June 8, 2012

Piddly Potatoes & Gorgeous Garlic

I planted my first bed of potatoes the last week of March. I harvested them the last week of May, which is early, but the plants had all died back by about day 65. These are Red Norlands which are an early variety, though days to maturity should have been closer to 75.

Red Norland potato harvest laid out on newspaper to cure
Yield from 1st potato bed, not much. Hopefully 2nd bed will yield better

I planted 5 lbs and harvested 7 & 1/2. While I'm sure I didn't find all of them, this is disappointing. I grew up in a midwestern meat and potatoes family, so I love potatoes. Plus they are an easy to grow starch.

Last year my potato harvest was equally piddly, though in reading around the internet, it seems I wasn't alone. I suspected blight, but also considered other factors, which I pondered as I was out there digging. I've come up with several conclusions.

1. I'm planting in the traditional deep dig, hill as they grow method. The problem is that then they grow deep. That means is more work to both plant and dig, plus I'm missing quite a few as evidenced by all the volunteers I had this year. Next year I need to try a different, work smarter method.

2. Since reading Neal Kinsey's Hands-On Agronomy, I've come to understand that my soil is lacking nutrients and that compost and manure alone aren't going to fix it. They definitely help, but unless they are perfectly balanced in minerals, they cannot correct a mineral imbalance, nor can the correct pH. Plants grown on balanced soils are much more disease and insect resistant.

3. The first year we planted potatoes, I planted them with pots of horseradish as a companion. I didn't do that this year or last. I don't know if there's a harvest connection, but my first year's harvest was over 120 pounds to the nine I planted. next year I will definitely sink more pots of horseradish in my potato beds.

Of garlic, I was happier with the results.

I like to dry garlic & herbs on an old window screen for the air circulation.

I didn't get the yield I'd hoped for, but most of the bulbs are huge

Still dirty but gorgeous to me.

I planted it last fall, during the first week in October. I saved almost all of the bulbs I'd harvested the previous spring, in hopes of gradually increasing my yield until at last we can grow all we need for the year.

I was on the verge of being too late to harvest these; tops of some of the plants had dried away, making them difficult to find. They need to be pulled while the tops still have some green in them. It's also good to harvest in dry soil, but it seems like we've been getting just enough rain to keep the garden too wet to work in. That meant I had to go ahead and pull these in near mud. I pulled what I could find, and turned the soil to find a few more. I seem to recall planting 90 something cloves, and harvesting about 55 bulbs. Larger cloves will go farther however.

I still have one more potato bed yet to harvest, and of course, good harvest or bad, I'm thankful for whatever I get. Still, I need to consider how to do things differently next year. Garlic is a must have in our diet and potatoes are one of my top choices for easy, self-sustaining starches, or at least they ought to be easy. Hopefully the 2nd bed will do better and in the mean time, I have some research to do.


amy said...

we also planted red norlands which died early. we planted in march and harvested the week before last. there were many good size potatoes, but also just as many teeny tiny ones. we also planted some hierlooms blues which seems to be still hanging on.

Doug Pitcher said...

A gardening friend of mine said she puts down newspaper and wets it then puts the potato on top of the newspaper and shovels dirt, manure, etc. over the top. When she harvests the potatoes they are on top of the newspaper so she knows she got all the potatoes. Haven't tried it but it sounds interesting.

trump said...

I really love my garlic, which means I always have tick tacks handy for that classic after taste! Richard

Mr. H. said...

By coincidence, one of our rows of potatoes happens to be growing right next to our horseradish this year so it will be interesting to see if that has any effect on the yield. Considering the time of year is it possible for you to plant more potatoes? On the few occasions that I have had the opportunity to try it I have found that some of my best potatoes came out of brand new beds that were previously in grass and had never been used for growing before. Your garlic looks great.

Bernadine said...

Garlic and potatoes are crops I'll have to try next. Looks like a great garlic harvest and I hope you'll have better results with the next batch of potatoes. It sounds very intriguing to plant horseradish with them. I'm hoping planting the basil around my tomatoes will keep worms and bugs away. So far, they're doing OK.

Rosalyn said...

Those are two crops I definitely want to try. I've already decided to plant garlic this fall, but missed the boat a little on potatoes I think. I imagine that there are still varieties that I could get in but I am not going to try them this year, what I have for the garden will be challenging enough given my limited experience! I think to start off (still we're still living in town for another three years), I'll plant potatoes in a bucket on our deck next summer and see what happens. :)

Natalie said...

I had the same problem last year with potatoes. I harvested almost exactly what I planted. This year, as a test, I am growing potatoes in a row, as well as potatoes in a special potato planter my mom wasn't using any more. I'll post the results when I dig them up.
Great looking garlic. I planted 3 bulbs worth of cloves and not one piece came up!

Renee Nefe said...

when I was a kid my father's friend grew potatoes and each year we went out to help him harvest.
He would first run the plow through the field. We would then dig into the hills he had plowed and find all the potatoes we could. Then he would run the plow through again and we would have to wade out into the super soft dirt to go get all the potatoes the plow had flung up (incentive for making sure we got them all the first time! It was always my brother's spots ;o) )
The potatoes were then stored under the house and we could get them any time we wanted.
We also helped him harvest and sell watermelon.

Julene said...

Your potato crop saga is educating. The soil really makes or breaks the outcome. Our soil is so red and heavy that we haven't attempted to grow them intentionally. However, we threw some potatoes on our manure pile(goat and horse) and the crop was great! The compost was pretty intense and lush! Speaking of compost/manure pile....we often throw pumpkin and sunflower seed on it and watch with amazement!

Michelle said...

Two years ago I got a good harvest of potatoes from the organic seed potatoes (just a handful!) I bought from Wood Prairie Farm, but last year's harvest from my own potatoes and some grocery store potatoes was awful. It will be interesting to see what I get this year. I dug up all my volunteers, harvested a couple quarts of baby potatoes (yum!) and replanted all the volunteers in a row. Amazing that your potato season is DONE!

Sylvanna said...

A quick Google search tells me that, yes, horseradish keeps pests and diseases out of the potato patch. But isn't it fun to find these things out by accident?

sista said...

Check out my blog from March 8th Fifteen days and counting http://welcometothehenhouse.blogspot.com/2011_03_01_archive.html

It's a different way to grow potatoes. Also use bone meal at planting time. Too much manure or nitrogen makes the plants grow top growth.

Anonymous said...

We tried a different method for a few years. We planted three or four potatoes per hill, then set an old tire over them. As the plants grew, we added more dirt and hay around it in the tire, then added more tires, dirt, and hay. I think we had it up to 5 or 6 tires before we stopped and let it grow. When harvest time came, we simply shoved the tire tower over and picked up the potatoes! Easy as pie.

The Stay @ Home-Gardener said...

Bum deal about the potatoes. But. How were they? :) Those that you did get were pretty nice from the photo. Have to say I am equally a bit nervous about digging them up over here.

Those garlics are gorgeous. Good job, i'd say. ;)

- Cloud

Woolly Bits said...

your garlic looks good! mine is still quite green, will be at least another month if not more until harvest. even though I planted them last autumn. I am more concerned about growing nice garlic than potatoes, probably because I live on potato island?:) they are not that expensive in the shops, whereas garlic tends to be. of course freshly harvested spuds are nicer, but I don't have enough space to grow all we need anyway. so I try to concentrate on "odd" ones, blue ones etc. I found that even in our humid climate the two new "Sarpo" breeds fared very well, they grow into late autumn without any blight, which of course improved the harvest a lot. not sure that you can get those blight resistant varieties though?

Natalie said...

I just looked it up in my companion planting book. potatoes do well with beans, corn, cabbage, horseradish and eggplant. They do noy do well with pumpkin, tomato, raspberry, squash, cucumber and sunflower. You might want to see if you have some of those nearby. Come to think of it I guess I should have looked it up a few weeks ago as mine are right next to the cucumbers.

Anonymous said...

My sister is trying to plant her potatoes in a barrel this year -- sounds a lot like the commenter who uses tires. And you know where the potatoes are!

Garlic looked great

Jean - MN

Leigh said...

Amy, thank you for that. I appreciate hearing about your experience! Have't tried any blue potatoes yet. :)

Doug, interesting! The newspaper doesn't decompose too quickly? I know there are a wide variety of ways to grow potatoes. I may have to do some experimenting with these.

Richard, LOL. Garlic does that, but gosh it's worth it.

Mr. H, thank you for that. Interesting observation. We still have time to plant more, it's true, but I'd have to mail order them. Everyone seems to plant early here, but I found that the early ones don't keep as long in winter storage. I waited as long as I could, but these were sprouting all over the place. Would love to have lots for winter eats!

Bernadine, I definitely need to conquer the potatoes. :) I'm a great fan of companion planting and love basil with tomatoes. And marigolds!

Rosalyn, actually, I find the later they're planted, the better they keep in food storage. :) There are so many ways to grow them, I know you'll have fun experimenting.

Natalie, I hope you have good results! Seems a lot of folks had a similar potato experience last year. Garlic is one I've been working toward. Bulbs in gardening catalogues are so expensive; I've been planting most of my harvest for the past few years until I can finally grow a year's worth!

Renee, what a memory. How neat the potatoes could be stored under the house! My trade off for a good long growing season, is that it's too warm to store things well, without refrigeration I mean.

Julene, so true! I always seem to have volunteer potatoes in the compost! I confess to being stingy with my compost when I plant. I always seem to have less than I need!

Michelle, I never thought of replanting volunteers, thanks! I think they treat grocery store potatoes with a retardant to slow sprouting, so that may be a problem there. If I could find seed potatoes locally, I'd plant a later crop! We certainly still have enough days until first frost.

Sylvanna, I did the same search, which is why I planted the horseradish with the potatoes. :) Last year I tried different companions (bush beans & 4 o'clocks) which didn't seem to help much. This year I never got around to planting a companion for the potatoes. Next year it will be back to horseradish. :)

Sista, my soil is deficient in phosphorous, it's true. It's a priority to correct the soil so I have high hopes for a better harvest next year. Now off to check your archives!

Aranel13, interesting! Definitely sounds easy, if one has a lot of old tires, LOL. This is the kind of experiment I need to try.

Cloud, thanks! Actually, they are delicious! Digging potatoes is great fun, kind of like an Easter egg hung!

Bettina, we do have so called blight resistant varieties, but I can't recall if the Red Norlands are or not. I will have to check on that. And into the Sarpo varieties as well, though I won't pin my hopes on those being available over here. :)

Natalie, my first year I sunk pots of horseradish into the potato bed. That was the best year so far. Last year I tried bush beans and 4 o'clocks as potato companions, but had a very poor harvest, especially the bed with the beans! This year I didn't get any companions planted, but they were planted in last year's popcorn beds. Companion planting is a fascinating topic. :)

Jean, thanks! I've heard of the barrel method. Next year I'm going to do some experimenting!

Ellen from Georgia said...

We planted two different types of potato's on March 17 and the plants are still growing. They are Russet's and Red potato's. Would like to send a picture just can't figure out how to. Does it usually take 65 days for Russet's? Thanks Ellen from Georgia

Sherri B. said...

The biggest disappointment we had with potatoes was the year we tried putting them in tires. You keep adding more tires and soil..the report was, you would yield mass quantities. We were very excited about harvesting until we started taking tires off and out poured potatoes that had been all hallowed out by something with big old teeth! Very sad indeed. xo

Nina said...

The garlic looks great. Half of of mine didn't come up, probably due to the odd winter weather we had. What did grow, looks good. We won't harvest until mid July though.

famousthecat said...

We are growing potatoes for the first time in a bin system - I have NO idea how successful it will be, but I'll be sure to post about it! Oh, and garlic - lordy, I cannot WAIT to plant tons of garlic this fall. Beautiful haul!

Thistle Cove Farm said...

lovely yield of garlic. thus far, my potatoes are doing well, thank God.

Leigh said...

Ellen, if the plants are still growing, then they aren't ready to dig yet. Some varieties are considered early, others midseason, etc. Once they die back, you can dig for the harvest. For a more specific idea of when that would be, I'd suggest doing a search as "Russet potatoes days to maturity."

Sherri, how disappointing. I wonder what would have feasted on them in your tire tower!

Nina, the odd weather certainly does make things unpredictable. I wish more of my garlic had come up too.

Famousthecat, I'd be very interested in how they turn out! No matter, it will be fun and you'll learn something in addition to growing those yummy potatoes. Hopefully you're garlic will do well too.

Sandra, I hope your potatoes do well!

Bridget said...

We always get good Potatoes but not so good garlic. It's a win some, lose some situation. We will carry on regardless.

Farmer Barb said...

Wow. Curing potatoes. They sure don't tell you about that on the bag. I never really looked them up, I just plunked them in. How long do they have to cure? No wonder they tasted weird...