A week ago Sunday I was able to plant out both potatoes and carrots.
The potatoes are in the bed along the south side of the garage this year. Having a wall along one side of the bed made planting an awkward challenge. I used the shovel a bit, but ended up on my knees with a trowel for a lot of it. The soil was actually fairly dry against the house, because there’s just enough bit of overhanging roof to shelter it from getting much precipitation. The dry soil didn’t mound very well, and since I was working on a very limited timeframe during naptime, I didn’t have time to stop and wet everything.
Potatoes, as you may know, are supposed to be “hilled” or mounded up with soil or straw or something similar as they grow. My strategy with growing them in raised beds is to dig down as deep as I can and plant them under about 3-4 inches of soil. This leaves my potato bed looking “pitted”, sort of like the surface of a golf ball. As the potatoes grow, I mound dirt on top of the plants, until I end up with a bed that looks more like a little gentle rolling range of hills.
(That thing that looks like a rock in the middle of the picture is a Yukon Gold seed potato.)
This year I hope to get my hands on a bale or two of straw, so that I can also hill up with some straw on top of my soil. I think this will help improve the per plant yield of my potatoes, plus be good organic matter to go back into my soil later.
The varieties I planted this year are the same as last year: Red Pontiac and Yukon Gold. I planted about 1/3 Yukon Gold and 2/3 Red Pontiac. The Yukon Golds are the clear favorite for french fries, but the Red Pontiacs are good for things like mashed potatoes and potato salad, which we eat more often than fries.
Some of you still may be wondering why I waste any of my valuable bed space on potatoes at all. Potatoes are so cheap to buy at the grocery store, right? We got started growing potatoes on a whim after talking to a local farmer who was selling seed potatoes at the gardener’s market. We bought 3 or 4 Red Pontiacs from him and planted 9 plants at the end of one of our beds. When we harvested the potatoes and ate a few, they were so delicious and flavorful that we were hooked.
Some reasons why we grow potatoes:
- They need hardly any butter or salt and pepper to make them taste wonderful.
- The flesh (on the Pontiacs) is a beautiful thick creamy white, more appealing than anything we’ve ever seen in a grocery store potato.
- To buy organic red and yellow potatoes from the store would be fairly expensive, maybe $5-$10 per small bag.
- We already eat potatoes fairly often, and I’ve found its wise to grow what you like to eat the most.
- Potatoes are also relatively easy to store. We are very lazy about potato storage, and just throw them into a black plastic tub and put a tarp over the top. They should probably get more air circulation than this, but so far its worked for us, so we’re sticking with it for now because its easy.
- In one bed we can grow about an 8 month supply.
- They are pretty easy to grow and pretty low maintenance plants.
Now on to carrots…
The carrots were the second crop I planted a week ago Sunday. Carrots are very easy to plant. You just barely scratch the suface of the soil and sprinkle your seed, then cover with about 1/4 inch of soil on top. However, I’ve had several friends tell me they have “given up” on growing carrots anymore. My first time growing them was very disappointing, but its been getting better every year. Here’s a few things I’ve learned about growing carrots that might help you overcome your frustration with growing them.
First, your soil needs to be very loose if you want long, nicely shaped carrots and not weird, stubby multi-legged things like this:
If your soil is compacted, rocky, full of clay, or just anything short of perfect, you get funny looking carrots. Add lots of compost, and even some sand if needed, to get the soil light and airy.
Second, carrots take a long time to grow, so be patient and start them early enough. I plant in the spring and don’t harvest the mature carrots until the fall. Usually around Thanksgiving is when I actually take them all out of the ground, even though I pull a few here and there before then. Its hard to wait that long. Also, I have previously posted about my carrot storage methods here and here.
Third, carrot seeds are tiny so they are a little hard to work with. Its hard to see them as you drop them into the soil. This means they can blow away or get disturbed really easily, so they need a little protection in the beginning.
And finally, you have to thin carrots. I hate thinning carrots. I resisted it for a long time, but it has to be done. Carrots need 1-3 inches in between them to grow to a decent size. It kills me to pull out little green growing things. It seems cruel and wasteful. But no matter how carefully I plant, there are always some to be thinned. This year might be worse than usual because my little helper was very over zealous about spreading seeds for the red, purple, and yellow carrots. The little shoots that you pull out aren’t really transplantable, either. You could probably eat them in a salad, but I usually toss them to the chickens for a treat. I normally have to thin them more than once, too. I’ll leave a few too many the first time because I am always in denial about how many I’m going to have to thin out.
When I planted carrots on Sunday, I used some old peat moss that had been sitting in my garage for a couple years untouched (I can’t remember why I bought it in the first place, or why I never bothered using it up yet) to mix in with the soil where I planted the carrot seeds. I tried to make the soil loose enough that I could easily punch my finger down a good 8 inches in it.
The varities I planted this year are:
- Nantes Coreless
- Solar Yellow
- Cosmic Puple
- Atomic Red
The red, purple, and yellow carrots are just for fun, for my son. I planted Sweetness and Tendersweet both last year and was very happy with the results. The Nantes Coreless are a new variety I’m trying this year.
I laid a broken down trellis across each spot where I planted the carrots, to keep toddlers and kitties from disturbing them as they settle in and germinate. (The cat is especially a magnet for newly turned soil, which looks to him like an inviting place to go to the bathroom.)
Have you been successful with carrots, or did you give up on trying to grow them?