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Raccoons in Your Garden

Raccoons in Your Garden

They are messy, they are destructive, and, worst of all, they are smart. If raccoons decide that your garden is their new hangout, you’ve got trouble with a capital R. Is it really raccoons? The first step to dealing with any kind of garden pest […]

4 Ways to Grow Plants for Free

4 Ways to Grow Plants for Free

If you’ve been at this gardening thing for any length of time, you know that it isn’t the cheapest hobby, and that the desire for new, exciting plants is strong. But, those gorgeous, expensive, plants at the nursery are not the only way to add […]

Grow Potatoes from Your Pantry

Grow Potatoes from Your Pantry

You bought that nice big bag of organic potatoes and cooked some, planning to use the rest later. But, when you came back to the bag, weeks later, the potatoes were soft and growing tentacles! What to do?

First off, don’t eat them. Ew.

You have two choices: compost them, or grow them.

Potatoes that have grown “eyes” are really just sprouting, ready to produce a new plant that will grow more potatoes. You can turn this accident into a boon for yourself and your garden, because now you have “seed” potatoes.

The instructions below will work for both grocery potatoes and purchased seed potatoes.

Prepping the Seed Potatoes

As I am a lazy gardener, let me start with the fact that you can just throw the potatoes as they are, eyes and all, directly into your growing medium and call it a day. However, for best results, you should cut the potatoes into smaller pieces, with at least one or two eyes per piece. Smaller potatoes, with only one or two eyes, should be left whole. If you have large eyes sprouting on the potatoes already, be careful that you do not break them off.

Cut the potatoes with a clean knife to leave 1 or 2 eyes on each resulting piece.

If you find mold growth on any part of the potato, toss it in the compost–these are already halfway to compost. Grow from healthy-looking seed potatoes only.

A potato that is too rotten to use. Compost time!

Once you have cut the potatoes, you need to let the cut parts callus over so that they do not encourage rot once in the wet soil. 1-2 days is ideal. You will see the cut part hardened up and dry when it is ready.

I store my potatoes in a cardboard box, and after a few days they form a nice, hard callus over the cut edges.

Where to Plant

Potatoes are not picky about their soil. They will grow in pure compost or just dirt, or even just straw (with some fertilizer). The only things potatoes require is a loose growing medium. They have to form tubers, not just thin little roots, so if the soil is too packed, the potatoes will be stunted or very small. If your soil is mostly clay, amend it with something like compost, dried grass clippings, or sand.

You can grow potatoes in containers, or even towers. There are lots of resources online for ways to do this (like This One), and these are usually designed to generate the most potatoes per square foot. If you are looking for mass quantities of spuds, it’s a great option.

For me, I like to just grow a few plants since we don’t eat potatoes that often (ahem, eyes on the stored ones), so I stick to a small patch in the garden. Pick a full-sun spot, plant anytime from February through September, leaving the eyes facing up, and cover with about an inch of soil.

If you are worried about the potatoes possibly carrying diseases that can infect your garden, which is the Number One reason against growing store potatoes in your garden, you can isolate the potatoes in a large pot, bucket, or tower. Seed potatoes from nurseries or online stores are guaranteed to be disease-free.

A spud in the ground, ready to be covered with soil.

Growing

You should see sprouts in one to two weeks, and the plant will grow heartily if watered regularly.

As soon as you get leaves above ground, you can start adding more soil to mound around the stem, burying the lowest leaves. This is called “hilling” and this will cause the plant to turn those leaves into roots/tubers, increasing yield. This is not required, just an option. If you do hill your potatoes, do it in stages, and only do it up to about six inches above the original ground level. Also, be sure to stop doing it once the plant starts to flower.

Harvesting

Potato flowers look like white tomato flowers, and are a sign that your plant is producing potatoes under the ground. When the flowers die off, your potatoes are ready to harvest. They will last for a bit of time under the ground, as well, but be aware that if you leave them too long they will themselves sprout and you’ll have volunteer potato plants everywhere (Problem or best possible outcome? You decide).

Using your hands or a shovel, carefully start at least six inches away from your plant and scoop down and toward the main plant to find potatoes. You want to avoid damaging the potatoes or ripping the skin. I find that dry soil is easier to work to get the potatoes out whole and intact, and some varieties will even just come with the roots if you pull the plant up by the stem.

Allow the potatoes to dry in a shady spot or indoors, making sure to move potatoes out of the sunlight by the end of the day or you will get green, inedible potatoes. When the dirt on the surface is dry, you can carefully brush it off, but do not wash the potatoes until you are ready to eat. Store like you do store-bought potatoes, in a dark, cool place.

Washed and ready-to-eat golden potatoes.

Warnings

If you happen to see red fruit growing on your potato plant, remove it. It may look like a cherry tomato, but it is poisonous, and should not be consumed.

If, during the growing season, you see potatoes bursting through at the surface of the soil, bury them immediately. Light will turn the potatoes green, which triggers the release of a toxin in to the potato. Likewise, if you harvest potatoes, do not eat any that appear green.

The amount of fully green potatoes it would take to harm a healthy adult is so much it is next to impossible to cause serious issues, but children and compromised people may get sick from green potatoes. To be safe, do not eat them, and, if you must eat them (because you are stubborn), remove the green parts and all the skin from the green ones, as that is where most of the toxin resides.

What to Plant in April

What to Plant in April

If you haven’t started some seeds yet, or weeded some of your garden, get to it! We’re in the thick of planting now! Get your brassicas in the ground or start your seeds! If you don’t live in a SUNNY area, you need to get […]

What to Plant in March

What to Plant in March

The winter rains slow down, the air smells fresh, and you’re itching to get into the garden. What can you plant in March, inside or outside, in the San Francisco Bay area? March is one of the biggest months for planting in the San Francisco […]

Cats in the Garden

Cats in the Garden

Our cat is indoor-only, but our neighbors have a couple of active kitties that we often find napping or hunting in our garden. We usually enjoy seeing them and maybe offering them a pet, but sometimes I wish they would stay away. You can love or hate cats, but when you are weeding or tilling the soil of your garden, and you are accosted by a horrible smell, that can mean only be one thing: cats are using your garden as a litter box. Not cool!

Cats love loose soil because it is easy to dig in and they can more easily bury their waste. Commercial litter is loose and grainy for just this reason. A freshly weeded or tilled garden is exactly the texture they are looking for. 

In the garden, cat waste is a big problem because of the toxins and other nastiness carnivore waste brings with it, especially their urine, which is as effective as an herbicide. Added to that, just the act of digging can destroy your carefully planted seeds, seedlings, rhizomes, and tubers. Below, I have laid out some strategies for keeping cats out of your precious gardens.

Distraction (Not Recommended)

One of the most common methods I have seen offered online to get cats to stop using your garden as a litter box is to plant catnip somewhere else in your yard. In theory, this would make cats focus on a part of your yard that does not affect your garden. In practice, I have found that it just doesn’t work. 

For one, it can attract new cats who weren’t already hanging out in your garden, because catnip is a powerful draw. Let’s not multiply the problem, shall we?

Second, catnip is a weed on its own. If you ever grown mint, you know what I’m talking about. This close relative will reseed and grow from runners very actively, so you would need to keep it in a pot with no holes, but even then, the seeds could propagate if carried by wind or other methods.

If you would still like to try this method in your garden, you can order there here: Catnip Seeds

Deterrent (Recommended)

When cats are digging to bury their waste, they’re looking for that easy, loose soil. If you make the areas around your seeds and seedlings less easy to dig, cats will avoid it.

Commercial Products

There are several commercial products for this exact purpose, my favorite being one that I found at a Daiso store called Don’t Cat. This item is the closest to it I’ve seen: Cat Repellant Mat. However, these commercial products are small and will get expensive over a large area, plus users claim that cats can just walk between the spikes.

Heavy-duty Bird Netting that is built for the garden and will last through several seasons before breaking down, would make most of your exposed soil undiggable for a cat. The downside is that it makes it hard to dig for you as well. This method would work best if you planted your seeds or seedlings and then laid the net on top, letting tiny plants through, and at a point where you will not be digging any further.

DIY

The method I use his to collect plastic forks all year round, and use them both as seed markers and cat deterrents in the garden. They stick up out of the soil right near my plants, so I know the cats will not dig right there.

Cat-repelling fork soldiers protect my newly-planted seeds from cats in my garden.

When a lot of plants are in one area the tiny army of upturned forks serves as a visual deterrent, as well, so cats will find other places to dig. This method also helps deter raccoons from digging for grubs in the same places.

The downside to using the forks is that they are not meant to be in the sun, and the UV rays break them down within one season. If you have access to another kind of pointy item that is easily seen and more durable, or that breaks down, I would use that. I have also successfully used trimmed blackberry brambles and small stalks of bamboo with little pokey branches sticking out of them.

Benefits of Cats in Your Garden

While the litter box thing is really annoying, cats also serve a great purpose in the garden. They can help kill or deter vermin, like rats and gophers, and can keep birds away if they are congregating in your garden for a snack during the day. Keeping them from defecating and urinating in the garden should be your primary goal, not eliminating their presence altogether.

Distilling Water for Finicky Plants

Distilling Water for Finicky Plants

When I wrote a while back about the Carnivourous Plants Store in Half Moon Bay, I mentioned that we took home a sundew for ourselves. Our cool little plant monster happily enjoyed some fruit flies and ants as snacks, and we kept the dish below […]

Start Seeds in Pots You Already Have

Start Seeds in Pots You Already Have

When we think about starting seeds, images come to mind of those flexible black plastic packs, peat pots, and professional seed-starting flats. All those things work great, but so does just about any container that can hold dirt. If you’re serious about gardening, you know […]

A Different Kind of Winter Harvest

A Different Kind of Winter Harvest

Snow is not a normal sight in the Bay Area, which is why it’s quite common to trek up the mountains to Tahoe. The white stuff is quite fascinating to my kids, who had never seen it (or played in it) before. To me, a transplant from Pennsylvania, it was not new to me, and in fact showed me why my tiny compact car (even with chains) is not going to cut it the next¬†time we head up to the snow.

Being in that icy, quiet wonderland, I thought about what winter means to nature and the creatures that live in it. In five feet of snow, how do animal and plants survive? At the house we stayed at, while creating sled runs, we found shrubs beneath the snow, seemingly enduring the cold. And the trees, their branches weighed heavy with snow, dropped snow showers on us at random intervals, as the sun warmed them. We caught a glimpse of a bobcat, carefully stepping atop the delicate drifts.

Tahoe in the winter is a quiet, contemplative place for a gardener.

Even in that sleepy cold, we enjoyed a harvest of freshly-fallen snow, sweetened with Cherry Torani Syrup (though some friends used the traditional maple syrup instead). I highly recommend you try a Real “Snow” Cone the next time you get to visit the snow. Super detailed recipe below.

Here in the Bay Area, where nothing freezes for very long, we don’t get that kind of hibernation, and neither do our plants. There’s no killing frost, so weeds and beloved plants alike live through the winter. It is both good and bad, winter and not winter. Still, I wouldn’t want to live–or grow things–anywhere else.

Real “Snow” Cones

Ingredients
Freshly Fallen Snow
Flavored Syrup or Maple Syrup

Assembly
Collect Snow in a bowl or mug. Drizzle your syrup of choice on top. Enjoy with a spoon.

Tahoe Survival Tips for the Casual Snow Bunny

  • If the snow has recently fallen, chain control will be in effect. In that case, rent a 4WD vehicle to save yourself the trouble of putting chains on and taking them off.¬†
  • If you do need to use chains, being long, thick plastic gloves so you don’t have to use bare hands to attached and detach the chains (winter gloves are too thick).
  • If you have a tiny car, bring grit (like kitty litter) and/or cheap mats to assist your car out of ruts.
  • Altitude sickness is very real, and will hit you hardest when you exert yourself a lot (like pushing your car) and if you get dehydrated. Drink lots of water, avoid alcohol the first few days, and take it easy until you feel like yourself again.
  • Renting winter clothes and equipment is a great way to go if you don’t hit the slopes very often. We loved the experience we had with Sports Basement–we didn’t feel rushed to return the gear, most of it was brand new, and it was VERY high quality.
The 3 Essential Gardening Tools

The 3 Essential Gardening Tools

Gardening, as you may already know, can get prohibitively expensive–but it doesn’t have to be. There are tools you need and tools that are nice to have. For most gardens in the Bay Area, these three items are the bare minimum you can expect to need […]