A friend was wishing she could grow
potatoes, but couldn’t dig and hill them. I explained about planting potatoes
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
Some weeds will grow up through
mulch. Locust trees and morning glories are my main culprits. Most will not.
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.
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.”