Tag Archives: gardening in the Ozarks

Planting Potatoes My Way

A friend was wishing she could grow potatoes, but couldn’t dig and hill them. I explained about planting potatoes my way.

Years ago, when I started teaching full time, I spent a weekend planting potatoes the old way. Dig a trench. Put in the potatoes. Cover them. Come back to pull more dirt over the new plants. Eventually dirt is hilled up around the plants.

planting potatoes my way requires lots of mulch
This year I have lots of loose mulch thanks to my picky goats. Other years I have purchased straw or had old, moldy hay. These bales split into flakes. I lay these out and plant along the joints between flakes. Loose mulch is harder to plant through.

My potatoes had their trench. They got covered. And I didn’t have time to come back. I had lesson plans and papers from six different science classes to take care of.

The giant ragweed moved in towering eight feet over those poor potato plants. When I tried to harvest the nubbins of potatoes, I used a saw to cut the ragweed down.

Phooey.

trench burrowed through mulch for planting potatoes my way
I used two methods to deal with the loose mulch. First I created a trench down to the dirt to put the potatoes in. The second method was to set the potatoes out on top of the mulch to arrange them. Then I burrowed down a hole to the dirt and put the potato in. The second method was much faster and easier.

The next year I made shallow trenches, maybe half an inch deep as otherwise the potatoes would meander over the plot. Each seed potato was set out at intervals along the trenches. Mulch hay was piled up over the potatoes with tiny wells above each one.

The potatoes grew. The giant ragweed didn’t. Well, a couple tried and were pulled up.

arranging the potatoes
I tend to plant a bit close together with rows far apart. I also just set them out without measuring, only what looks right. To date the potato plants haven’t complained. They seem to find the garden soil rich enough to ignore my inept arranging.

Harvest time came. I shifted off the last of the mulch and picked up the potatoes.

From then on, over twenty years now, planting potatoes my way has seen some adjustments. The basics remain the same.

1) Set up the rows.

2) Set out the seed potatoes.

3) Cover the potatoes with mulch.

4) Add more mulch as needed to keep it six inches deep.

5) Pull the few weeds that insist on growing.

6) Roll back the mulch and pick up the potatoes at harvest.

Planting potatoes my way does mean smaller potatoes. Of course Yukon gold potatoes are smaller anyway. Mine are a medium size which is fine for us.

planting potatoes my way works for me
The thing about mulch hay is its tendency to tangle up into almost impenetrable mats. Potatoes sprouts can force their way up, but leaving a channel makes life much easier. Besides, I can spread the mulch apart and check on the sprouts when impatience gets too insistent.

Mulch has advantages. Fewer weeds. No digging. Enriches the soil. Holds in moisture during dry spells. Keeps the ground cooler during hot spells.

Mulch does have problems. It usually comes with a seed load. It must be added to as it sinks over the season. It keeps the ground cold in the early spring. It can get water logged.

Planting potatoes my way works well for me here in the Ozarks. It isn’t perfect, but nothing about gardening is.

Growing Older Gardening Tricks

My father loved gardening. I was not impressed as I was used as weed puller and little else. He was practicing a growing older gardening trick.

I have come to enjoy gardening. As I grow older, I am coming to appreciate such tricks.

Growing Older Gardening Trick 1

Younger gardeners seem to think the entire garden needs to be done in one or a few days. They take that big tiller out and plow up the whole garden. They follow this with raking, setting out rows, setting out seeds and plants, watering and collapse in the evening with aching muscles.

My garden is divided up into pieces, mostly four by ten. I work up one section each day. This takes a couple of hours. Then I wander off to do something else like take a walk or read a book.

Oh, yes, about that tiller: Sell it.

growing older gardening trick: potato fork
One of the difficulties from growing older is getting less done in the same amount of time. So I picked up black walnuts and didn’t mulch the garden beds. This leaves me removing weeds this spring. A potato fork is great for this. It lifts and breaks the soil making pulling the weeds easier. That is not to be confused with easy. Dead nettle has fibrous roots and makes a root mass two or three inches deep. It must all be pulled up at once in large chunks. Mulch prevents dead nettle from growing.

Small spaces don’t need the use of a tiller. Rich garden dirt containing plenty of compost does not need a tiller. A potato fork works fine.

Growing Older Gardening Trick 2

My father used children to pull his weeds. That works fine, if you have children wanting to earn a little money.

Some gardeners use herbicides. These are not necessary.

Mulch is the secret. My garden sections are normally mulched fall and spring with extra as needed.

This is not wood chips, plastic or other commercial mulch. My goats supply plenty of bedding (Do note that even expensive alfalfa hay becomes bedding as soon as it touches the ground in the opinion of goats. And goats do drop lots of hay on the floor.) However commercial straw or free leaves work well.

Leaves do have problems as they blow easily. One solution is to put down the leaf layer and cover with a thin layer of dirt or straw. Another is to run the mower over the leaves and chop them into small pieces, but they need replenishing sooner that way.

Mulch does have drawbacks. Bugs like mulch. Some plants don’t do well if mulch is too close, think lettuces.

growing older gardening trick: mulch
Yes, weeds aka dead nettle and chickweed (edible) are growing in the garden pathways. The mulch will keep them out of the garden beds. Mulch will get rid of them the end of April. In the meantime the weeds bloom and feed the bees. On the garden bed, mulch does slow down how fast the soil warms, but keeps it cooler during heat spells and holds moisture.

Some weeds will grow up through mulch. Locust trees and morning glories are my main culprits. Most will not.

Growing Older Gardening Trick 3

Raised beds and containers are very helpful when large scale gardening, even in sections, becomes difficult. They are nice any time.

I love raising colored bell peppers. I also like sweet Macedonian peppers. The bells go in the garden proper. The others grow in large containers around the house. This way I can save seeds. This would work for sweet and hot peppers.

Raised beds can extend the gardening season. Access is needed from all sides to put everything within reach.

growing older gardening trick: build your soil with compost and mulch
Once the weed cover is removed, I can admire the rich garden soil. It’s built up using compost and mulch over the years. The soil is loose and easy to work up. There are still rocks in my garden as the Ozark soil grows rocks continuously. Other than carrots, nothing seems to mind my leaving the smaller ones.

Growing Older Gardening Trick 4

This is the hardest trick to do. It means putting aside a love of gardening and looking honestly at how much you are growing. Crops that take lots of work or you no longer use need to be discontinued. Cut back on how many plants you are tending as older people need to eat less.

Growing older is not an excuse to stop gardening. It is a reason to change how gardening is done.

Gardening is creeping into the Hazel Whitmore series. Mother and Grandfather are competing in the County Fair with their tomatoes. Check out “Mistaken Promises.”