Home Gardening Statistics

Infographic from “The Mother Nature Network”

If I haven’t mentioned it before, I am a numbers guy.  In my real job, I create and maintain computer applications that analyze all of The M.D. Anderson Cancer Center’s numbers.  Because I crunch and report numbers all day, every day, I am kind of a nut about them.  So, when I found a website that that had numbers relating to gardening, I was ecstatic.  All of the statistics that we are about to discuss came from a very cool web page on the Mother Nature Network.  MNN got all of their stats from the National Gardening Association.

The Average Gardener - According to the National Gardening Association, the average gardener in the U.S. is female.  She is over 45 years old and there is a 79% chance that she has a college degree or at least some college education.  She spends an average of five hours a week working in her 600 square foot food garden.  Each year she spends about $70 on her hobby and harvests $600 worth of food.  In my recent interview with Central Texas Gardener, Linda Lehmusvirta asked me if gardening was worth it.  Well, thanks to that last stat, I have scientific proof that at a bare minimum, my hobby is worth at least $530 per year.

Does Size Matter?- Evidently, my little potager is just about average.  My potager is 24’X24′ for a total of 576 square feet.  According to the stats on the MNN site, the average food garden in the U.S. is 600 square feet.  This stat was the one that hit me the hardest.  Was it coincidence that my potager was so close to the average?  Probably not.  I bet the average garden is 600 sq ‘ because that is about the perfect size for a middle aged, college educated gardener to maintain in five hours per week.

Another interesting stat in this line was the reported median size of a garden.  In case you have forgotten, the median is the point in a population where half of the values fall above a certain point and the half fall below.  So, with a median garden size of 96 square feet (or 12’X8′), that means that there are a lot of people gardening in very small spaces.  While this was a little surprising to me at first, it dawned on me that a lot of those middle aged college grads are urbanites that just don’t have a lot of space to garden in.  I say YEAH!  It is better to have gardened small than to have never gardened at all.  My wife’s school garden is based on Mel Bartholomew’s square foot gardening method.  It is only 8’X3′, but her second graders grow a lot of produce in that 24 sq ‘ space.  So, if you don’t have the space or time to grow an average sized food garden, plant some containers or put together a couple of 3’X3′ sqaure foot gardens in your yard or on your patio.

What Does Our Garden Grow? -It should come as no surprise to you that the most grown vegetable in the American garden is the tomato.  Tomatoes are the most grown vegetable in home gardens all around the world.  However, I have to admit I was shocked by number two and three.  Cucumbers and sweet peppers rounded out the top three.  Even though I grow them, I had no idea that everyone else did too.  Probably has something to do with how versatile they are and how easy they are to grow.  BTW, when you read the chart and you see “Tomatoes 86%”, it means that of the total respondents, 86% grew tomatoes in their garden.

Where We’re Growing – According to the survey, no region of the U.S. gardens significantly more than any other.  If you look at the map on the left, you will see that what they call “The South” has the highest number of gardeners.  If you look closely you will see that this is the smallest geographic region in size but 29% of the folks that live in that area garden.  The second largest region is called “The Midwest”.  It is the largest geographically and 26% of the people that live there garden.  23% of the folks that live in “The West” grow their on food. Finally, 22% of “Northeasterners” grow some of their own food.  “The Northeast” may have the lowest per centage of gardeners and yet it has the highest population density in the U.S.  Because of this, I don’t think these folks garden less because they don’t want to, I think it is probably a result of the VERY urban environments that they live in.

The State of Our Hobby – Right now, the state of our hobby is strong!  In 2008,  31% (or 36 million households) of Americans had a food garden.  By 2009, that number had grown to 37% of households (or 43 million households).  I am not sure what drove this increase but it truly incredible.  Whether driven by a desire to eat in a more healthy manner, or the desire to save money because of the economy, over one third of your neighbors are now growing at least a part of the food they consume.

Compared to 2008, 6 million more Americans kept a garden in 2009.  This bodes very well for the future of our hobby.  However, the most encouraging news in that stat is the fact that 21% (or 1.26 M) of that 6 million were first time gardeners.  How exciting is that?  Historically, gardening was a hobby practiced by the middle aged and the retired.  Not anymore!  More and more young people are rolling up their sleeves and getting dirty.  These newbie’s are going to ensure that the state of our hobby is strong for a very long time.

Start your tillers!!!!

Even though you did not see it on the calendar, last weekend was the end of winter for the Zone 9 gardener.  Ok, I realize that by making that declaration in print I am probably dooming us to a late season freeze.  However, according to historical statistics, Feb. 15 marked the last day that we could realistically expect a freeze in Zone 9B.  Because of this I am now suffering from a severe case of garden fever.  Last weekend, to celebrate the end of winter, I planted 2 -33′ rows of potatoes (Yukon Gold, Kennebec, Red LaSoda).  I also cleaned out the potager in preparation of the flowers and herbs that will be planted there in the next few weeks.

Now is the perfect time to plant all barassicas like broccoli and cauliflower

Now is the perfect time to plant all barassicas like broccoli and cauliflower

Because of our mild climate, we can now plant everything but the most cold sensitive plants.  If you want to have fresh cole crops on your spring table (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, brussel sprouts) you need to get them in the garden soon.  The blue leafed cole crops in the brassica family can be safely planted from transplant anytime between now and March 15.

It's not too late to plant root crops like carrots and beets from seed

It’s not too late to plant root crops like carrots and beets from seed

It is also a great time to put out seeds of lettuce, spinach, collards, chard, mustard greens, beets, turnips, radishes and carrots.  All of these are fast growers and they are very easy to grow from seed.  Since they prefer temps below 80, this is probably the last chance you have to grow them until next fall.

Wait until early March to plant your green beans

Wait until early March to plant your green beans

In the next couple of weeks I will be planting my green beans.  I grow “Contender” but there are several other varieties out there that do very well in our area (see Patty’s recommendations in the sidebar).  Green beans are a little cold sensitive so I always hedge my bets and plant them a little later (around March 1).

Now is the perfect time to plant asparagus and artichoke crowns

Now is the perfect time to plant asparagus and artichoke crowns

Late February into early March is also a great time to put out the two perrinial vegetables that do well in our area – asparagus and artichoke.  Both of these are grown from roots called “crowns”.  They take a little more work and a little more care than our single season vegetables, but they are well worth the effort.

A redbud in full bloom is a great reminder that spring really is here again

A redbud in full bloom is a great reminder that spring really is here again

The past two sunny weekends have induced in me a very bad case of gardening fever.  As I write this, every muscle in body aches from the gardening I forced it to endure last weekend.  And that’s fine!  My achy body means that winter is finally over and the 2013 gardening season has begun.  Gentlemen (and ladies), start your tillers!

Growing Zinnias (Zinnia elegans)

Lovely red and yellow Benary’s Giant zinnias in the potager

My mother  is convinced that I would not have had a little sister if it weren’t for zinnias.  Now before your mind goes wandering to some hot and steamy romantic place that it shouldn’t, let me explain that my little sister was adopted.  If you have ever adopted a child you know that it is an arduous process that requires lots of paper work, background checks and home visits.  My parent’s desperately wanted another child.  However, due to complications caused by my birth, another child was a dream that could only come true for them with the help of an adoption agency.  Since my mother wanted this child so much, she always worked very hard to make the best impression possible when the agency folks came to visit.  These visits always warranted my mother’s best; her best dishes, her best cut work table cloth (hand made by my grand mother), her sweetest tea and a large bouquet of zinnias cut from her yard.

My parents were lucky enough to get my sister in record time and with the absolute minimum of fuss.  My mom still swears that their process went so smoothly because the agent loved her tea parties so much.  I have tried to tell her many times that the hassle free adoption probably had more to do with the fact that she and my dad were pretty good people that lived a very good life.  However, she refuses to hear it.  To her,  she got her daughter because of her Southern charm and a big bunch of zinnias.

If you want fool proof color in your Zone 9 beds try Purple Fountain Grass, Sweet Potato Vine and zinnias.

I can honestly say that I have never had a garden without zinnias. They are beautiful, prolific, resilient and resistant.  They come in a million different colors and their upright stalks with their alternating leaves make them so easy to cut and strip for the vase.   They look so good in the beds around my house that not a single bee, moth, wasp or butterfly can get past them.   Yes, I truly love zinnias.

This year, my zinnia seeds were a gift from Kim Haven of Billabong Fresh Cut Flower Farm in Hempstead, Tx

This year, I grew Benary’s Giant.  Benary’s Giant are the flowers the pros grow.  My seeds were a gift from my good friend Kim Haven at Billabong Fresh Cut Flower Farm in Hempstead.  While I was a generic zinnia lover before, Kim’s seeds have made me a zinnia connisoer.  The Benary’s Giants were so outstanding, I don’t think I will ever grow another variety.

Growing Zinnias - Each spring I am amazed to see flats of zinnia starts for sale at the nurseries.  While there is nothing wrong with this, zinnias are so easy to grow from seed that it seems a waste to spend so much on so few plants.  One pack of seeds properly planted will yield many more flowers than a whole flat of starts from the big box.

These baby Benary’s Giants are about 30 days old in this picture

The zinnias that most of us grow are cultivars of the species Zinnia elegans.  While there are varieties that grow all over the world, Zinnia elegans originated in Central America and Mexico.  Because of this, they love the full sun and hot temperatures found here in the South.

To start your zinnias, plant the seeds after the soil has warmed up to around 70 degrees.  For me, here in Zone 9, that usually happens by April 15. (***See sidebar at the end of the article).  Cover lightly with no more than a quarter inch of soil.  Zinnias need some light to germinate so if you plant them too deep you won’t get any sprouts.  For best results, plant in a loose soil that has been well worked with organic matter.  To plant my seeds, I drag a rake over the area I want to plant in and then sow the seeds in a broadcast manner.  After they are down, I drag the rake once in the opposite direction.  I then use a spray nozzel to lightly water in the seeds.  For the first couple of weeks I water enough to keep the soil moist but not soggy.

40 days after planting

If the soil is warm enough, your first sprouts should appear in about 7 days.  Once they are up let them grow to about 3″.  Thin your sprouts to about 6″ for smaller varieties and 12″ for the bigger varieties like Benary’s Giant.  At this point you can begin to apply the standard 1″ of water every five days or so.  If the weather cooperates, you can have your first sprouts about 40 days after germination.  If you dead head regularly and add a mid-season application of compost, you can keep your zinnias blooming until the first frost.

This guy is fully mature at 50 days

Zinnias are amazingly resilient flowers.  They can take some over watering and they can withstand some periods of drought.  They are not bothered by many pests.  However, some of the older varieties are very receptive to mildew infestation.  Mildew will cause your leaves to brown and curl and can eventually kill the plant.  The best way to avoid this is to water from below with drip lines or soaker hoses.  If you have to water from above, water in the morning so the sun can thouroughly dry the foliage during the day.  If you do all of this and still have mildew problems, look for a newer vaiety.  Many of these have been breed for mildew resistance.

Cut and strip your zinnias early in the morning and drop immediately into clean water to extend their vase life

Cutting Zinnias - I grow A LOT of zinnias every year.  I grow them to use as cut flowers in my house.  Heck, this year I even got to use them in my daughters wedding arrangements and bouquets.  With their tough stems and long upright stalks, zinnias make great cut flowers for the home gardener.  To extend their vase life, cut your flowers in the early morning.  Cut above a node to encourage branching and more blooms.  Once you cut the flower, grasp it with your thumb and forefinger right under the flower head.  Then, grasp the stalk with your other hand and pull straight down to remove all of the leaves.  Once the stems are stripped, drop them immediately into bucket full of fresh, clean water.  Finally, transfer to a vase with the proper amount of flower food.

 

We cut the last of our zinnias on November 26 for this lovely birthday bouquet for my mother-in-law.

Last night we cut the last of my zinnias.  They went into a very special bouquet for my mother-in-law.  You see, today is her birthday.  Unfortunately, she is in the final stages of Alzhiemer’s and she will most likely not have her best birthday ever.  Regardless, my wife went out into our garden last night and cut zinnias, cockscomb and roses and made her a spectacular bouquet.  While the bouquet was very beautiful, it was bittersweet on many levels.  First, as sick as MiMi is, we all know that there is a very good chance that we may never get to make another of these late fall bouquets for her.  On a far less tragic note, the bouquet required us to cut the last of our remaining zinnias.  While I know that I will have many more zinnias in the spring, the cutting of the last zinnia of fall is a very real reminder to me that what we call cold weather in Texas is on the way.

(Sidebar: “Plant after the soil has warmed to 70 degrees” is a pharase that is used in the planting guides for a lot of flowers.  What that really means is “for the fastest and most uniform germination, plant when …”  In reality zinnias and many other flower seeds can be planted whenever.  The seeds will lay dormant in the ground until some environmental factor like moisture or day length tells them to grow.  If you want to test this, let a zinnia (or cockscomb, hollyhock, cleome, larkspur or whatever) go to seed.  Crumple the dry seed head and  let the seeds fall to the ground.  Then walk away.  In early April, plant some of the same type of seeds in another part of your garden.  I will bet you a dollar to a donut that the seeds that were “naturally planted” at the end of their season will produce sprouts before you ever get you April seeds in the ground.)

Red & Green – The Colors of Fall

This weekend was undoubtedly one of my top weekends of the year.  The weather was unbelievable.  My wife and I took advantage of this weather to go and help my buddy Greg Grant harvest sugar cane. Then, on the way home we stopped at the Sale Barn in Crockett and shared steaks with old friends and watched the end of the best game of the year.  Yes, I am talking about the Aggies and their totally awesome victory over the Number 1 ranked Alabama Crimson Tide.  Whoop!!!!

Sally and Greg cutting sugar cane

After church on Sunday, Sally made us a fabulous pot of peas that we had frozen back in the summer.  She also made a pot of pinto beans straight off the vine.  To me, there is nothing better than fresh beans and peas from the garden.

Fresh picked pinto beans

After lunch we headed out to the garden to harvest.  Since it is supposed to be in the thirties this week I wanted to get as much in as I could just in case.  I picked pinto beans, acorn squash, bell peppers, jalapeno peppers, cayenne peppers, pimento peppers and tons of tomatoes.  I am so glad that I nursed those tomato plants through the summer.  They have been so productive in the past couple of weeks.  As I put all of these peppers, tomatoes and squash in an old bread bowl, I was taken by how beautiful all of the reds and greens were.  I know that to tree watchers, the colors of fall are reds, yellows and oranges.  However, to us that garden, I am convinced that red and green are the real colors of fall.

The colors of the fall garden

After our harvest we planted three short rows of Louisiana Blue Ribbon sugar cane that I got from Greg.  While planting the sugar cane my wife discovered the biggest horn worm I have ever seen.   This thing was as wide as my hand and as thick as my thumb.  He was happily stripping what was left of the foliage on one of my vitex.  After a few pictures, he became part of my garden forever.  We also planted a ton of spider lily bulbs that he gave us as well.  I put them all in a single small bed by my backdoor.  I now cannot wait for next fall.  This bed is going to be spectacular.  Thanks Greg!

The biggest horn worm I have ever seen. Since it is deer season and the taxidermists are working overtime, I thought about getting this guy mounted!

Yes this weekend had everything that makes life worth living and celebrating; great friends, great food and great weather that allowed for great gardening.

The corn crib at Greg’s parents house

Celebrate the Bulbs of Fall!

All across Central Texas, Oxblood lilies (Rhodophialia bifida) are at the peak of their season.  For those of us that live in areas that were once part of Mr. Austin’s original colony, these red trumpet shaped flowers have announced the arrival of fall for generations.

Oxbloods in my front bed

Here in Central Texas, no other bulb is as loved or celebrated in the fall as these Argentinian imports.  Sometime in the 1870’s the German immigrant/botanist/horticulturist Peter Oberwetter introduced these bulbs to the German speaking areas of the Texas Hill Country.  These bulbs were so pretty and so reliable that they quickly spread throughout Texas.  Now, thanks to the work of people like Chris Wiesinger and Dr. Bill Welch, oxbloods (and other heirloom bulbs) are becoming hugely popular throughout the entire Southern part of the U.S.

A mass of oxbloods on an abandoned homesite. Photo from The Southern Bulb Company

Even though oxbloods are the most common fall blooming bulb in Central Texas, they are not the only ones.  Two members of the of the Lycoris genus (Lycoris radiata and Lycoris aurea) also produce prolific blooms during the early days of the fall season.  Spider lilies (Lycoris radiata) are my personal favorite of the fall blooming bulbs.  All Lycoris bloom on top of a single, unadorned stalk after the first fall rains.  Because of this they are often called “Naked Ladies” or the “Surprise Lily”.  How can you not love their big, red, exotic looking heads?  Their curly petals burst open and arch backward to release long, curved stamens that look like the most gorgeous eye lashes imaginable.  I truly love these flowers!

These exotic looking  Japanese beauties have also been popular here for a very long time.  While they do not reproduce as rapidly as the oxbloods, Lycoris are tough and reliable.  These flowers are beautiful in their own right, but a mass of them is truly stunning.  If you want to see some of the best pictures of spider lilies that I have ever seen, be sure and catch this month’s issue of Southern Living.  My friend Dr. Bill Welch has an excellent article about them and the supporting photography is exceptional.

A stunning mass of Spiderlilies. Photo from The Southern Bulb Company

The blooms of the fall blooming bulbs of Central Texas last for only a couple of very short weeks.  Since they make terrible cut flowers and are almost impossible to dry, get outside in this amazing weather and enjoy them now.  These flowers make these fleeting early days of the Texas autumn truly special.

Since these flowers last for such a short time, be sure to give them ample water while they bloom.  This will extend their life by a few more precious hours. If you don’t currently have your own (or enough) fall blooming bulbs, contact my buddy Chris Wiesinger at The Southern Bulb Company.  Chris knows more about these charming antiques than anyone I know.  His bulbs are truly the best available anywhere.

This post has been shared on the Homestead Barn Hop and the HomeAcre Hop.  Be sure to check in on other homesteaders and organic gardeners!

P.S. Bulb blooms aren’t the only way I know fall has finally come to my garden.  Each year around this time I begin to see Green Tree Frogs all around the beds and borders of my property.  I don’t know where these guys hide the rest of the year, but the cool fall weather seems to erase their shyness.

This cute little fellow thought the cushion of one of our rocking chairs was a great place to hide.

See MOH on TV This Weekend!

Nine months ago, the folks at KLRU’s Central Texas Gardener (CTG) came and filmed my potager for an upcoming fall gardening segment on CTG. Well, that “upcoming time” is finally here!  I am so excited to have this opportunity and I want to say a great big thank you to Linda Lehmusvirta and crew for all of the hard work they did on this.  Click on the link below to watch it now.

Central Texas Gardener now airs on five Texas public television stations and is coming soon to New Mexico. Check the station link listed below for the most recent local schedule.

KLRU / 18-1, Austin

  • noon & 4:00 p.m. Saturdays
  • 9:00 a.m. Sundays (repeat)

KLRU-HD, Austin

  • noon & 4:00 p.m. Saturdays
  • 9:00 a.m. Sundays (repeat)

KLRU-Q / 18-3, Austin

  • 6:30 p.m. Tuesdays
  • 7:00 a.m. Wednesdays
  • 9:30 a.m. Fridays

KAMU, College Station

  • 5:00 p.m. Saturdays

KNCT, Killeen

  • 1:30 p.m. Saturdays
  • 5:30 p.m. Sundays

KLRN, San Antonio

  • 11 a.m. Saturdays

KWBU, Waco

  • 3:30 p.m. Saturdays
  • 12:30 p.m Thursdays

KPBT, Midland (Permian Basin)

  • 12:30 p.m. Mondays

KBDI, Denver

  • 2:00 p.m. Sundays
  • 2:30 p.m. Tuesdays

Why I Grow Lettuce and Spinach

Last night, just as it was getting dark, my wife was hand watering our trees .  Suddenly something small and furry shot out of the grass and gave her a bit of start.  She shrieked and I jumped into action.  I bravely chased down this furry little flash and quickly discovered it was a very frightened baby cotton tail. 

The poor little thing was scared to death.  It’s tiny little rabbit heart was pounding out about a million beats per minute.  I picked it up and held it close.  I gently rubbed its little head and rabbit ears and it slowly calmed down long enough for us to get some pictures.  After we took the attached pics, we took it back out to its burrow.

This rabbit burrow was very interesting to me.  Somehow the mom had hollowed out a den by burrowing under bermuda runners.  She had lined this with her fur.  All of this was neatly camoflagued under a pile off dried grass that was left over from our last mowing and weed eating.

Since we just mowed a couple of weks ago, and this little guy looked half grown, I was curious about how quickly rabbits mature.  According to the National Geographic, cotton tails are born completely helpless.  In fact they are so helpless that only about 15% of all babies born survive.  The ones that do are weaned at three weeks and leave the nest at seven weeks.  So, I guess we won’t be mowing around that tree for a while.

All the time that I was holding the little bunny, my country mind kept telling me that I should make this little guy one of the 85% of bunnies that don’t make it to adulthood.  But I knew I couldn’t do it.  Eventhough I know that in about four weeks this little guy and his siblings will be in my garden eating my lettuce and spinach shoots I am just going to let it happen.  Watching the few rabbits I have on my property gives me almost as much pleasure as growing the vegetables that they feast upon.  And, since I don’t really rely on the garden to feed me, I don’t mind sharing my harvest with a couple of bunnies.

Red and Yellow Kill A Fellow

Yesterday was a very sad day for me.  You see, I lost the best gardening partner I have ever had; my wife.  Now before you get all teary eyed, realize that she did not die.  No, Sally is still very much alive.  However, something happened yesterday that has me convinced that her gardening days are over.

Since yesterday was an uncharacteristically cool and cloudy July day, Sally and I decided that it would be the perfect time to catch up on some much needed weeding in the flower beds.  Sally and I are a great little weed pulling team.  We have worked these beds enough together that we can very quickly and efficently strip a bed of all unwanted plant material.  Yesterday was no exception.  Spurred on by the cool temps, we quickly built up a nice pile of weeds.  The pile was bigger than either of us could comfortably carry to the burn pile so I went to the garage and got out the wheelbarrow.  When I reached down and picked up the pile I was VERY surprised to find a CORAL SNAKE slithering through the pile of weeds in my hand!  Now I am not a snake hater.  Heck, I am not even scared of most snakes.  But this was different.  This one could kill me and that realization occured to my brain as soon as it saw those bright bands of color gliding through my hands.

Luckily for me, coral snakes are not very aggresive.  If there had been a copper head or rattler in that pile of weeds I would have been very bit very quickly.  However, this little guy only wanted to get as far away from me as quickly as he could.  Unfortunately for him, he wasn’t fast enough.  I never kill snakes; unless they are poisonous!  And since coral snakes are the most poisonous snake in North America, this guy had to die.

There are lots of myths and wives tales concerning coral snakes.  The most common one goes like this “Because of their small size, they can’t bite you except in little skinny places on your body like a little finger or the flap of skin between your thumb and index finger.” THIS IS FALSE!!!!  A coral snake can and will bite you anywhere you give him an opening.  If you try and pick up a coral snake by its tail, it will climb its own body to give you a bite that is at the least, painful and at its worst, deadly.  So never, ever try and pick one up by the tail, even if you think it is dead.  Also remember that when a snake dies, it’s muscles twitch and contract for quite a while after you kill it (this guy twitched for over an hour).  Because of this, snakes can actually still bite you after they are dead.  Due to this, you should never, never, never pick one up by the tail unless you are certain it is “dead still” or it’s head has been removed and disposed of.  It would be awfully embarrassing to get to heaven and have to explain to St. Peter that you got killed by a bite from a dead snake!

All joking aside, finding this snake in my flower bed is very bad news for me.  Because of this little incident, I am certain that I have forever lost my wife as a weeding partner.  Sally is deathly afraid of snakes.  I can no longer brush off her fears and tell her there is nothing out there to worry about.  She now knows very well that there are things out there that can kill her and she is in no hurry to die.  So, thanks to this brightly colored, 25″ long snake, my gardening work load has been increased. Not only have I lost my partner, but my own output will be greatly reduced because now, each time I get on my knees to pull weeds, I will be doing just as much snake hunting as weed pulling!

Growing Potatoes

This weekend I had one of those experiences that remind me again why I love to garden.  My daughter Heather came out for Father’s Day.  Since she loves going into the garden with me I always make sure she has something to pick.  This weekend, I saved her a special treat; blue fingerling potatoes.

Of all of the things I harvest in the garden, potatoes are my absolute favorite.  Each time I dig them it reminds me of an Easter egg hunt.  I get so excited when I stick my fork in the ground and turn over the soil and find all of those spuds.  Since I like doing this so much, I knew she would too.  And, since they were blue, I knew it would make our dig a little more like an Easter egg hunt for her as well.

My daughter is fueling up on fresh peaches before we started digging the potatoes

I have absolutely no idea what type of potatoes we harvested.  I got them from my mentor Cynthia Mueller last fall.  I tried to grow them in my potato box and they didn’t seem to make.  However, this March, I looked in the box and I saw several little potato vines popping up so I immediately dug them up and moved them to my row garden.

Potatoes of all sorts are pretty easy to grow.  There are well over 800 varieties of potatoes in the world so there is a variety that will grow in just about any condition.  Basically, potatoes come in three maturity types; short season, mid-season and long season maturation types.  To determine which ones are best for you, pick one that will mature between a planting date of three to four weeks before your last freeze and a harvest date before temperatures get up into the 90s.  Potatoes can take some cold but they shut down completely in high heat.  Since it gets so hot so quickly where we are, the mid length maturation types seem to do best.  The two I most often grow are Kennebec whites and La Soda reds.

Digging with a shovel. I prefer to use a spading fork but this was handy and we didn’t have too many vines to dig.

The rule for planting potatoes is three to four weeks before your last frost date.  In reality, here in the Gulf South, we can plant our potatoes anytime after Christmas.  In fact, a friend of mine grew up next to an older gentleman that “planted” his potatoes on December 26 each year.  I say “planted”, because he would scatter his seed potatoes on top of the ground and then cover them in about a foot of spoiled hay.  I tell that story for two reasons.  One, it shows that you really can plant potatoes very early here and it also says something about how adaptable potatoes are.

Freshly dug!

I have heard people say that you have to plant potatoes in sandy soil.  Not true.  While sandy soil allows potatoes to grow a little bigger and makes them a whole lot easier to harvest, you can grow them in clay (or on top of the ground heavily mulched in hay).  Potatoes have just about everything they need to grow stored in that tuber so if you can figure  out a way to get them covered and watered, they are usually going to produce something for you

Last year I tried growing potatoes in a box. I constantly “hilled them up” with compost. I think the compost gave them too much nitrogen. As you can see I got great vines and exactly one potato.

For best results when you plant your potatoes, plant them in loose, well worked soil.  If your soil has a good amount of organic material in it, don’t worry about adding any supplemental fertilizer.  While they appreciate nitrogen as much as any plant, too much of it will cut your tuber production.  Too much nitrogen will result in great big healthy looking vines but very few potatoes.

Some of our “blue” potatoes in my favorite Texas Ware bowl. My wife roasted these with fresh rosemary and thyme from our garden, a little EVOO, salt and pepper. They were awesome!

When your plants get about a foot tall, you should “hill” them by pulling soil or mulch up over the base of the plant.  Cover leaves and everything but leave at least half of the plant exposed.  Continue to do this until your plant is about 2’ tall.  Hilling does a couple of things.  First, if your variety is the type that will produce potatoes all along the submerged stem then hilling will increase your yield.  This works great for some varieties and not so well for others.  However, no matter what type of tater you have, it is good to keep sunlight away from the developing tubers that try to grow at or above the surface of the soil.  If sunlight hits these developing tubers they develop a green “rind” under the skin.  This rind is full of solanine.  Solanine is a toxic substance that can give you a tummy ache in small amounts, or kill you in large amounts.  There is not enough in a potato to hurt you but it is a good idea to peel that green layer off before you eat it.  BTW, potatoes are not the only plant to produce solanine.  All members of the genus Solnum produce it.  Members of this family include potatoes, tomatoes, egg plants and the deadly Night Shade.

Very few vegetables are as productive and easy to grow as potatoes.  Plus they are incredibly good for you.  If you have a milk cow and pile of potatoes you can keep yourself and your family alive indefinitely.   With so many varieties out there, and their adaptability to soil types and pH, there is surely one out there for you to grow.

Three Easy Dinners from Dad’s Garden by Heather White

While my husband and I were away on vacation our little doggies stayed a la maison de l’Yupneck (this is what I call my Dad’s house).

When we returned we visited Brenham to collect our petit chiens. We enjoyed a fabulous lunch as well as a tour of the gardens. We were sent home to Houston with our sweet pups and a bag full of tomatoes, green beans, garlic, onion, and kale from my dad’s garden. As I made our meal plan and grocery list for the following week, I incorporated dad’s organic veggies and thus barely had to buy anything at the store. Here are the three easy and delicious recipes we enjoyed.

Whole-Grain Spaghetti With Garlicky Kale and Tomatoes

From the Garden:

  • 1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
  • garlic
  • 1 bunch kale, stems removed and leaves torn into bite-size pieces
  • 2 tomatoes, sliced into one inch cubes

From the Cupboard:

  •  6 ounces whole-grain spaghetti
  •  2 tablespoons olive oil
  •  1/3 cup chopped roasted almonds
  •  1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan, plus more for serving

Sautee the onion and garlic with the olive oil, then add the kale and tomatoes and cook until tender. Toss with the cooked pasta, almonds, and 1/3 cup parmesan. Serve with more freshly grated parmesan.

 Ravioli With Sauteed Zucchini

From the Garden:

  • 3 zucchini, sliced into thin half-moons
  • garlic

From the Cupboard:

  • 1 pound cheese ravioli
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan

Sautee the garlic with the olive oil, salt, and pepper, then add the zucchini and cook until tender. Toss with the cooked ravioli and parmesan.

Chinese Green Beans with Rice and Miso & Dumpling Soup

  From the Garden:

  • 1 pound fresh green beans, trimmed
  • 6  cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1 red onion, thinly sliced

 

From the Cupboard:

  • 2 tablespoons sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 teaspoons soy sauce
  • Miso soup, we like the carton available at Whole Foods
  • Frozen Dumplings

Beans:

Sautee garlic with 1 tablespoon of sesame oil then add the green beans and cook until soft. Stir in sugar and soy sauce and continue cooking until beans reach desired tenderness. I usually remove a bean occasionally and bite into it, not the most sophisticated way to determine when they are ready, but this method always ensures perfectly cooked beans.

Soup:

Sautee the garlic and onion with remaining sesame oil. Add miso soup and bring to a boil, add frozen dumplings and simmer until cooked throughout.

 Pour the sauce from the bottom of the bean pan over cooked white rice and serve.   

 These delicious meals were easy on our time and our wallet. Thanks dad for adding locally grown, organic produce to our diet. It was a wonderful week of home cooked and home grown goodness.