture. Sauté the greens with a little garlic and as you thin the crop use the young micro greens (with bulbs attached) in salads. This variety of radish is best grown in summer and fall and reaches a mature size of 2-4” in about 50 days. Harvest before the bulbs get old and woody. For a continual harvest, sow seeds every 2-3 weeks. To keep the greens flea beetle free, Sue covers the seed bed with a row cover.

These radishes are not only cute they are good for you too. So what are you waiting for? Order some seeds today from: and get sowin.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A Visit to Grandad's Apple Farm

A recent visit to Grandad’s (no, not my Grandad) Apple Farm in Hendersonville, NC really got me in the mood for fall…even though it was 98 degrees on September 24th! You can’t help but love people who are having fun at what they do. These folks seem to exude bushels of it and the entertainment starts from the minute you pull into their drive.
After all, how many times do you see a Tyrannosaurus Rex in the goat pen eating some poor bloke? The resident lama whose job is to protect the goats from harm didn’t seem to notice the large intruder in his midst. Perhaps his eyes were crossed from all the cabbage he was ingesting.

A Stegosaurus was in the pumpkin patch…how many pumpkins a day does it take to fill him up?

As my friend and tour guide Jennie and I walked into the farm market the smell of fresh baked pumpkin bread and apples wafted through the air. There were large bins of apples and the best part was they were all labeled with large signs. I especially appreciated it because it takes the guesswork out of trying to figure out which variety is which.

A very patient young lady was peeling and slicing samples for all of us customers to sample. Honey crisp was a new one to me that was really sweet. We voted for the lovely green mutsu with its crisp and tart innards (I was thinking how grateful I was to still have mine after passing through Jurassic Park on the way in!) As I wandered around and looked out the back of the building, the cornfield maze and mountains made a scenic background. Workers were bringing in apples and fall vegetables from the back to continually fill up the bins while customers were loading bags of apples, pumpkins, gourds, and veggies into their vehicles in the front.

Jennie bought apple cider and pumpkin bread and it reminded me of the apple orchards in Northern Michigan where apple cider and fresh made hot doughnuts team up to usher in autumn tourists. As we meandered about looking for more oddities I had to wonder who parks their tractor on top of a silo. Maybe they were protecting their John Deere from the dinosaurs? Or was it some mountain gnome’s idea of a practical joke? They’re everywhere you know. It was all quite perplexing to us adults but as I took one last look I felt quite sure that any visiting children would find everything in perfect order.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Guilford County Master Gardeners

Yesterday I had the privilege of speaking at the Guildford County Master Gardener 9th annual Gardening Gala and Seminar. 200 garden enthusiasts listened to my presentation of “Kitchen Gardening in the Front Yard”…and what a great audience they we re. Afterwards, I had the chance to talk to many of them as I signed copies of my book, “The Cracked Pot Herb Book” and learned they were from Greensboro and surrounding areas. It is always a pleasure to hang out with a bunch of gardeners at events like these. They all come ready to learn, enjoy great food, win door prizes, buy plants and gardening accessories from the vendors and meet and chat it up with other people who love gardening. The Guildford Master Gardeners have a wonderful demonstration and community garden which I had fun meandering through. I was told they had been working hard in the gardens to get them ready for this annual fall event and it showed…they were beautiful! They had a huge rain barrel from which to water from and I have to admit I did experience a bit of rain barrel envy when I saw it. That barrel must hold a good bit of rain.

I loved their outdoor classroom and vermi-culture area. What a great facility to hold workshops and gardening demos in the garden. The public is welcome and the Master Gardener volunteers answer questions on occasion in the garden.

I am so impressed with the number of community gardens that North Carolina has and after talking to gardeners who volunteer their time to work in them I am inspired to do more with community gardens in my own neck of the woods.

The Guildford Master Gardeners took such great care of me. They booked me a room in the Proximity in Greensboro. This hotel has won many awards for their sustainable gardens and landscape. The food in their bistro was excellent as well. I ate a mushroom and quinoa stuffed pumpkin with a side salad and beet chips. Yum is all I can say about that!

Many thanks to the Guilford Master Gardeners whose volunteers worked hard to produce and staff such a large event and to the people who came to enjoy the fruits of their labor!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Can you say Asteraceae?

This was my third of five weekend classes in Mountain City, GE learning about wild plant medicine making. The weather was near perfect, no rain which in a rain forest is unusual. We trekked over trails and at Patricia's whim we would stop, drop and key out plants.
She and Lorna are trying to get it through our heads to think in families when we look at plants. By recognizing plant families we will have a basic familiarity right from the git-go and no matter where in the world we are we will at least know a little something to point us in the right direction.

It's like going to the pool at the YMCA in the summertime and observing the families who come to swim...the kids all have similar characteristic traits special to their family which makes it easy to identify which family they belong to. Does that make sense or is it just me? Many of the plants we keyed out this weekend were in the Aster family....hence Asteraceae, the proper family name. I had no idea how many plants are in this family and how difficult they are to identify down to precise variety.

Difficult or not, persistence, a good magnifier with guidance from our fearless leaders and our trusty 'Newcomb's Wildflower' and 'Vascular Plants of the Blue Ridge' books in hand (or backpack or apron) usually resulted in the correct identification of certain Asters, Goldenrods and Boneset varieties which were blooming happily in fields, on the roadsides and along the trails.

It took this long for things (anything) to start clicking in my brain but I'm actually starting to put it all together and think in plant families. Patricia and Lorna will be so proud.

Last class which I didn't make time to post was great fun because we actually experienced harvesting. We dug pleurisy root and cut the soft areal parts of Passion flower, from a field covered in blooms of orange, white and purple. We also gathered Skullcap and horsemint along a trail. All this harvesting was of course done with permission and permits properly obtained. I learned many things but one thing is for sure, a small shovel is a wonderful tool and won't wear a hole in your palm like a trowel will.

Back at Foxfire, we quickly went to work to make medicine from the freshly harvested herbs. We first scrubbed the roots and cut them up in small pieces for a tincture process. We discussed menstruum - the fluid that is poured over the herb parts and the ratios of alcohol and water, how to dilute and how to figure out weight to volume for each plant that we were to tincture.

Once the roots pieces were submerged properly in the correct menstruum I then snipped passion flower and skullcap into separate bowls to be weighed. Once the correct ratio was figured out I put the areal parts into a jar and measured the menstruum and poured it in the jar and put a tight lid on them.

The tincture sits for two weeks (shake daily) before I strain it and put it in it's final resting place (jar), labeled of course. This process was finished at home. It is important to keep good records of all medicine making so I've started a notebook dedicated to just that.

A Bounty of Tomatoes

What’s a girl to do with a never ending supply of tomatoes from the kitchen garden? Put them up for winter of course. This was supposed to be a bad year for tomatoes here in Middle Tennessee but I gotta tell ya, my garden didn’t get the memo because they just keep coming and coming. I even dreamed about maters the other night. Every batch I finish I put all the equipment away for the year only to pull it out in a week and cook up a few more jars.

But, I promised myself this was it. There are only two of us, as my husband reminds me on a regular basis and Annie the dog doesn’t really like tomatoes. My crazy hens Cilantro and Coriander clean up the leftover ends and skins off the compost pile but that doesn’t help me with the front end production.

I have given loads away, I think my neighbors see me coming and hide…although they seem to like maters better than zucchini and really appreciate it if I turn those tomatoes into fresh salsa before I deliver to their doors. I call friends and invite them to come and harvest anytime but people are busy these days and they like them much better already in a basket left in a convenient place on their front porch. I call it my veggie ministry. I keep recycled plastic bags close at hand when I'm working in the kitchen garden, since it is in our front yard, one never knows when a passerby will stop to chat and I can bless them with a sackful of tomatoes.

We had a baby shower the other day and I was so happy to contribute bruchetta by the gallon. A fabulous way to use up lots of maters and it was delicious to boot (if I do say so myself)…of course what’s not to like about chopped tomatoes, garlic, sweet onion, sweet basil, a couple of shakes of sea salt and fresh ground pepper all mixed and drizzled with olive oil served up on toasted bagels with a little shaved parmesan cheese?

This year I canned just tomatoes, spicy tomatoes, Italian style tomatoes, tomato juice and salsa. Altogether I jarred (as they say here in the south) 30 quarts and 15 pints total.

It doesn’t end there, oh no…I couldn’t stand for tomatoes to go to waste so I froze 20 pints, pureed and quartered; great for soup, chili and stewed okra this winter.

Some summers are so crazy I just quickly wash tomatoes and freeze them whole in large plastic bags. Sounds like glass balls clinking every time I move them around while rooting in the freezer on routine archaeological digs (to make sure everything that went into the freezer is being used in a timely fashion). Later when I have time I will break out the frozen red balls, run some hot water over them which causes the skin to crack and peel easily then cook them down for canning.

If freezing and canning isn’t enough I also dehydrated 6 quarts of Roma and heirloom plum tomatoes; something wonderful to soak in olive oil and slather on salads and mix with pesto for pasta. Dried tomatoes are so tasty we eat them as a snack right out of the jar.

It seems like a lot of work but I know I will enjoy the ‘fruits of my labor’ this winter when home grown tomatoes from the kitchen garden are just a memory.

Here is a quick and easy recipe that I used to make an Italian blend all chopped in the food processor

20 cups of tomatoes – washed with any bad spots cut out then chopped in the food processor. My gardening neighbor pals, Jack and Al chop (with skins on) in a food processor the tomatoes they use for their summer production of salsa and they make 100s of jars to sell and no one is the wiser.
Peppers – seeded and chopped (food processor) use whatever sweet peppers you have to equal about 4 cups - I used 2 Italian fryers, 3 sweet bell, 2 pimento and 3 sweet banana

2-3 large sweet onions – chopped in the food processor.

6-8 cloves of garlic – pressed

½ cup chopped basil leaves

¼ cup chopped oregano leaves

1 Tablespoon brown sugar

1 Tablespoon sea salt

Mix all together and simmer for 2-3 hours.

Ladle into hot and sanitized quart jars, seal. Can be water bathed for 20 minutes to ensure a safe and sealed product. Makes about 6 quarts.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

It’s a Bird, a Plane…It’s a Hummingbird Clearwing Moth!

While taking pictures this week of my kitchen garden critters I spotted this feller (or maybe gal) on the ‘Blue Chip’ buddleia (dwarf butterfly bush). I snapped a couple of pictures so I could get a better look later and to help with the identification.

At first I thought perhaps it was a cicada killer which is exciting in its own right but it acted more like a mini hummingbird as it flitted from bloom to bloom and it had a fuzzy body. When I looked at the pictures on the computer screen I realized it was indeed something else. I did some ‘thumbing through’ the internet and found out it is a hummingbird clearwing moth.
The hummingbird clearwing moth or Hemaris thysbe, if you will are unusual in the fact that most of their cousins in the sphinx moth family are nocturnal whereas this little gem likes to be seen in the day and flies about meadows, forest edges and flower gardens. With a wingspan of about 1 ½ to 2 inches they dart from bloom to bloom in a hurried feeding frenzy that tends to blur their distinctive clear wings.

Many people mistake this moth for baby hummingbirds which now explains all the stories I have heard from excited gardeners about teeny tiny hummingbirds visiting their flowers. If in doubt look for antennae and a spindle-shaped body…you may have to look fast or try my trick and take a picture so you can slow them down and get a close up look on the computer screen.

In early spring, females lay eggs on the undersides of leaves. The larvae that hatch have an obvious horn on the rear end and they’re especially partial to cherry, hawthorn and plum trees…good to know there is another use for the wild pit cherry trees besides propagating more cherry trees in all the wrong places in my yard. Here in the south there is often a second brood to hatch in late summer or fall.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Blackberries and Purslane - Breakfast of Champions

Annie, the garden dog and I like to head out early to beat the heat and enjoy the quiet of the morning in the garden. No time to fix a proper breakfast, we girls usually just forage. This morning Annie and I enjoyed ripe blackberries still covered in dew as we watered and pulled weeds. Annie likes to pick the low ones.

We or I should say (Annie won’t eat greens) I followed that up with purslane, a green that is often confused with a weed. Well, okay it is considered a weed in the real world but here at “The Wheel is Off the Bus” Garden (my pet name for my gardens for 2010), purslane is growing happily in the herb garden and even in pots handy to the kitchen so I don’t have to travel far to harvest some.
Purslane, Portulaca oleracea, an earth hugging succulent that has reddish thick, water filled stems and fat paddle shaped ½-2” leaves. According to “Wildman Steve Brill” Purslane was once a food crop in India. I have no idea how it got here but it grows freely in meadows, lawns and gardens. It loves hot dry weather and doesn’t skip a beat in our southern growing conditions.

You can find purslane growing from spring through fall. It blooms a yellow flower with 5 petals and one plant can have 50 thousand teeny, tiny seeds which are edible and viable for up to 30 years if undisturbed.

If identification is unclear, break open a stem, if it exudes a white milky sap it could be a poisonous spurge plant warns Brill which sometimes grows nearby. Purslane stems are filled with water. In fact, if you are weeding purslane, remove the plant from the garden as the water in the stems keeps the plant alive so it can quickly form seeds to disperse in an effort to pro-create. How cool is that?

The stems and leaves can be steamed, sautéed like spinach, eaten raw in salads, rolled in tortillas or chopped and added to soups for a thickening agent much like okra. In Russia folks dry and can this green.

Filled with Omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin C, beta-carotene, calcium, magnesium, potassium and iron, purslane is a healthy foodstuff that may lower cholesterol and blood pressure and help with joint inflamation. The best news is it grows wild. Good to know if you are out early and need something good to eat for breakfast!

Tomato Woes

It seems that many tomatoes have been splitting this summer according to gardeners everywhere or at least those here in Middle TN. With the weather inconsistencies this year the norm has been stretched and vegetables are apparently confused. I feel like splitting myself some days to somewhere cooler, oh wait that happens every summer in the south.

Okay so why all the cracking and splitting? Really, consistent water is an issue for the vegetable garden. This gardening season has been dry periods followed by heavy rains. This is tough on tomatoes especially during the early stages. Rapid grow occurs which can cause splits. It usually doesn’t happen to the whole crop and some varieties tend to crack-up more than others.
The Vegetable garden in general needs about an inch per week to maximize production and prevent problems like splitting tomatoes. Soaker hoses or drip irrigation are better than overhead methods. However if you have only sprinklers to work with water in the mornings so the leaves have plenty of time to dry out and water for a longer period of time every 4-7 days (depending on temperatures and drying winds) rather than a little every day. The plants will appreciate the longer less frequent drinks and their roots will grow deeper into the earth making them more sustainable and stronger when the heat gets turned up or winds knock them about.

Mulch helps to keep weeds out and moisture in. Straw, hay, newspapers or leaves make great mulch for the kitchen garden.

Blossom End Rot is another common issue with tomatoes. The bottom of the fruit is brown to black with a moldy and gross look. A lack of calcium seems to be the reason and there are many thoughts as to why this happens. In my kitchen garden I usually have a few (BERs) in the beginning of the season and I think it is because I use rich compost from horse poop which causes quick acceleration in growth. Because of the high level of nitrogen the calcium needed isn’t available until more of the nitrogen breaks down. (Like I mentioned, my theory)

Another reason can be heavy rains which dilutes the calcium and other minerals available in the soil. I have read that plants exposed to extreme conditions in the greenhouse or at the nursery can add to this problem of Blossom End Rot.

To help prevent BER it is always a good idea to buy good plants or start your own. Do everything possible to have good garden soil with lots of organic matter and the proper pH. Water consistently and rotate crops every couple of years.

I have heard it helps to add egg shells to the soil at planting time to give a bit of a calcium boost or spray young plants with a calcium solution.

Blossom End Rot is not partial to tomatoes and many other veggies can have this problem. This year I had a couple of peppers, squash and even some okra with BER symptoms. For me in my garden it all disappears quickly before I have time to think or do anything about it giving me more time to focus on how in the world we are going to eat all these tomatoes!

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Evil Twins

Meet the latest addition to the coop, Cilantro and Coriander. It took these chicks a while before I named them or even decided if they could stay. A couple of times I’ve threatened to let them fly back home to Louisiana where my son got them. For a while now I’ve simply referred to these girls as the evil twins. A name they earned shortly after moving in with Cornbread and Taco.

Taco had been sitting on 7 or so eggs and I was looking forward to hatching some chicks and we (well actually Taco) was getting close to the 28 day gestation or birthday. Along came the twins and to my horror they broke and ate the eggs.

I didn’t know the latest addition were carnivores…if I had known I would have waited to introduce them into the coop (or in my case tractor); but too late for all of that.

Since that time the twin bantams (can’t remember what kind they are, if you know please tell), have settled down and stopped their egg eating escapades. They have actually become productive chicizens so I guess they can stay. I did separate them into their own living space which may have helped them shape up too.

Last week I started leaving the door open on the tractor (cage) and let Cilantro and Coriander free range if they so desired…since they are my least favorite I wouldn’t be so upset if Annie the garden dog ate one accidentally (I know forgiveness is a freeing thing and I’m really over the dirty tactics these little devils first employed). Each night I find them perching back in their coop.

I left the other pair of bantams (Cornbread and Taco) in their house as a beacon or homing device for the twins in case they got too far away and forgot where they lived.
Yesterday I left Cornbread and Taco’s door open so they could join the twins out on the range if they felt so inclined. After a couple hours of debate they decided to throw caution to the wind and start exploring the new found freedom.

Thankfully last night just past dark with help from my I-phone light I found them all high, dry and safely perched. Cornbread and Taco happily bunked in for the night with the twins in their house. That rascally rooster! I battened down the hatches and said good night…another day another chicken adventure.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Dig This, Potatoes!

Digging potatoes from the garden is fun and rewarding. My children use to be amazed at all the spuds beneath the garden soil. It’s like Christmas in the summer time they used to say with excitement as they dug and made piles of taters.

This year I planted 4 – 4’x4’ raised beds (about 10” deep) in March with four different varieties of potatoes; Kennebec, Yukon Gold, Red Pontiacs and Irish.

When the plant blooms you can rob them for a few new potatoes by carefully digging beside a plant and pulling out a few little guys or just thin out the crop by removing a whole plant here and there. As the vines turn brown and start laying down it is time to harvest.

Potatoes should be harvested on a sunny day (I prefer morning) when the soil is dry. I use a large garden fork with wide spaced tines so as not damage any spuds. Never wash potatoes until you are ready to cook them, simply brush off excess soil with your hands.

Leave the dug spuds in the garden for a couple of hours to start the curing process.

To ensure longer storage for your crop of taters, lay them out on newspapers or a plastic table cloth in a single layer where they can dry out and continue the curing process for two weeks. Here in TN, I bring the summer crop inside where it is cool and lay them out on a table out of direct sunlight in the family room and leave the ceiling fans on to circulate the air.

The fall crop I lay out on newspapers in the garage where it is cool but doesn’t freeze. Later I store them in milk crates in a cool dark pantry. Potatoes exposed to sun, either in the garden or later and turn green should not be eaten. Check the spuds regularly and remove any soft or spoiling spuds.

I weighed each variety of potatoes to calculate the pound per square foot. I was pleased with the results. Total weight was 56.9 lbs which equates to .89 lb per square foot. Not bad considering that the average potato farmer usually gets about ½ lb per square foot. The Red Pontiacs were the biggest producer at 1.44 lbs per sq. foot of garden space. That means 23 lbs. of red potatoes in a 4’x4’ raised bed (spaced 8”-10”). That was about twice the production of the other taters in the same about of space. You can bet I’ll plant those again!

If you don’t have the space in your kitchen garden to dedicate to potato growing, there are other methods that may peak your interest. ‘Towers of Taters’ (as I call them) are a space-saver using materials already on hand or re-cycled. Stacks of tires, large round tomato cages, and bottomless containers (let your imagination run wild) work well. Place potato seed (whole or pieces of sprouted or soon to sprout potatoes with at least two eyes) in layers of straw or mulch, water well in full sun and watch beautiful, clean potatoes emerge. Fellow gardener Tom Moucka shows off his 'Tater Tower' – nice job Tom!

You can also plant tater seed in bales of straw or just lay them on the ground and cover with a thick layer of mulch. My great grandmother use to plant her peels. It was during the depression and food growing was a necessity not a luxury like today. As she prepared potatoes for supper she would peel them just a little thicker and lay those peels on the ground with the eyes up and cover with soil. My father remembers her continuous crops of potatoes when he was a child.

With a little extra effort and forethought you can have home grown spuds in your garden, yard or on your patio. Potatoes are a relatively inexpensive vegetable that you can readily buy at the store for about 2 bucks per pound (for organic) but when you taste fresh potatoes that you have grown yourself – priceless!