Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Potatoes: Tasty Tubers

Potatoes are one of the most rewarding crops to grow. While the tops grow, flower, and then die back tasty tubers are forming underground.  Digging in the cool rich soil pulling out tasty potatoes grown organically is a thrill!  With skin colors from purple, blue,  red, and brown potatoes are anything but boring!  Some of the harvest will store well into the winter with very little preparation.  And some will be enjoyed on the day of harvest because nothing beats a fresh baked potato. 

Potatoes  are a family favorite with endless cooking options:  baked, boiled, roasted, shredded, steamed or fried.  They can serve as a taste side dish,in a salad, or even as the main event at a meal.

They are a great storage crop and can be processed in a pressure canner or dehydrated.  With so many options why not give the spectacular spud a try?

Purple Viking Potatoes

Are Potatoes Healthy?

Potatoes are actually nutritional gold mines.  They contain  vitamin C, potassium, iron and are a good source of fiber. They also contain B vitamins, vitamin A, minerals like zinc, iron, calcium and magnesium, and antioxidants. In fact, one medium potato with its skin can provide half of the recommended daily dose of vitamin C. In a survival situation, this would definitely be an important crop because it is calorie and nutrient dense characteristics.


Why Brother Growing Potatoes?

Why not just purchase potatoes from the store?  After all they are inexpensive, so why go to the effort to grow them?  There is a difference between fresh potatoes and store potatoes.  Texture and taste are so much better. Also there are so many varieties and colors and shapes of potatoes each suited to  a particular use and cooking method. Flavor ranges from nutty to sweet and from mild to intense.  Each variety has its own texture.  The texture determines what dishes each variety is best suited for.  Once you start growing your own spuds you will always find a space for them in the garden.

Besides the endless options of heirloom varieties,growing your own potatoes means you are getting an organic pesticide free potato.  Commercial potatoes are heavily sprayed with chemical fungicides and pesticides.
Purple Viking

Picking a Potato

Potatoes are planted from whole or partial seed tubers.  Use only certified seed quality tubers not grocery store potatoes.  This prevents the risk of certain diseases.

Potatoes can be characterized by maturity date, any where from 65-180 days, and skin type.  There are early, mid season, and late varieties.  I like to plant at least one variety of the early, mid, and late season potatoes. This extends the potato season allowing us to enjoy these yummy spuds from late summer through fall.  Skin types include russets, smooth, and colored.  Some varieties exhibit some resistance to potato disease so that is another factor to look at.  Each variety allows a different yield from light to heavy yields. Storage length is also another consideration with the late season varieties being the best for storing.

Weeding and prepping the field

 Planting Potatoes

Start with egg sized potatoes.  Larger potatoes can be cut and left out overnight to cure at room temperature.  Potatoes can be planted 4-6 weeks before the last frost date as long as the soil can be worked.  They like a sandy soil with lots of organic matter. 

 I start with a trench 1-1 1/2  feet deep. Leave the removed soil on the side of the trench. Before planting, I add dry organic fertilizer.  I  plant the seed potatoes 8 inches apart.  Cover the potatoes with only 2 inches of dirt.  

When the potatoes emerge and have about 6 inches of top growth cover them with another 2-4 inches of soil.  Continue to do this until the plants are level with the surrounding ground.  Then mound up one more time around the potatoes so they are actually  growing on a hill.  This is important because potatoes form between the seed potato and the ground level.  Mounding ensures an abundant crop.

Care of Potatoes

Other than the dry organic fertilizer you put in the trench potatoes do not need any other fertilizer.  You can cover emerging potatoes with compost once while mounding them and again when you hill them. Straw can also be used to mulch potatoes just be sure it is seed free. 

Even moisture is important to prevent mishapen potatoes.


There are a few pest to watch for in your potato crop.  As with all your crops, a stroll through the potato plot looking for signs of insect damage will result in early detection and possibly save your crop.  

 Colorado Potato Beetle? - Leptinotarsa decemlineata       Colorado Potato Beetle Larva   Colorado Potato Beetle eggs on Nightshade leaf
 Colorado Potato Beetle

This beetle reside in most states despite the name Colorado potato beetle.  Check the underside of leaves, looking for masses of orange eggs.  Destroy them!  The adult beetle is yellow with black stripes.  The larvae is dark red or orange with black spots.  Both adults and larvae feed on the potato foliage.  Pick them off or spray with Neem and Spinosad.

Flea Beetle

Flea beetles are small pesky black beetles.  They chew small holes in plant leaves damaging young plants.  Rotating your crops and maintaining high organic matter in the soil will help.


Problems with disease vary from year to year.  The determining factor will be the weather. Moisture and temperature and the right host make disease pathogens active.  

There are some preventative measures you can take.  First of all it is very important to rotate where you plant potatoes.  Potatoes and tomatoes are in the same family so keep that in mind when planning your crop rotation. Second always use certified disease free potato seed.  And finally use a regular organic spray routine throughout the season.

I have found the following spray routine effective for both pests and disease:

  • Neem Oil
  • Spinosad
  • Kaolin Clay

I put all three sprays in the same sprayer and apply every two weeks.  I also add kelp and fish emulsion.


The fungus that cause common scab lives in the soil for many years.  It is inactive if the pH of the soil is below 5.4.  You can take a soil test to determine pH.  Look for scab resistant varieties.

Late Blight

Late blight was responsible for the Irish potato famine.  It is caused by the fungs Phytophthora infestans.  This disease loves cool, wet weather and spreads as the weather warms up.  Look for water soaked areas that turn brown and black as the leaf dies.  Both potatoes and leaves can be affected.  Be sure to plant certified seed and follow a regular spray routine.  If weather conditions are right add Serenade to the spry routine.

  Mosaic Virus

  MosaicVirus is spread by aphids.  It causes leaves to curl and they look two toned.  This virus occurs throughout the United States.  Kennebec and Katahdin, two of my favorite storage varieties, have some resistance to this virus.

Let everyone help look for potatoes!

Holding the lids open

Harvesting Potatoes

You can harvest new potatoes before the main harvest.  This robbing can be done 50-60 days after planting.  A good time to rob for new potatoes is right before flowering.  Just gently reach into the hill and remove the new potatoes. Be very gentle.

Potatoes for storage are dug after the plant flowers and the vines begin to die.  They must be dug before the ground freezes.  

To check for maturity dig up a plant and rub the skin.  The skins should not rub off. If they do and weather permits leave them in the ground a couple more weeks. Harvest in the morning on a dry day.  Dig your potato fork to the side of the plants and gently lift out the spuds.  Digging around will result in finding more potatoes.  It's like a treasure hunt.

Brush off the dirt but do not wash until you are ready to use them.  I cure them in a cool garage on a rack which allows circulation and continues to cure the skins. Curing allows skins to harden and cuts and bruises to heal.

Used to store potatoes in the house.

Storage rack to cure potatoes in my garage.

Storing Potatoes

Potatoes are stored best in cool, dark, and humid conditions.  The ideal temperature is 40 degrees with 80-90% humidity.  Lower humidity causes potatoes to shrivel and light causes them to sprout.  In the west it is difficult to maintain high humidity, but do the best you can to maintain good storage conditions.  Not all varieties store well so use them up first and save those varieties intended for long term storage for later.

Varieties I like:.

Early Season 

Purple Viking: early, purple skin, white flesh my favorite.  My all time favorite

Red Norland:  Red skin, white flesh resistant to scab
Moutain Rose:  Red skin and flesh

Mid Season: 

Katahdin:  Reliable, white flesh, good storage, a must in my garden
Kennebec:  Large, reliable, large yields, long storage, excellent

La Soda Red:  Dark red, white flesh, disease resistant, high yields

Late Season:

Carola:  yellow flesh, excellent quality, drought, scab, and blight resistant, high yields
All Blue:  Large blue skin and flesh, high yields

Be sure to place online potato orders early or you will not have very many choices available.  The sell fast.  

Monday, July 6, 2020

Gooseberry Jam

Gooseberries are not very familiar to North Americans but Europeans are very familiar with the gooseberry.  They have been grown for hundreds of years and are the perfect addition for the homesteader or backyard gardener.  Hopefully this delicious jam encourages you to plant a few bushes.  Cultivating and planting are easy and this is a low maintenance deer proof beautiful bush.

For jam, gooseberries should be soft and ripe.  Gooseberries can be either green or red.  I prefer the red because it makes a beautiful jam.  This recipe can be doubled.  It is a no pectin recipe because gooseberries are naturally high in pectin, but be sure to follow cooking instructions so it sets.

Makes 4 half pints

6 cups gooseberries ( tails and stems removed)
water or red currant juice
4 cups sugar
Pinch of salt

1.  In a large stainless steel pot, simmer gooseberries, covered in a little water or red currant juice.  Mash if desired

2.  When the berries have softened, add in the sugar and salt.

3.  Bring to a boil.  Boil uncovered for 10 or 15 minutes stirring occasionally until one of three things happens.  Actually all three will happen just decide how you will determine when the jam reaches gel stage.
1 .  Jam reaches gel stage 220 F use a kitchen thermometer. 
2.  Bubble change in texture; they become glossier and slower to pop.  
3.  The jam sheets off a spoon rather than drips.

Bubbles before gel stage

The bubbles when close to gel stage are glossier and slower to pop.

4.  Remove jam from heat skim if desired.

5.  Fill hot jars to 1/4 inch from the top, wipe rims, and seal.

6.  Process in a boiling water canner for 10 minutes.  Add 10 minutes for high altitude areas.

7.  When finished processing, remove the canner lid and allow to sit for 10 minutes then remove jars from the water bath canner.

8.  ENJOY your delicious unique Gooseberry Jam!

Variation:-black currant jam substitute 1/2 to 1 cup black currants for 1/2 to 1 cup gooseberries.  This jam is similar to Jostaberry Jam.  The jostaberry bush is a cross between gooseberries and black currants.

Finished Gooseberry Jam!  I remove the rings for storage.


Sunday, July 5, 2020

Dehydrating To Preserve the Harvest

Dwarfed Blue Curled Kale dried and blended to a  powder is great to add to smoothies

The dehydrator is running almost every day during this time of year. It's a great way to preserve fruits, vegetables, and herbs.   Herbs I pick in the morning, rinse, and pat dry.  I put them in the dehydrator at the lowest setting. You can store them in ziploc bags or canning jars. I remove the leaves from the stems after they are dried.


Winter Savory

Dried Strawberries are a favorite snack.

The strawberries are sliced into a solution of water and lemon juice 4:1.  You can also use lime juice or pineapple juice.  Fruits I dry at 130 - 135 degrees.  I rotates the trays throughout the process.  When done they should still be pliable.  Dehydrated strawberries are irresistible!

The finished product.  It's best to take the fruit off trays right when you turn off the dehydrator to prevent sticking.

Store in an air tight container.

Pretreating Fruit

Dipping fruit in a pretreatment prevents them from oxidizing.  The fruit will brown, lose some Vitamin A and Vitamin C during oxidization.  Lemon juice makes an excellent natural pretreatment.

Use 1 cup of lemon juice to one quart of water

It is best to not leave the fruit in the dip for more than 10 minutes.

Always use high quality produce picked when ripe.

Dried white peaches, principe tomatoes, and pears

Fun Dehydrated Products:

Zucchini and kale can be dried into chips. Season with your favorite spices. 

Dried pears are amazing! 

White fleshed peaches are amazing dried. They are to soft to can.

Dried peaches

Apple rings.  Try dipping one side in cinnamon and sugar before drying.

Spinach and kale can be dried and then powdered to add to smoothies

Peppers can be dried and blended until powdered and used to make you own chili powder.

Fruit leather. I add applesauce to sweeten. It also helps with the consistency and makes a better product.

Dry flowers for decorating projects.

Dried Tomatoes

These are wonderful to add to a homemade or frozen pizza.  Slice any tomato and sprinkle with a small amount of brown sugar, basil and oregano.  Using colorful heirlooms makes these simply gorgeous.

Add caption

Get that dehydrator out and start preserving your harvests.  

Monday, June 29, 2020

Watering Trees

The west has always been my home with its dry air and endless sunshine.  I grew up in Southern Nevada and now reside in Southern Utah.  The move from Nevada to Utah with it's four seasons and green landscape was so exciting.  Of course if you are from the West Coast or back East even Utah will seem like a desert and Nevada like land desolation.  

We once took a  family trip up the Oregon and California coast visiting the Giant Redwoods and Sequoias.  I remember the the beautiful deciduous trees so thick and tall lining the roads. Truly gorgeous and inspiring! It made our Utah trees look like tiny shrubs which is why we are so grateful for whatever trees we have and are so disappointed when we lose one.  

Our 5 acres has juniper, gambrel oak groves, and pines.  Deciduous trees need water and care to survive here.  Trees and the shade they provide are such a blessing. Summer shade, fall color, wind protection, and beauty are all reasons to plant trees. Older trees are part of the history and heritage of an area.

Trees are an investment in time and money. And in the West watering is always an issue.
How often should I water landscape trees?  How do I know if my trees are getting enough water?  When do I stop watering for winter? 

Why Trees Need Water

Water is needed by plants to take up nutrients, produce food, and create a healthy soil food web.  Making sure you are not over watering or under watering can be a challenge.  Plants can suffer with over watering as well as under watering.  

A globe willow planted in the turf, not a great idea.  Notice the woody roots visible at the base of trunk.

Warning Signs of Problems


  • Soil is dry.
  • Older leaves turn yellow or brown and may even drop off.
  • Leaves are wilted and/or curled.

  • Soil is constantly damp.
  • Young leaves become light green or yellow.
  • Young shoots are wilted.
  • Leaves are green yet brittle.
  • Algae and mushrooms are growing.
  • (Univeristy of Arizona)
My son in Maryland.  Notice the tree roots over the railroad track.

What Roots Need

The soil around the roots of your shrubs and trees is called the root zone.  It is from this area that the tree needs to uptake both nutrients and moisture. Tree roots need oxygen as well as nutrients and water.  The oxygen is found in the pore space of the soil.  This is why compacted soil is bad for any plant. Walking on moist soil compacts the soil.  Paving or driving over root zones compacts the soil.  Trees that do get oxygen to the roots decline slowly and will eventually die.   Over watering and standing water can fill up pore space and suffocate roots.  Pooling water on frozen ground is not a concern because it is pooling  on the surface.

Planting in a predominately clay soil is not wise.  Clay soils do not have sufficient pore space and are easily compacted.

The importance of the site, soil type, and watering are what make a healthy tree.  Too often when a tree dies we look for disease or pest when the fact is our poor management leads to a slow decline and makes the tree vulnerable to disease and pest.  Pest and disease are usually a secondary cause of death.

A maple with it's fall colors on.

The Drip Zone

Think of the canopy of the tree as an umbrella.  Rain water tends to drip off the canopy like an umbrella.  It is from the drip line and out away from the trunk that the feeder roots take up moisture.  Feeder roots can extend from 1-4 feet past the drip line.  Watering close to the trunk does not benefit the tree because the tree does not have feeder roots in that area.  Typically, there is more root growth out from the tree than straight down.  

Feeder roots are connected to the trees by larger transport roots, trunk, branches, and twigs. Feeder roots are non woody roots that fan out near the surface.  Their tips absorb water and nutrients.  It is the feeder roots that are damaged and killed by fluctuating water levels and temperature.

Roots do not grow toward anything in particular but grow where they can be sustained by sufficient pore space, nutrients, and moisture.  They will not extend into compacted soil with no pore space for oxygen or water.  The action of microbes and the soil food web help to provide a loose nutrient rich soil with pore space for tree roots to easily penetrate

There is no such thing as shallow rooted or deep rooted trees.  While there are typical root systems for different tree species, the root system of the trees will depend on the soil type, availability of oxygen, nutrients, and moisture.  So your cultural practices and placement of trees will to a large extent determine the health of your trees.

Native trees have developed interesting adaptations to their environment. Interestingly pines in desert sands tend to grow two layers of roots.  A surface layer to absorb moisture and and a deeper layer to survive during drought. That's a topic for another post.

My favorite tree showing off its fall colors.

How deeply do I need to water?

The majority of the trees roots are in the top 2-3 feet of soil. With the feeder roots in the top 18-24 inches.  Most trees do not have a tap root. When first emerging a tree sends down a root but the majority of roots radiate out from the trunk horizontally forming framework roots. Feeder root fan out near the surface from the woody framework roots.    Think of the roots spreading out from the tree like a pancake not extending down like a carrot.  Roots can spread out from the trunk twice the length of the the branches. It is from the drip out that watering is most beneficial not around the trunk.

Remember that while there are roots that anchor the tree, your goal is to provide water to the feeder roots that fan out near the surface.

My son in  Samar, Philippines.  Anyone know what kind of tree that is?

How to determine how deep you are watering

Use a probe 1/4 inch thick to determine how deep you are watering.  After irrigating push a  metal probe into thee soil.  It will move easily through moist soil and be more difficult to move through dry soil. This only needs to be done once to help you determine how long you need to water.

  Shrubs 6-12 inches

Trees 18-24 inches

My husband by the skeleton of a juniper.  This is at a presumed UFO landing sight in Aztec, New Mexico. Make your own assumptions about how this tree was damaged.

How Frequently  do I Water?

This will depend on the season and weather conditions.  In my hot dry summers I water once a week.  In the spring and fall I water when the soil dries out down to 3-4 inches. Mature trees that receive sufficient rainfall may not need any watering.  So a lot depends on your zone and precipitation levels each season.

Summer—Generally you should water mature trees and shrubs no more than once a week. 
Water arid adapted plants less often, if at all.

Winter—If there has not been any precipitation for four to six weeks, water deciduous and evergreen trees and shrubs to keep the root zone moist if the ground is not frozen.

Evergreen trees continue to transpire through the winter.  Be sure to water well around Thanksgiving time and then in winter if there is no precipitation and ground is not frozen.

A juniper that is about 40 feet tall and native to the area.

How long should I water?

The amount of time you water will depend on your water system, the weather, and your soil type.  Sandy soil needs a shorter watering time but water applied more frequently.  A clay soil needs less water applied slowly.  Determine with a probe how long it takes to apply the water and use that as a guide.  Be sure to allow nature to do her job and adjust your watering to the weather.

My son in Biliran, Philipines.  Watering is not an issue there.

Beautiful beach in Biliran, Philippines

Additional Information

Leaving leaf liter protects roots from winter injury

Potted trees at a nursery that are not moved out of the winter weather and the summer heat suffer root damage.  Bare root trees are always healthier than container trees.

Applied herbicides on lawns where you have trees can damage surface roots and cause yellowing and damage to trees

Plastic mulches or too thick a layer of mulch can immobilize nutrients, cause fermentation, and cut off oxygen supply and kill or damage the tree.  It is best to mulch only 3-4 inches thick with a shredded bark or a natural mulch.

Expand the watering basin as plants grow

Observe your trees closely periodically.  Correcting a watering problem early can save your tree.  With older mature trees damage will occur slowly over time so look for signs of stress. 

Trees add wind protection, beauty, and cool shade to the landscape

And fall color