Monday, March 19, 2018

Why and how to grow potatoes in your garden or containers - organically!

Why grow your own potatoes?

Besides being very easy to grow in a backyard garden or even containers, why should you grow potatoes? 

How about the mind-boggling varieties you can plant? You can pick from a huge variety of taters when you grow your own, with different skin color, flesh color, texture, flavor and use. 

Who needs boring old Russet Potatoes or Yukon Golds when you can grow these tantalizing varieties: Rose Finn Apple, Desiree, French Fingerling, German Butterball, Russian Banana, Austrian Crescent, Red Bliss All Blue, Purple Majesty... Is your mouth watering and imagination running wild at these names?

Some varieties are better for fresh eating (Red Gold, Rose Gold), some are better for long-time storage (Russet, Carola), and whatever your growing and eating goals, I encourage you to plant some of these tasty tubers!
You can even grow spuds if you don't have a garden – just grow them in containers on a patio or driveway!

When to plant?

Potatoes can be planted as soon as you can work the soil in early spring, although they won't begin to grow until the soil temperature has reached 45 degrees F. 

We plant ours two to four weeks before the last frost date. They can deal with a light frost, since the soil will insulate them. However, if the young leaves have popped through the soil and a hard frost threatens, they can get damaged. 

 If a cold snap is forecast, you can push soil or mulch like straw over them, and the leaves will grow back up through it in a few days as if nothing happened.

How to plant them?

Start with certified seed potatoes to make sure they are disease free, since these vegetables can suffer from serious fungal and bacterial diseases. You can save some every year and re-plant. But if after a while yields decline, or their foliage looks weird, just start over again with new certified seed potatoes. 

Don't use old potatoes from your root cellar, since these could carry disease organisms without you knowing it.

Plant seed potatoes whole if they are small (about the size of a golf ball), or cut the bigger seed potatoes in chunks (2 inches square), and make sure that each piece has two or three buds, or eyes, on it. 

Allow the potato chunks to dry for a couple of days before planting so a callous can develop over the cut, which helps prevent rotting.

Some people expose their seed potatoes to light and temperatures between 60 to 70 degrees to encourage sprouting a couple of weeks before they plant them. That way, they take less time to mature and are less likely to rot. Make sure to plant them when the sprouts are still less than one inch long.

Potatoes are very easy to grow. They are pretty forgiving when it comes to soil conditions, but ideally they like slightly acidic soil (PH of 5 to 7) and light, loose, well-drained soil.

We practice crop rotation so they're not grown in the same garden bed every year. It's best to wait four years or more until you plant them in the same spot.
There are several ways to plant spuds.

The easiest way to plant them is 3 inches deep and 12 inches apart, then keep hilling, or just mulch with compost or straw. Mulching helps keep soil cooler and moister, which benefits potatoes and cuts down on watering and some pests.

Here's how we plant: We dig a trench that is 8 inches deep and sprinkle organic pelletized fertilizer on it.  Place each piece of potato with its cut side down and eyes pointing up every 12 inches. Space the rows 3 feet apart. Place 4 inches of soil on top of the potatoes. The plants will begin to grow, and as they do, continue to fill the trench. Eventually, we “hill” the potatoes, meaning we mound the soil around the stems of the potato plants as they grow. This prevents light from reaching the tubers. You don't want the potatoes exposed to light, since this can make them turn green and produce solanine, a mildly poisonous substance.

Some people don't even dig trenches, but just loosen soil, throw the potatoes on top, then keep covering and mulching them with straw. This way, they don't have to dig them up later. However, you get less yield that way, and mice or voles might have a field day in there, munching your crops!

Keep the plants well watered throughout summer, especially while they are flowering, since this is when the plants are creating their tubers. You want them to be happy so they produce lots! 1 to 2 inches of water per week is ideal.

In late summer, foliage begins to turn yellow and dies back. Stop watering then, since this will help your taters cure in time for harvesting.

How to grow potatoes in containers:

You can plant potatoes in large pots and just keep piling soil onto them as the foliage grows. Or use commercial growing bags (constructed of heavy, dense polypropylene), which is a great alternative on patios or places where there's no good garden soil. 

 Put a few inches of soil and compost in the bottom of the bag, plant three or four seed potatoes, then cover with three inches of soil. Keep adding soil as the plants grow until the bag is full. 

When harvest time comes, just dump the bag on its side and grab the potatoes. Make sure you water adequately and deeply enough throughout the growing season!

Some people even just use a large plastic garbage bag for this, punched through with a few holes for drainage.

You could also use hardware cloth with 1/4-inch mesh, or chicken wire, to build these potato towers. Make them into a cylinder about 18 inches in diameter and 24 inches tall. Follow the planting and growing procedure above, and then just lift the cylinder when harvest time arrives.

When and how to harvest

Let's talk about harvesting – our favorite stage of the whole growing process!

Digging up potatoes is like a treasure hunt, and I usually invite my kids and their friends to help with this fun activity. Use a garden fork or shovel to dig, but be careful when you dig spuds: its easy to spear them. 

Make sure you get every single one, otherwise they'll overwinter and pop us as “volunteers” the next spring, which will mess up your crop rotation.

You can stick your hand in the soil and sneak baby potatoes 2 or 3 weeks after the plants have finished flowering.

If you want to keep them for storage, wait until they are fully cured, typically 2 to 3 weeks after the foliage has died back.

One trick to tell if your potatoes are ready for harvest is to dig one up, rub your thumb hard on the potato, and if the skin rubs off easily, they are too young to store. Potatoes with a thicker, tougher skin that won't rub off will last the longest in storage.

If the weather is dry, we leave the potatoes on the ground for a few hours to dry off. Some people leave them in the field for up to three days to cure them. I don't like leaving them exposed to light for so long, so I just make sure they are dry before I store them. 

 If you harvest in wet weather, allow the potatoes to cure in a dry, protected area, like a garage or covered porch. Curing for a few days allows the skins to mature, which helps with long storage.

How to store:

We store our potatoes in cardboard boxes in our dark crawl space, which is like a root cellar. They need to be stored in a well-ventilated, dark and cool place that's between 35 and 40 degrees F. Stored in this manner, we often eat our own potatoes until it's time to plant the next crop in spring.

How much to plant:

A single potato plant yields 2 to 5 pounds of potatoes, so you should plant 10 to 15 plants per person. 5 to 8 pounds of seed potatoes will plant a 100 feet row. You can grow 60 pounds (1 bushel) from a 30-foot row.

Now it's your turn: Tell me if you grow your own potatoes, what your favorites are, and when you plant them!

Friday, March 2, 2018

Homesteading in paradise February 2018 highlights

Oh February! You have messed with us! You have teased us with fresh spring nettles and then dumped a ton of snow on us!

Oh well. It sure made for beautiful icicles and stunning cross country skiing.

You can partake in the beauty in my latest short video. Also: why are the chickens confused?

Click here to watch it!

Monday, February 26, 2018

Could you do me a favor and subscribe to my Youtube channel?

I don't know if you knew this, but I have a Youtube channel, filled with videos and FREE how-to tutorials and inspirational things I've filmed.  I have video tutorials on how to grow killer onions, how to make nettle pesto, how to make my famous healthy chocolate truffles, and a lot more stuff about homesteading and living a healthier, simpler life.  My video "How and why to use a broad fork" (hint: it's a gardening thing) has tens of thousands of views!

Youtube wants me to have 1,000 subscribers in order to monetize my channel, which would actually only give me about $5 a month, but it's better than nothing.

I'm at 832 subscribers at the time of this writing, and I need 168 more.  

Would you mind subscribing to my channel, please?  

You'll get lots of FREE information out of it!  (And if you know me at all, you'll see that it's not only educational, but also entertaining).

So come on over to my channel and subscribe, and maybe start binge-watching some of our stuff.  It's entertaining and educational!

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Quality time with my man - and it's all free!

My husband Steve is unlike any human I've ever met.  Most people who have come in contact with him say the same.  He's completely non-judgemental and won't say a bad word about anyone. (Well, actually, he sometimes lets disdain flow when certain politicians are acting extra stupid).

He's incredibly kind, generous and filled with integrity.  He is balanced and stable like a solid mountain (except every now and then when he deals with computer problems, and then he swears like a sailor, to the utter delight of our children).

He gets interviewed by relationship experts on how to be a good man for a woman.  I'm not kidding.  I'll send you a link when it gets released.

He has learned, over our 16 years together, how to deal with my high and low tides of emotions... that I want him to listen and validate instead of fixing things for me.  

In other words: Steve is the complete opposite of me, and we make a great team.

The thing we've learned in our relationship of raising three kids, running businesses together, and homesteading the way we do, is that we need to make time for each other - time that doesn't involve planning a project or mucking out the goat barn or doing dishes together. 

So for Valentine's Day, Steve took the day off, and we went to Anacortes to play in (or rather on) Puget Sound in our kayaks.  But first, we tanked up with coffee and books.

We love Anacortes and Washington Park.  Although the weather was cloudy on Valentine's Day, the water was pretty calm.  I get scared of waves, because I don't have much experience in a kayak.  In fact, I'm kind of a wuss when it comes to large bodies of water.  You know, with all the monsters in it and stuff.

Talking of monsters: we saw a HUGE sea lion when we paddled around a bend.  Steve thinks he must have been over a thousand pounds.  He definitely checked us out, and I had visions of him diving underneath my little boat and messing with me.  And I never even watched "Jaws".  But that's my mind for you.

Do you see that pump sticking out of the water, in the upper right corner of the picture? That's our friend, the sea lion.

We also saw herons, bald eagles, and porpoises who jumped alongside our boats --- another reason for my heart rate to accelerate, because what if...

And then there's the long, errie snakes of seaweed and kelp bumping the kayak when you glide over them. 

On our way back, the sun came out for appropriately seven and a half minutes.  Steve and I sat in our little boats, gently swaying, with sea gulls crying above us, the smell of salt in our nostrils, and all I could think of was: "I am so completely and utterly happy right now."  

Okay, let's switch gears.  

Lemme show you another adventure I had with my man.  Snow!  Cross country skiiing!

As I write this blog post (Saturday morning), snow has been falling for many hours.  We currently have 18 inches of snow on the ground, and it won't stop anytime soon.

Steve and I cobbled together some skiiing gear from assorted second-hand shops, and we have enough stuff to make this happen.  So we headed out two days in a row to explore the hill above our little town.  

It was stunning, great exercise, and some of the best icicle viewing of my life.

There's a place called Marble Creek that's a campground in the summer.  There are huge trees and magical spots at the river.  And best of all - completely deserted.

I love this solitude.  It does the soul good.

What kinds of things do you do to nurture your relationship with your better half?

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Snow, eggs, river and mountains

When I woke up two mornings ago, something felt very, very different. And very, very quiet. It's always quiet out here in the boonies, but the quality of the lack of sound had an eerie, muffled feel.
We have to get the kids up at 5:45 am so they can make it to the school bus at 6:25 am, and thus it was still dark, but when I let the dogs outside to pee first thing, I saw right away what the cause for the stillness was: snow. 

Yes, I know it's pretty. But you guys? I don't like it – not one bit. I intended to start onion and leek seeds on Valentine's Day, but the weather rained snowed on my parade.  Hmpf.

It's a good thing we got a huge head start on our fire wood scene.

Our chickens don't like this #$% either.  We have them in the chicken tractor so we can move them around the lawn and pasture, but when it snows, they have to hang out in one place.

Before the snow hit, they pecked fresh grass and bugs every day.  Can you see what a huge difference this makes by the looks of their eggs?  Store bought organic eggs with their paler yolk compared to our homegrown bright orange ones: there's no comparison.

I feed my chickens the scoby from my kombucha making.  They gobbled the whole thing up.  I bet they are the healthiest chickens in the Skagit Valley!

I put together a beautiful online course on how to raise chickens organically and naturally, if you are interested.  It also includes detailed video instructions on how to make a chicken tractor like ours. I filmed Steve how he made one, so it's super easy to follow along.

Before all this snow descended on us, we had to deal with record rainfall.  You can really understand why we Pacific Northwesteners are addicted to our coffee.

There was a three-day window in all the shitty weather when the sun came out.  As soon as the first sun ray showed, up, I grabbed my oldest son and told him I needed a mother-and-son date.

He was fair game, since he truly is a nice kid.  Plus, the choices were: either go on a hike with Mom, or build a mountain bike trail with his brother and Dad. I won. Yay!

I love this guy.  As far as 15-year-olds go, he's golden.  He's still more or less okay spending time with his old mother, funny as heck, and more thoughtful than most adults.

So we hiked up the dirt road behind our house, and got to this spot:

A day after this, we got together with friends to bushwhack to a beautiful, remote spot by the river.  At least it felt remote, until we found a rustic outhouse in the middle of the woods.  Magic, man!

We spread out on the sand, brought out pounds of snacks, settled down with knitting, and the teenagers promptly fell asleep.

On the way to the river, we found the first nettles! Nettles! That night I went home, and wouldn't you know? I picked enough nettles by the compost pile to make nettle pesto!

In closing today, let me show three more scenes.

1) We bottled our homemade elderberry wine, and we even designed our own labels.

2) Steve and I found a heart rock on one of our walks.

3) And up until all this snow fell, I kept up my daily practice of walking barefoot.  One day, I even walked on the frozen ground, and it felt totally fine.

What's happening in your neck of the woods?  Do you still have snow?  Have you started seeds yet?  Any baby goats?

Friday, February 9, 2018

Do you want to be a better mother?

Okay, so I cringe a little when I say "better" mother, because that implies judgment and gives us Moms another reason to beat ourselves up.

But here's the thing: I've talked to hundreds of mothers, and when I ask them what their biggest pain is, they share they are afraid that they are bad mothers sometimes. They suffer from Mama guilt.

Do you? Do you feel guilty about not giving your kids enough quality time, feel stressed out, over-extended, pulled in too many directions, juggling too much, feel alone, fight depression, can't keep up, and making time for yourself is really hard... maybe you feel like you are cracking in half?

I hear ya.  As you know, I'm a mother of three, and I've experienced every single one of the feelings listed above.  I know many of you do, too.

This is why I want to invite you to my FREE webinar (replay available).

In the webinar, I will show you three surprising and easy principles and practices to go from mama guilt and burn-out to ease and balance between taking care of your own needs and desires, as well as your kids' needs and wants.

I have completely transformed my own pattern of feeling like I'm a shitty Mom, neglecting my own self-care and balance, and resenting the crap out of my kids.

I have beyond-successfully used the principles and practices I teach in my free webinar, and I've taught it to many women in my one-on-one coaching practice.


You want to feel balanced between taking care of your own needs and desires, as well as your kids’. You want to be a better mother and wife.
You want to get in touch with your own yearnings and achieve them.

You are yearning for:
a purpose beyond children
time for yourself
self care
self trust

You want to feel:
connected with your children

You want to experience:
how to be perfectly imperfect
creative time
deep love

Let me show you how to get there in my FREE webinar.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Homesteading in Paradise January Highlights movie

Hey peeps!

Homesteading in January sounds like an oxymoron here in the wintery, rainy, cold Pacific Northwest.
No veggies are growing, no fruit is budding, no milk is flowing, not many eggs are forthcoming from the chickens.

There's still plenty of homesteady-stuff going on: cutting, splitting, stacking firewood, cooking amazing food (my 13-year old son is becoming quite the baker), racking wine... and so much more.

Come see for yourself.  This month's "Homesteading in Paradise Highlights" movie is peppered with beautiful scenery and plenty of bald eagles.

Watch it here.

Have a wonderful day!