Monthly Archives: April 2014

Potato Planting Tips

I am as I have always been:  in love with potatoes.

Mashed or roasted, baked or fried, add just the right amount of butter and there will never be leftovers!

As with all things that I now steward the seeds of, I dearly love to eat them.  The multitudes of colors and shapes, their versatility in our kitchen, their unceasing ability to satisfy, on many levels, is without end.   We love to plant, harvest, eat and plant more potatoes…and the circles go round!

There are thousands of potato varieties, all different colors, shapes, sizes and maturity dates!

There are thousands of potato varieties, all different colors, shapes, sizes and maturity dates!

Of all the marvelous things in my Father’s gardens, potatoes were particularly beloved.  After planting a humble, sprouted chunk in an old wine barrel the gorgeous, deep blue foliage would rise and the pale, delicate flowers would appear as shooting stars.  We’d pour more soil with fresh grass clippings on top, making the plant rise and flourish all the more until finally the time came to tip over the barrel!  Beside my sister Greta, pushing with all our might we’d spill the contents of the barrel and scurry to find those gems of gold, ruby and sapphire among the soil.  With so much anticipation, harvesting potatoes was more elating than an Easter Egg Hunt!  To this day, harvesting potatoes is still one of my favorite pleasures of gardening.

Potatoes are one of the easiest plants to grow and here are a few keys to ensure abundance!

 

Start with the best certified organic, disease-free seed potatoes you can find.  Although it’s tempting, store-bought potatoes have been treated with chemicals that inhibit sprouting and are inappropriate for planting.  There are hundreds of potato varieties, so try something new alongside your old stand-bys!  Fruition Seeds offers seven different potatoes for seed, each one with unique color, shape, maturity and level of disease resistance, each one regionally adapted to thrive in the Northeast.

Leave potatoes in the warm sun and you'll soon have sprouting potatoes!

Leave potatoes in the warm sun and you’ll soon have sprouting potatoes!

Once you have your seed potatoes, set them in a warm, bright place for a few days until they just begin sprout.  All potatoes larger than a chicken egg can be cut into pieces with at least three sprouts called ‘eyes’.  Let the cut potatoes heal over  in a warm, dry place for several days before planting.

Potatoes prefer to grow in cool weather, so plan on planting them 2-4 weeks before the last frost.  Plant them in the ground or in containers, but here is a secret:  potatoes only grow above the seed potato!  There are many ways to increase potato production and here are a few:

-plant potatoes in a 10” deep trench and cover with  4″ of soil,  ‘hilling’ them with additional soil or mulch once they’re 10″ tall and again every 2 to 3 weeks as they grow

-plant potatoes in a 4” trench and ‘hill’ them with additional soil or mulch once they’re 10” tall and again every 2 to 3 weeks as they grow

-plant potatoes in a container at either of these depths and hill accordingly

Potatoes are heavy feeders and production will reflect the quality of soil (and good compost) they are offered, so don’t hold back!  Also, always plant them with their eyes up about 8” to 12” apart in the trench, leaving 2’ to 3’ between trenches.  Hilling potatoes can be accomplished by hoeing soil onto each plants’ stems as well as by tucking weed-free mulch (grass clippings, straw, leaves) underneath each plant.  Hilling allows for greater production and also ensures that each potato will not be exposed to sun, causing them to blush green and become bitter.  Leave at least 6″-8″ of the foliage above the hillling soil or mulch.

Each cut piece of potato to plant needs at least two sprouts, called 'eyes'!   Let them heal 2-3 days before planting.

Each cut piece of potato to plant needs at least two sprouts, called ‘eyes’! Let them heal 2-3 days before planting.

Be patient: sprouts will emerge two to four weeks after planting.  Potatoes thrive with consistent water throughout the season; mulching helps maintain even soil moisture.

As your potatoes grow, be aware of any pests and diseases that may arrive.  Colorado potato beetles must be picked off at every life stage (egg-larvae-adult) before they defoliate your crop.  Most potatoes are susceptible to both Early and Late Blight (though you can select disease-resistant varieties) and the best way to protect your crop is to water the soil rather than the foliage.  Also, allowing plenty of space between plants ensures good air-flow, decreasing the cool, moist pockets that allow Blight to thrive.

Be vigilant!  Potato beetles need to be  hand-picked at every stage in their life-cycle.

Be vigilant! Potato beetles need to be hand-picked at every stage in their life-cycle.

Expect to eat about ten times of what you plant:  if you plant one pound of potatoes, you’ll harvest about ten pounds. Potatoes are one of the most productive foods you can grow in your garden, not to mention fascinating and fun.

Every Spring I look so forward to planting our potatoes.

 I hope you’ll enjoy their beautiful abundance as well, tucking them into your soil for many years to come!

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Four Easy Seeds to Save this Season

Why save seed?

You’ll have seed better suited to your farm or garden than any you could buy.

 You’ll  learn tons about plants, food and yourself in the process.

Growing, saving and sharing seed is as profound as it is fun!

So many seeds to save! Pick a few easy ones to start.

A century ago, to be a gardener was to be a seed saver.

Selecting the best plants of each variety for seed and sharing them with our community is an essential tradition of countless generations.

We save seed for many reasons.

We become better farmers as we pay greater attention to subtle shifts in plant health and local conditions.  Adapting to our soils and cultivation methods, the quality of our seed is higher than any commercially available for our farm.  We continue to improve and breed new varieties to be delicious, nutrient-dense and disease-resistant in our climate.  It is an adventure to pay attention to your garden in a new way, rewarding harvest seeds as well as salad and exciting to share your knowledge with other gardeners, especially at community gardens and seed swaps.  In terms of strict dollars and cents, it’s debateable whether you’ll save money, but consider:  you may pay more than you would at the store for each quart of salsa you put up, but you can’t buy that kind of flavor and nutrition, either.

 Each seed you save is more adapted to your garden than any seed you’ll ever buy; that saves you more than money.

It’s easy to save seeds from crops like beans, tomatoes and lettuce once you learn the basics!  Start saving seeds with the easy crops and your confidence will grow as the range of crops you’ll save seed of expands.

 Each of our seed packs comes with an insert, growing instructions on one side and seed saving instructions on the other.

 Here are four easy crops for you to save this season!

The hardest part of saving bean seed is leaving their sweet, succulent pods to become inedible, brittle and brown!

The hardest part of saving bean seed is leaving their sweet, succulent pods to become inedible, brittle and brown!

Beans

If you grow dry beans you are already saving seed!  For snap beans, simply leave some pods on the plants to mature and save those seeds to sow for next year’s crop.  Be sure to save seed only from plants that are completely healthy and disease-free.  Beans are self-pollinated, so separate each varieties by ten feet to keep each genetically distinct.

To truly select your bean crop for the resilience of future generations, mark the sturdiest plants that flower first and show no disease throughout the season with a piece of colored string or a tag.  Also, save seed only from the pods with the most beans.  You’ll see a difference in your future garden even in a single season!

Once the pods are brown, dry and beans are rattling inside, they’re ready to harvest.  It’s fun to shell beans by hand with friends, and especially with children.  If you’re saving a large quantity, wrap the pods in a large, clean tarp (like a burrito) and have a dance party on them.  Again, kids are crucial!  When most of the pods have shattered, separate the beans from the dried plant debris (called chaff) using a box fan on a table.  The air to blows the chaff away while the seed falls straight down in to a bucket on the floor below the fan.  For a video demonstration of cleaning seed with box fans, check out Fruition Seeds on YouTube.

Lettuce

Lettuce seed is one of our favorites to save!  Beautiful and often so effortlessly abundant, space for lettuce for seed as you would for a full-size head rather than for salad mix.  What you don’t save for seed goes on your plate so be sure to plant plenty of both!  Select plants for seed that are vigorous, true to type, disease-free and late-bolting.  The first handful to bolt get composted!   Lettuce is also self-pollinated, so maintain at least ten feet between lettuces for seed to keep each variety genetically distinct.

Be sure to compost the first lettuce heads to bolt to select for late-bolting in next year's garden!

Be sure to compost the first lettuce heads to bolt to select for late-bolting in next year’s garden!

Lettuce going to seed will often be as tall as you!  Each tiny yellow flower will become a dandelion-like tuft of seed and fluff when ready to harvest.  You can pluck each tuft by hand or shake the seed stalk into a bucket to free the seed.  Cleaning lettuce seed is very challenging, since the seed and the chaff are both very small and light, but screens and colanders work wonders.  Most important, be sure sure you harvest your lettuce on a hot, dry day and be sure it is dry as can be when you store it for next season.

Tuck the dessicant packs you find in shoes and seaweed in with you seed to keep your seed as dry as possible!

Tomato

With beans and lettuce, we have to restrain ourselves and not eat the plants that we save for seed.  With tomatoes, however, we have our cake and eat it, too!

When the tomato is ripe and ready to eat, it’s seeds are mature: we have the best of both worlds.   Also self-pollinated, twenty feet is often enough to keep separate varieties genetically distinct.  Save seed only from plants that are vigorous, true-to-type, early maturing and free of disease.

We select Rose de Berne for phenomenal flavor, early production and crack-free skin!  What will you select for?

We select Rose de Berne for phenomenal flavor, early production and crack-free skin! What will you select for?

To save tomato seeds, simply squeeze the seeds out of the tomato and into a jar.  You’ll notice each seed is surrounded by a thin gel; this coating contains natural compounds that inhibit seed germination to prevent them from sprouting in the warm, moist tomato!  In nature, this coating is broken down as the tomato decomposes.  In our kitchen, we ferment the coating using a simple process.  Add water about equal to your squeezed seed, label with the variety name, cover with a cloth and leave in a warm place for a few days.  If you ferment your seed in a glass jar, you’ll be able to see the layers that separate:  heavy, mature seed on the bottom, a layer of cloudy water and a layer of pulp and light, immature seed on top.  Gently pour off the molded top layer and rinse the seeds well, spreading them out on (labelled!) screens or paper towels to dry.

Cilantro & Other Annual Herbs

Annual herbs such as cilantro, dill and basil have seeds easily saved, as well.  Plant them as early as you can and with plenty of space, four to eight inches apart at least.  Keep plants well watered to encourage them to grow large and robust before going to seed.  Especially with cilantro, remove the first plants send up their seed stalk to ensure you’re selecting for late bolting!

Save seed only of completely healthy plants as soon as their seed is dark and dry to reduce the risk of the seed getting wet, diseased or prematurely dispersed.  Screens, colanders and fans do a remarkable job of cleaning the seed that you’ll likely have tons of, for years to come.

Dill is also easily saved, shared and will be sown for generations to come!

Dill is also easily saved, shared and will be sown                 for generations to come!

Let the adventure begin!

 

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