Saturday, May 7, 2011

Potatoes, Onions, Shallots and Greens

Potatoes, onions, shallots, lettuce, spinach, and beet greens went into the gardens today. I’d hoped to get them in a week or so earlier but it was too wet to work the soil last week. In fact the weather report was for rain all weekend except for this morning, so I was up early to do the planting.
Three rows of Dark Red Norland and Satina potatoes went into the garden next to the barn. Having tilled the soil yesterday, I used a wheel hoe to mark the rows and dig shallow trenches. With a pointed shovel I dug small holes about 5-6” below the soil level for each seed potato, about 75 in all, and put some composted chicken manure into each hole, put a bit of soil on top of the manure, and dropped in a seed potato. In all it took a little more than an hour to do this. 
After thirty years of gardening here I’ve tried to be efficient, but certain inefficiencies of scale persist. If I were growing potatoes for market, I’d have to use a furrower attached to a walk-behind tractor to get the rows deeper without shoveling. This would be more efficient, given enough feet of row; but without enough, the time taken in fitting out the tractor for use would make up for any time saved by not shoveling in the trenches. I’ve also tried various kinds of fertilizer and found that putting composted chicken manure into the holes (or trenches) works best and leaves the soil in good shape year after year. For potatoes, it’s important not to lime the soil or drop wood ashes on it from the stove, as this causes scab. It’s a good idea to give the potatoes constant moisture during the growing season if there’s not enough rain; a side dressing of more composted manure before the first hilling helps increase the size of the tubers.
One 30 foot row of Stuttgarter onion sets and one row of shallots were what I planted next in the morning after resting for about fifteen minutes. These go in shallow rows, and again composted chicken manure goes in first. As with the potatoes, given the small amount that I grow now, it’s most efficient to dig out the rows with a wheel hoe and then to plant by hand, making sure the sets are in the soil properly, and then to fill in the soil around and just on top of them, so that the hard rains don’t push them out of the soil. Onions also need continuous moisture and do well with a side dressing of manure after a few weeks. The way onions perk up after a good rain is noticeable. Planting onions for me is hands and knees work, and as my knees are not in the greatest shape, I’ve learned to wear knee pads. These cushion my knees against the stony soil on the sides of the rows, and allow me to scrabble around without feeling knee pain the next day—all day. After the onions and shallots, a quarter row of Early Wonder Talltop beets for greens, a quarter row of Tyee spinach, and a quarter row of Red Sails lettuce; the beets and lettuce will be succession planted every couple of weeks thru June. Altogether the planting took about 2 and a half hours. The weather was mostly sunny with temperatures in the sixties and a light wind.
In past years I’ve planted peas, and later corn, but these days I seldom do, as they take up more space than I think they are worth, particularly now that I’ve cut down the total square footage of garden space. Corn also is bothered by earworms and raccoons. Prevention measures take a good deal of time—and don’t always work.

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