April 30, 2010

Friday's Featured Food: Dragon's Eggs

D is for Dragon's Eggs... cucumbers, that is. Dragon's Eggs Cucumbers are one of the funnest novelty heirloom crops we grow. They taste like a mild cucumber but look like little white eggs.  This vegetable originates in Croatia and has a thin, white rind and a great crisp, fresh flavor, great for salads. But more than anything, they are attention-getters and great for practical jokes. Imagine giving your mom or neighbor a dozen of these in an egg carton and see what happens.

So, recipes...hmm. Much like cauliflower, cucumbers are usually just wash, sliced and eaten raw in our house. We love the flavor so much, there isn't any need to add to it. Cucumber salads are also a standard. For a sour salad, mix sliced cucumbers, sliced onions, and a bit of garlic. Add one part water to 3 parts vinegar. Let set for a few hours before serving. For a mild salad, just pour ranch dressing over sliced cucumbers and sweet onions. Let set for a few hours and enjoy!

But, if you feel the need to get creative, you could always make some pickles. Pickles means another D ... Dill. We are blest to have dill seed from my Grandma Albers' garden, true heirloom seed brought over from Germany by my great-grandparents and grown every since. Last year we relied on our heritage and made sweet pickles with my grandma's dill and Jay's grandmother Clara's recipe. It's definitely one will be repeating this year, may times over.

1 gallon sliced cucumbers
3 c. vinegar
3 c. sugar
2 T. mustard seed
2 T. salt
2 tsp. dill
1 tsp. celery seed
Boil the syrup and add the cucumbers. Simmer 15 minutes. Seal in jars.  
Yield:  4 1/2-5 pints


April 29, 2010

Soil from Scratch

I've made a lot of things in my life and followed a lot of recipes, but this was the first time I made dirt. Well, technically it's potting soil and technically Jay made it and technically it's the third year that he followed this recipe, but, well, you get the picture.

Why make dirt? It's not for mud pies, I'll tell you that! We are planning to grow and offer for sale about 100 hanging baskets of cherry tomatoes. We also are selling hundred of tomato, pepper, and cucumber seedlings. That takes a lot of soil. And, I don't know if you've noticed, but bags of potting soil can get pretty expensive...well, expensive for dirt, anyway.

So, my always inquisitive husband searched and researched online and found a recipe for potting soil. Just like most cooking, it's a lot cheaper to make this from scratch than it is to buy it premade. It also lets us control the soil type a bit, adjusting the ingredients to increase the water absorption and decrease the watering frequency.

So how do you make dirt? I'm not sure how many of his secrets Jay wants posted here, but it looks something like this (photos by K):

Which then turns into this:


April 28, 2010

Hanging Tomatoes

As with any business endeavor, it's important to find a niche and fulfill the needs of your customers. The same holds true for our gardening.

There are a lot of what I like to call "displaced farmers" in our community, couples who are retired from farming and have moved into town, to smaller "more manageable" properties. Many displaced farmers not only miss their crops and equipment, but they also miss that little garden patch in the backyard. They miss walking outside and picking the produce for supper. They miss watching a plant grow and succeed. And so they start a "city garden" or container garden or grow something, anything.

And that is why we sell hanging baskets of tomatoes. It's one thing to come to the Farmers Market and get fresh picked tomatoes. It's something else completely to grow your own in your back yard. Last year was our first year selling hanging baskets and potted tomatoes. Not only did they sell well, but they produced well, too. We loved hearing the weekly reports from our customers, telling how many tomatoes they got off their basket that week.


Each of our hanging baskets contains two cherry tomato plants, one producing red cherry tomatoes and the other producing yellow tomatoes.

We hardened the plants before selling, to make sure they were strong. We made the potting soil ourselves, to save money but also to make sure it would hold moisture. That way, if someone forgot to water their plant for a day or two, it would still survive. And we kept a few ourselves, to monitor the successes or failures.

The picture below was taken in December.

Yes, it was still producing cherry tomatoes through the winter. That same basket is also the high basket in the picture below. If that plant can produce from August to December hanging in our basement, imagine what one of the hanging baskets could do in the spring/summer?


April 26, 2010

Transplanting Cucumbers and Zucchini

Sunday was a busy day transplanting cucumbers and zucchini. These crops went into the second position of the movable tunnels. While cucumbers and zucchini are easy to start by seed in warm soil, transplanting them allows us to get a good jump on the growing season, especially in a high tunnel. If all goes as planned, I will be picking zucchini and cucumbers by the end of May... if not before.


The problem with transplanting these crops is that they don't like their roots disturbed; you need to give their root systems extra TLC. I planted a little heavy (more dense, less spacing) but I am guessing I will lose a few. Ideally, you should transplant these crops 2-3 weeks after seeding. I seeded these on April 10 and planted them out on the 25th of April.


If you purchase squash or cucumber plants to transplant, be careful what you buy. Buy some of the smallest plants with the fewest true leaves. Sometimes, in nurseries I see huge squash plants with blooms. These plants are stressed and will never produce as well. They also may not transplant very well.

The varieties I selected to grow in the high tunnels are parthenocopic, meaning they do not need to be pollinated. They also are almost seedless. That means I don't have to worry about insects getting in the buildings to pollinate, and the resulting produce is easier to consume by people with diverticulitis. These varieties do have their downside, though. The seed for these plants are very expensive, running 60 cents to over $1.00 per seed, depending on variety.

Zucchini Varieties:
Sultan -New this year.
Perfect Pick
Caveli- This is one of my favorites to eat.


Cucumber Varieties:
Socrates -New this year
Diva -Grown in the past
H-19 Little Leaf- very popular last year


Very soon I will need to add a trellis for the cucumbers to grow up, as the plants will start to take off and grow rapidly. You won't believe their growth in just a matter of days.

April 23, 2010

Learn how to Garden

Linda and I were blessed to have parents who enjoy gardening. My grandparents always had a big garden and I guess it kinda stuck. That generated the interest and some of the know-how. However, I have also spent countless hours at conferences, reading books, or searching the internet.

While many of the skills are second nature to us, I understand that it may not be that way for everyone. I always seem to forget about that. Many people in today's world have never planted or cared for a plant, let alone a garden. It always surprises me the number of questions that I get each week at the markets. I'm always more than happy to listen and answer if I can. If I can't, I will suggest resources or even try to find out myself. I guess that's the teacher in me, wanting to help others.

It hasn't always been this way, where so many people don't know how to grow their own food. Back during World War II, there use to be lots of time and money spend on teaching and informing the public on how to grow their own food. The more food people grew, the more it helped out with the war effort. Another gardener online posted this video on her website and I thought it was great. (Thanks, Barb!)

So I guess my challenge for you is this: While I know that gardening is not for everyone due to health reasons, housing restrictions, time factors or physical abilities. But don't let "I don't know how" be your excuse. There are lots of resources out there and people willing to help. Just tell them you know nothing and that you want to learn. Most gardener I know will love to "talk shop" and will spend the time to help you out. They may even share a few secrets! You can also check out your local Extension service or Master Gardeners programs in your area.

If this still isn't possible, try to buy produce from local producers. This will help support the local economy and help keep our dollars at home. In today's economy, we all could use a little help.

Friday's Featured Food: Cauliflower

Sometimes I think we take the "eat a rainbow of fruits and veggies" a little too literal. Cauliflower, for example, should be white. Right? Not at our house. This year, we have:
  • White Cassius: This main-season cauliflower produces a uniform, dense, and well-domed head. Vigorous, large plants give good protection from the sun.
  • Orange Cheddar: This beautiful, early, orange cauliflower holds well in the field. It becomes an even brighter orange when lightly cooked. We grow the orange for all the Clay Center Tiger fans! And maybe a few Abilene Cowboys, but only because they are family.
  • Green Veronica: Spiraled heads. Heads are lime green with pointed, spiraled pinnacles. Best planted in summer for harvest in the fall, or midwinter in mild climates. Plant 18" apart to give the large plants adequate space. Mild, nutty taste. I bet the girls will love this variety, just because it looks like a princess crown. ...and
  • Purple Graffiti: Stunning, flashy purple heads. Graffiti's brilliant purple heads attract attention. The colorful florets are attractive served raw with dip or as a cooked vegetable. Unlike Violet Queen, Graffiti produces a true cauliflower head on large plants. Best for fall harvest, but can also be sown in spring. We grow this one just for the K-State fans, looking for something healthy to add to the tailgate. Besides, won't it look lovely with our purple potatoes, tomatoes, and peppers?
My favorite use of cauliflower is not very exciting: I wash it, chunk it, and eat it raw, with or without salad dressing. Like broccoli, the more fresh the cauliflower is, the more vibrant it tastes. If I'm not eating it raw, I steam it and top with a little bit of shredded cheddar. YUM!

But, for those who want a bit more creativity, you could try this recipe for a pickled cauliflower, from Alton Brown. Or how about a cauliflower soup, from the Pioneer Woman. Or how about this cauliflower au gratin from Taste of Home, because everything tastes better with bacon.

Now that I look at that, I'm definitely making that soup, as soon as we have a head ready to pick...which should be in a matter of weeks! Yay!

April 21, 2010

High Farming

So, why "High Farming"?

Because we love what we are doing and it is an amazing natural high.

Because high tunnels are a keystone to what we are doing. Without the high tunnels, the Kansas climate would have wiped out our crops at least a dozen times in the past 3 years.

Because we grow lots of green plants under lights in our basement, and therefore get our fair share of "high" jokes.

Because "windy hill" and "windy farm" were taken and "gale-force winds farm" just didn't have the poetic ring to it.

And, because we live on one of the highest hilltops in our county. The heating bill is horrible, but the view makes up for it:


April 20, 2010

Moving Day

Today was moving day. We moved our two high tunnels off position A to position B. While the broccoli and potatoes aren't as big as I had hoped, they are off to a great start. We didn't get them planted as early as I had hoped, but I am happy!

The tunnels are built on a slope. So one of the tunnels is moving uphill and one of the moving downhill. We had hoped to be able to pull the tunnels by hand. It just proved to hard, especially with my bad foot. So we resorted to using my truck. We attached two 5 foot ropes to the tunnel. Those ropes were tied to a 16 foot 2 by 6. Then we tied a long rope to one end of the 2 by 6, ran it up to my truck and brought it back to the other end of the 2 by 6. We had a few problems with it catching on stuff and the rollers coming off, but I will have all summer to fix that. We had to take out 6 bolts on each side, then move the building and redrill the holes and put the bolts back in.

K, took a video of us moving the one tunnel up the hill. I wish she took a video of us pushing the other tunnel down the hill.


My nemesis

Bindweed. I hate this stuff:

Just look at it. See how it branches out in every direction, how quickly and easily it puts down those little sucker roots, how expansive it can get from one tiny seedling. After a day of weeding the garden, I will see bindweed in my dreams, er, nightmares. And to think, it all started because an immigrant long, long ago thought they were pretty flowers and chose to bring them to the U.S. If only they had known.

It's not that it's hard to pull. One good tug and out it comes...or so it seems. The problem is that the roots go so, so much deeper.

Our farm has been farm ground for a long, long time. The terraces are covered with the annoying little white flowers that signify bindweed. There really isn't anything we can do, besides pull. And pull. And pull.

But there is hope, in the form of a team of researchers and a very tiny insect.  Only time (and field trials) will tell!

April 19, 2010

Be jealous...but not for long!

One of my favorite aspects of our massive garden is getting to walk outside and "shop" for supper. Last night, we had a fresh spinach and lettuce salad with asparagus, cherry tomatoes, homemade croutons, carrots and cauliflower. Okay, so I had to buy the carrots and cauliflower, but give us a couple weeks and that too will be from home.

Spinach amazes me, how quickly it grows from this:
to this:

to this:

It also is one of the most fascinating seedlings, to me. Look back at that first picture; are there any other plants that look like a grass and broadleaf at the same time?

And to add to the spinach? Some fresh salad greens from our office room. Grown in a planting flat, this lettuce experiment has definitely proven itself worthy and cost-efficient:

So, as I said, be jealous, because it was delicious! But don't be jealous for long. You can pick up some locally grown salad for your own dinner table at any of the area Farmer's Markets starting up soon.


April 18, 2010

Guest Post: K's perspective

Today's blog post is written by our oldest daughter.  

 I like that we have too much garden. I Bet It could take over our yard.

My favorite plants are tomatoes, potatoes, spinachbroccoli , and cucumbers, and also cauliflower.

I like watering because i can get very very very very very very  WET.

That's all about my garden THE END. 

April 16, 2010

Friday's Featured Food: Broccoli

What do you think of when you hear “broccoli”? If you picture the limp green blobs served in cafeterias or the slouchy slime that makes 1930s horror movies proud, then you don’t know broccoli.

Last year was the first year that Jay or I had homegrown broccoli, and we were astounded. We, er,  I like fresh broccoli with or without the side of ranch dressing and think, er, thought what I had tasted just fine. But, oh my. The difference between fresh broccoli and what I had been eating is equivalent to the difference between ice milk and Freddy’s Frozen Custard. YUM! Not to mention, these were not your typical broccoli heads. They were HUGE, as you can tell by the pic of L modeling her broccoli bouquet from last fall.

Apparently, broccoli – like most fruits and vegetables – begins to lose its natural sugars and crispness the moment it is cut from the ground. Frozen veggie companies work hard to minimize the time from cutting to frozen, in hopes of maintaining those good qualities. That’s also why stores work so hard to get the freshest vegetables on their produce shelves.

I have a challenge for all you anti-broccoli fanatics out there. Just once, stop by the farmers market this summer and buy a fresh head of broccoli. As the old cereal commercial used to say, “Try it. You might like it.”

If flavor isn’t enough of an argument, how about health? CNN called broccoli "the superstar" of vegetable for a reason. Broccoli is a great source of Vitamins C & A, fiber, folic acid and iron. It can help boost your immune system and possible prevent some types of cancer.

My favorite way to eat broccoli is fresh, raw, with a side of dipping sauce. For those times I need to cook it, I use the Ziploc steam bags to steam it, then add just a pat or two of butter and a dash of salt.

As part of a bigger meal, Jay found this Beef and Broccoli meal that is delicious! It’s a great way to use the cheap cut of round steak and is so delicious that everyone around our table loves it, even L-the-picky-eater.

April 14, 2010

New Tools

This year at the Great Plains Vegetable Growers Conference, I picked up some new tools:  hoes. These aren't just your cheap made hoes; they are made out of used disc blades, are heavy duty and built strong. Think of it as recycling, farming style. The best part is they are made in Munden, Kansas. (We  like to buy local, whenever possible.) While I have only used them a few times, I am impressed and would highly recommend them.

I purchased a 60 S Scuffle hoe, 70 G Garden Hoe, H 40G hand hoe, and a hand held Scuffle Hoe (not pictured). I am sure you will see many pictures of these tools in use this year. Check them out online at Prohoe.com

April 13, 2010

Saran wrap vs. Kansas gusts

The first year Jay put up a high tunnel, I joked that it was one fancy bundle of PVC pipe wrapped in expensive saran wrap. That "saran wrap" is actually greenhouse grade plastic, and it does its job. Even here up windy hill U.S.A., the plastic has held up fabulously. Our standard line is, "The high tunnels can survive 65 mph winds and quarter-sized hail...just not both at the same time."

So, what does the high tunnel look like on a windy day? Here's the outside and inside view, from today's 30-mph sustained winds with gusts up to 40+ mph (as per weather.com):


April 12, 2010

Just call me Peter

If Peter Piper planted 4 packs of pepper plants, how many pecks of pickled peppers will Peter Piper pick?

Picture of Tequila Purple Peppers from 2009

I don’t know about pickled peppers, but we hope to pick many pecks of fresh peppers this summer. Sunday we planted 130 bell pepper plants, thanks to Dad’s tilling, Jay’s instructing, and Anthony’s watering. That may seem like a lot of plants and, well, I guess to most people, it is. But bell pepper plants don’t produce as much fruit per plant as, say, a cherry tomato plant or jalapeno plant will. In its lifetime, a bell pepper plant will produce 6-10 peppers each.

Also, if you know anything about our garden, you should realize by now that we like colorful vegetables. Our bell peppers are no different, so they certainly aren’t all green bell peppers. This year, we have green, red, yellow, purple, chocolate, orange, and white pepper plants.

Why do colored bell peppers cost so much? Well most all colored bells start off green. Once they are full sized and green then they turn Orange, Red, Yellow or Chocolate. This can take 2 -3 more weeks. During this time soft spots, bug damage or other damage can occur to these peppers that make them unsellable. We don't waste these at our house. Those peppers are my snack when I am working outside. A fully ripe, homegrown colored bell pepper is awesome. Now, not all peppers do this color changing. My purple and white peppers start of these colors then turn red or yellow. That is what makes them interesting to me.

As far as varieties, I will do my best to remember them all but will probably need Jay’s assistance. (He’s back at work today, so no more sitting at home with his foot up, updating a blog.)
  • Lantern: a sweet red bell pepper, not to be confused with the habanero pepper by the same name
  • Revolution: the ol’ standby, a solid green bell pepper, that turns red
  • Ace: a glossy red pepper, at maturity
  • Red Knight: a red variety with a compact plant and great disease resistance
  • Lafayette: a yellow bell pepper known for its firmness at maturity, great for salads
  • Bianca: a shockingly-white pepper
  • Purple Beauty: when you sell produce near K-State, a purple pepper is a must!
  • Chocolate Beauty: a Chocolate brown pepper that we use in our Hot Chocolate Habanero jelly
  • Orange Sun: a beautiful bright orange bell pepper
  • Satsuma: a new one this year, this is also a deep orange color
  • Tequila: this variety yields a lighter purple pepper, described as “amethyst” by the seed company (see picture above)
(FYI we will plant hot peppers, too, but that’s for another day.)

Pepper plants transplant the same way a tomato seedling does…with lots of care to protect the roots. We try to baby these plants as we move them from their individual containers to the ground outside. But, to prevent shock in the plants, we “harden” them before transplanting day. From the cushy growing room in our basement, they move to the smallest of the high tunnels for a day or two, and then are moved into the big high tunnels where they will be planted.

Peaking in on the plants late last night, it looks like they all “took” and are doing well. Losing a plant or two when we are planting so many is to be expected; to get 100 percent transplant success would be a banner day.

April 10, 2010

Weekend = Workdays

When the farm is your second job, weekends mean workdays in the garden. This weekend is no different. Our goals for the next two days are:

  • Transplant all the pepper plants (about 200 of them) into the high tunnels
  • Plant as many potatoes as we have time to do
  • Finish the track/footings on the movable high tunnels
  • Transplant the tomato seedlings that will be sold in hanging baskets, about 60 of them
  • Transplant the baby lettuce plants and seed in additional lettuce, and
  • water, weed, and watch all the plants that are already outside
Throw into that schedule a dance rehearsal and recital, church, birthday celebration, and 4 trips to the hospital for IV treatments...and you have one heckuva crazy weekend. Having my parents up here  and friends to call on for help will make it actually feasible, definitely!

It may seem like a lot to do, but these chores don't feel like work.There is something intrinsically rewarding about starting plants; playing in the dirt; being outside on a sunny, 70-degree, low-wind day; and turning around at the end of the day and being able to see what you accomplished.

April 9, 2010

Friday's Featured Food: Asparagus

Asparagus is such a funny vegetable. Its stout little spikes pushing through the soil have come to signify the start of spring. It's one of the earliest vegetables to harvest, as a perennial that appears in April.

It's also my crop. Of all the vegetables in our garden, this is the one vegetable that was my choice to plant, my responsibility to maintain. It also brings me bragging rights, as in, "MY crop was ready to eat before YOURS! ha!" That is, until Jay started growing spinach and hanging baskets of tomatoes year round.

Asparagus is a very hardy vegetable, handling the extreme climate of Kansas with no problem. The trick to a good stand is to not pick it the entire first year after you plant it. I recently read that, by not picking it the first year, the roots get all the nutrients they need to set and flourish.

 Asparagus just pushing through

The key to good asparagus is to pick it at the right time. From the time you first see the little bud pushing through the soil until it is ready to harvest is, on average, 3 days. Asparagus is ready to pick when it reaches 7-9 inches tall.

This one is ready to harvest

To pick it, simply snap it off at the base. If you want, you can use a knife, but don't try to cut deeper than the soil. In fact, leaving a little bit of the stem in the ground is better for the plant.

If you wait too long to harvest it, though, the plant gets woody and tasteless. It always surprises me how quickly it grows too tall. Already this spring, it got away from me:


Now that you have the right asparagus stalk, what do you want to do with it? First off, cook it right away. If you wait to prepare the asparagus, not only does it lose crispness and flavor, it also loses vitamins and nutrients. (Asparagus is a great source of folic acid, Vitamin A, and Potassium.)

My preferred cooking method is:

  1. Wash about 6 to 8 asparagus stalk thoroughly, then cut into 2- to 3-inch long pieces. Separate the end pieces from the tips.
  2. Add the lower stalk pieces to a saucepan filled with boiling water. Boil uncovered for 6 minutes.
  3. Add the tips. Boil 5-8 more minutes.
  4. Drain most of the water. Add about 3 tablespoons butter. 
  5. Serve!
Now, that's the basic method, but asparagus is more versatile than most people think.  This Betty Crocker site has so many asparagus recipes. I think because it is the first fresh vegetable of the season, people tend to get even more creative with it. The most creative use I've tried is the Faux Guacamole recipe from Weight Watchers. It may take some courage on your part to try it, but I promise that I have made it and it is tasty... and fat free.

April 8, 2010

What is a High Tunnel?

A high tunnel is an unheated, plastic covered structure used to grow and protects plants. They are vented naturally and there is no "pumped-in" heat; they allow for passive heat from the sun. On a sunny cool spring day, the temperature can easily climb to over 100 degrees inside when the outside temperature is only 40-50 degrees. Unlike most greenhouses, high tunnels have no floor and the crops inside are grown in the ground.

Why use a high tunnel? When you use a high tunnel you can easily extend your season over a month on each end. You can plant crops sooner and harvest them later in the year. Using other products such as row cover, you can grow cold tolerant vegetables year around.

Last year was our first year to experiment with year-round growing. This idea is tricky, considering how varied and extreme Kansas weather can get. Despite the weather, we successfully grew spinach and  had fresh spinach salad almost every week all winter long.

It is said for every layer of plastic or row cover you put over a crop, it's like moving 500 miles south. While you can't grow warm season crops, like tomatoes, peppers, cucumber or watermelon all winter long, you can grow cool season crops, like leafy greens, cole crops (broccoli is really good), and root vegetables. While during the winter the crops don't grow alot, they are more in a state of living cold storage. Yes, the spinach and lettuce will freeze, but when the sun comes out they will warm up and thaw out.

To learn more about high tunnels check out this link.

I started with 2 high tunnels 3 years ago. They were very small 12 by 18 and 8 by 12. However, even with those small tunnels I saw the benefit and I had to get more. All steel high tunnel kits are expensive and we don't have that kind of money to spend. So, I did the next best thing. I created my own design and started to build my own, at a fraction of the cost.

Today we have 6 high tunnels in production, 4 stationary tunnels and 2 movable ones. The movable tunnels are a new idea and new this year. They are steel-framed, my own design, and my father-in-law helped bend the pipe. The advantage of a movable tunnel is you can use the same structure to cover more than one crop. For example, I currently have the two building protecting broccoli and potatoes. In several weeks, we will be moving the buildings to a new growing area. The buildings will slide down on wooden rails. In this new position, they will protect and cover cucumber and squash. The broccoli and potatoes will live and grow outside. Once those crops are done, I will prepare the soil for a fall planted crop. This crop will be planted outside and when the days start getting cold, and the squash and cucumber season is over, we will move the building back over the new crop and harvest it into the winter. These two 16 feet by 32 feet buildings will cover over 3,000 square feet over the growing season.

Meet the high tunnels:

Old Reliable, this was my first tunnel I build. It is still in use. It is showing its age, but I think we can get another year out of it.

Old Reliable High Tunnel #1

Here are my two tunnels from last year.

High Tunnel #2

High Tunnel #3

Here is my new big tunnel for this year. It is covered and has tomatoes planted inside. I need to take a new picture.

Finally, here are my new Movable tunnels.

As the year goes along, we will be posting new pictures of the tunnels and images of the crops growing inside.

April 7, 2010

Drip Irrigation

There are many ways to water your garden: rain, sprinkler, by hand, with a hose, soaker hose, or drip. They each have benefits:

  • Rain is the easiest and cheapest,
  • sprinklers water everything and gets foliage wet,
  • by hand takes along time,
  • with a hose means you have to pull a hose all over
  • ...and then there were two.

For the past few years, I have been using soaker hoses. They are porous hoses that allow water to seep out through the walls. I really liked them. They are easy to lay out, easy to move, minimizes water wastage and puts the water where the plants need it, in the root zone. I found a really good buy on soaker hoses several years ago and we bought hundreds of feet. Then we kept buying a few more every year. If you have a small garden, I think soaker hoses work great; don't be afraid to use them. Just buy a pressure regulator.

The problem with soaker hoses was, when I first bought them, they were made well and lasted; like most things, though, the quality went down. I kept blowing holes in them and I had to patch. It got to a point that I had more money in patches than I had in the hose itself. So, this year I am throwing out all my hoses and moving to drip tape.

What is Drip Tape?
Drip tape is a flat tape with pre-inserted drippers every 12". The line expands when filled with water. It is ideal to use in vegetable gardens or where total saturation coverage is desired. Drip tape can be installed above or below the ground with emitters facing up.

Drip tape is really easy to install. First, you run a header line. A header line is a black plastic pipe that carries the water to all the rows of drip tape. I am using a 1/2-inch header line. I bought hundreds of feet very cheap. If you are buying new, I would go with 3/4 or even 1 inch.

Here is a picture of the header line with drip tape attached.

Here is the drip tape running by a tomato plant.

How do you attach the drip tape to the header line?
It is a three step process.
  1. punch a hole in the header line with a special tool.
  2. attach a drip lock coupler to the drip tape.
  3. put the barb into the hole you made.
I like to do it when I have the water on. That way you will flush any and all foreign objects out of the drip tape and header line before it clogs the emitters.

There are three ways to close the end. First, buy a coupler and attach it. Second, tie it in a knot. Finally, a triple fold and slid a scrap piece of drip tape over the fold. I opted to go with the third option.


April 6, 2010

Planting Potatoes

We had the soil prepped, but we still need to prepare the seed potatoes for planting. Seed potatoes differ from the normal potatoes you would buy in the store because seed potatoes are certified to come from disease free stock.

This year we are planting varieties: Red Norland, Yukon Gold, Purple Majesty and Mountain Rose. We usually buy our seed potatoes locally; however, one of the local stores did not carry a blue/purple potato that we love. So, after some searching and asking questions, we were able to order some online and had them shipped. The Purple Majesty and Mountain Rose came from Ronniger's Potato Farm in Colorado. Remember this Dirty Jobs episode? These people are the ones who own Ronniger's... it used to be called Milk Ranch.

These purples are so vibrant.

The girls are looking forward to pink mashed potatoes from this variety.

Most people cut the seed potatoes a few days before planting, to give them adequate time to "cure" before planting. Last year, out of necessity more than planning, Jay cut the potatoes and direct seeded them into the ground. The potatoes grew as good as any year, so that little experiment showed us that direct seeding was feasible. This year, because of his health and my crazy schedule and Kansas' even crazier weather, we don't know 2-3 days ahead of time what we are going to be able to plant when. So, we are doing a little "flying by the seat of your pants", we are mostly direct seeding again.

Our oldest daughters, K and M, love potato planting...well, most of the time. M is 6 and some days she would much rather be inside playing or outside playing or doing anything but work. But, of all the garden chores, potato planting is their favorite. I think it's because it is somewhat fool-proof, they can't mess up, and they get to race each other to the end of the rows. They also get to decide what variety goes in which rows.

Now that all the prep work is done, it's just a matter of placing a potato, eye up. As Jay tells the girls, "So they can see where they are growing!" Measure over about 6 inches, and place another potato. We found some scrap wood that is just the right length, so the girls know how far to space the seed potatoes.

M using her magic measure to plant potatoes

K explains it best:

Then we run a rake, prongs up, down the row of heaped up soil from when we made our trenches. The heap falls into the trench, covering the potatoes quickly, easily, and adequately, Water in the seeds, and you are good to go.

Only thing left to do is hope and pray for growing weather and minimal pests.


April 5, 2010

Preparing for potatoes

It would be a lot easier to plant if all you had to do was go outside, dig a hole, stick a seed in, water and enjoy. But it's not that simple. Well, I take that back...it's not that simple if you want a successful garden. A good gardener will take the time to prep the soil, before putting a single seed in the ground.

Take the potato patch, for example. We started prepping the potato patches back in February, when we gathered a soil sample and sent it off to K-State's soil testing lab. It is important to get more than one soil test, especially if your garden space is a big one. Our soil composition varies tremendously from one patch to another.

Next we worked the soil. This is the third year that this ground has been worked; prior to that, it was native-grass pasture. Still, it had a fair amount of grass and hard crust to work through. Our fabulous friends brought their tractor with a tiller attachment and did the primary (and hardest) work for us. Thanks to Jay's bum foot, our brothers-in-law gave it another run through with our tiller, to break up the big clumps.

We then marked the rows. It wouldn't be that big of deal to skip this step, but since we have so many little helpers (age 10 and under) and friends volunteering (because of Jay's foot), it prevents problems in the long run if we define "walkway" from "planting row." Jay came up with the idea of tying a piece of baling twine to a nail and sticking the nail the ground. Then, one of our helpers walked the twine to the other end of the row and stuck another nail in the ground. We measured over 24 inches and repeated the process with another two nails and piece of baling twine. That became our first planting row. We measured over another 18 inches for another piece of twine, which defined our walking row. Repeat ad infinitum, or for our patch, until we had 8 rows, about 75 feet long.

Our rows for potatoes are closer together because we can get more pounds per square foot that way.  The paths are 18 inches because that allows us to run the tiller down the path and work up the dirt to hill the potatoes with. We don't put in big walkways because they are unused space. If you are growing for your own, feel free to make your rows and paths wider.
This picture also shows the fertilizer already spread.

Based on the soil test and the nutrient needs of the potatoes, Jay determined that we needed to apply 1.5-2 pounds of Nitrogen per 1000 square feet. Our soil pH is also on the high side, so for the last 3 years we have been adding sulfur to our soil to help lower the pH. Our soil phosphorus and potassium are very high, but despite the high number, it isn't always usable to the plant. So, we do need to add some fertilizer.
Kudos to K our photographer.  She's using this
as her 4-H photography and horticulture projects!

We then scatter-spread it down the rows, and then till it in. We prefer to spread the fertilizer only in the rows; that way, you are only fertilizing where you want to grow a crop and aren't feeding fertilizer to the weeds.

That last run of the tiller not only mixed in the fertilizer, it also made the soil particles small enough to make it easier for the potato plants to grow up in a few weeks. We usually add lots of compost and cut back on the fertilizer. However, with Jay's bum foot, he didn't want to make the rest of us work too hard.
Proof that I tilled. I can't wait for Jay to feel better!

Lastly, we dug a trench in each row. Our potato trench was about 6-8 inches deep, and will help make sure the potatoes are at the right height. By heaping all the dirt scooped on the uphill side, we can not only make covering the seed potatoes easier and faster, we can also help make sure any water running downhill won't wash out the potatoes.

More of our friendly helpers!

And finally, we were ready to talk seed...in the next post.