Saturday, August 8, 2015

Digging up the potato patch

The potatoes never looked that great this year, at least aboveground.  Lots of rainy, cloudy weather slowed growth and promoted fungal disease.  It rained over an inch two days ago and today seemed like a good day to get the potatoes out, with the soil not too wet or too dry.

It always seems that doing one task entails doing another.  Removing the potatoes goes hand in hand with starting a new compost pile.  That's because there is a mulch of shredded leaves over the potato patch and I don't want to add them to the existing pile, which is well on its way to finished compost.  So they get put into a new pile while the old pile finishes and can be used for amending the soil later this year.

Before I could start work in the beds I had to build another compost module.  The modules, built from 2x10's, last five or six years.

The new module was set up next to the existing compost bin.  The topmost module of the old bin was moved onto the new module.  Now there are two bins.  The bulk of the compost in the old bin is from leaves shredded last fall.  Since then kitchen waste, plant debris and bunny poop has been added.  It's a warm, sometimes hot, pile.

With the compost bins ready it was time to dig out the spuds.  First the plants were pulled up by the stems and any potatoes that came up with them were removed.  Some plants gave up many potatoes, others none.

I got quite a few potatoes from this initial pass.  Those are Kennebecs on the left and Red Pontiac on the right.  They were hosed gently to remove the mud and allowed to dry.  Some of the Kennebecs which were just beneath the leaf mulch had green skin from sun exposure.

After the potato foliage was pulled out it was put into the new compost bin and chopped up with a machete, as the vorpal blade went snicker-snack (sorry I can never resist that one).  That left a potato patch with a cover of shredded leaves and surprisingly few weeds. 

The shredded leaves were raked up and put into the new compost bin, on top of the potato foliage.  It made two wheelbarrow loads.  I put the first load into the bin, then filled up a bucket with bunny poop and spread it on top.  The next load was added to the bin and a few handfuls of lawn fertilizer sprinkled on top for nitrogen. The whole affair was watered.

Then it was time to dig up the remaining potatoes - the hard work.  I won't go into detail here but the humidity and misery indices were high.  But ultimately the potatoes gave up.  A few got sliced by the spade in the process, but the damage was limited.  These potatoes were also hosed  off and allowed to dry, then moved inside the house where they now cover the kitchen table.

That left a bare potato patch.  The soil was broken up with a hoe and cultivated with a single pass with the power cultivator.  Clay is the eternal curse in this garden, especially in a newer bed like this, and there is still not quite enough organic matter in the soil to let it break up easily.  After tilling the patch was raked over.  Lastly the squash vines that had been growing all around the patch were directed over the bare soil.

I expect the patch will be completely covered with squash foliage in a week or so.  The butternuts are growing like crazy this year while the Teksukabotu vines are somewhat subdued.  Last year it was the reverse.  It looks like it will be a good year for squash.


Daphne Gould said...

It looks like you got a lot of nice red potatoes. Though I don't grow potatoes, I do grow sweet potatoes, and I love digging. But then it is the fall and the weather is more conducive.

Unknown said...

I'm glad you got a nice potato harvest even with the weather not being very cooperative. I didn't grow any this year and I regret not having them. I love fresh new potatoes!

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