It's a big week up and coming this next week in the garden. The "official" arrival on spring happens March 20th 11:33am. The vernal equinox signifies the turning point when daylight starts to win over darkness. Longer days, more sun and warmer weather is on its way!
After a crazy winter, plants are ready to get growing. When working out in our nursery this week, some plant's buds are swelling and even blooming. Plants overwintered in our greenhouses such as forsythia, honeysuckle and witch hazels are ready to pop. That tells me spring is here.
St.Patricks day is today. Traditionalists say this is the day to plant your potatoes and peas. Harness the luck of the Irish and start a new tradition this year. Potatoes are easy to grow.
Start with certified virus free seed potatoes found at your local garden center. Potato plants like full sun so choose a location with 6 hours of sunlight. A good well draining soil is key to achieving a bumper crop. For every 1 pound of seed potatoes planted, expect a yield of 10 pounds.
Planting is pretty straight forward. Size is important. If they are the size of golf balls or slightly larger, they can be planted as they are. Larger potatoes can be cut into approximately 2" pieces. Make sure at least one to two "eyes" are on the pieces you cut. Some gardeners choose to allow cut pieces to callus over night before planting. This is not necessary.
Some gardeners will place their potatoes in a dark box where temperatures are 60 degrees or warmer. This is known as "chitting". Sprouts will begin to form and some feel this is a great way to get them off to a quicker start. Caution needs to be maintained regarding temperatures at night if this is done. You don ' t want a frost to stunt or kill your sprouts so you may want to cover them with a cloth on frosty nights.
With your potatoes cut and ready to go, now is the time to dig a trench 4-6" deep. A standard or triangular hoe works very well. Lay seed with eyes up in trench approximately 8-12" apart. Backfill with soil and tamp lightly. That's it.
Now if you don't have a garden bed to plant in, potato bags, containers and even tires can be used to grow potatoes in. To increase yield of potatoes, as top stems of potatoes grow, hill them up with soil which surrounds potatoes. Add a layer of soil 2-6" deep to top growth of potato plant. In the ground, you can probably do this 2-3 times before you can't hill plants up any higher.
Containers have an advantage here as you can just add more soil. Tires can be stacked on top of each other and filled with soil. Some of my clients have stacked tires as high as 6 tall.
Let your plants grow and many potatoes will be produced.
When stems die and brown, it's time to harvest them. A digging fork makes it easy to harvest your crop. Start at the edge of your bed, loosen soil around the mound and reveal your crop.
Allow potatoes to dry on top of ground for a half hour or so. Collect and place in boxes or crates being careful when collecting them. Skins will be fragile and can be damaged easily at this point. Store in a dark area until you are ready to eat them. Use smallest potatoes first as larger ones will last longer. If you have any green potatoes, throw them away. They contain a toxin that is detrimental to the central nervous system.
Peas can also be planted now. A great secret to better germination is to start them the night before you want to plant by soaking them in water. Peas can tolerate a light frost but night time temperatures should be monitored if cold weather ensues. Covering with a cloth will help avoid freezing of new sprouts.
In looking at the long term weather forecast, warmer days are on the way. I am sure we will still have a few cold days but spring may actually be early this year.
If you have fruit trees or plants that may have an insect or disease problem, now would be a great time to spray dormant oil and copper fungicides on them while they are still dormant. This spray now will start your plants and trees off fresh and clean. When spraying, make sure overnight temps are above freezing the day you spray
J.R. Pandy "The No B.S. Gardener"