Starting the Drying Tomatoes

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Starting the Drying Tomatoes

On Christmas Day, as per family tradition, I started a few seeds of the drying tomatoes I like to grow early in the year, along with two indeterminate varieties that I wanted to get give a head start. I planted six seeds of each variety and kept them well moistened and on a heat mat under lights. Ten days in, here are the germination results:

‘Principe Borghese’ from Victory Seed Company, packed for 2009 = 100% germination
‘Principe Borghese’ from Pinetree Garden Seeds, packed for 2011 = 4 of 6
‘Principe Borghese’ from Franchi Sementi, packed for 2012/2013 = 3 of 6
‘Principe Borghese’ seed I saved in 2012 = 4 of 6
‘Oregon Spring’ from Territorial Seed Company, packed for 2009 = 4 of 6
‘Pruden’s Purple’ from Sustainable Seed Co., packed for 2011 = 5 of 6

Not the world’s strongest scientific evidence, but one thing I can tell you is those P. Borghese seeds from Victory Seed Company still rock!

How Much Do Beans Like Biochar?

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By now I’m sure you’ve heard all the buzz about adding biochar to your garden soil. But, I thought, how much difference could it really make? I’ve been working for years on the soil in my garden. It’s full of organic matter from homemade compost and carefully mulched. I fortify it with kelp and fish meal. The worms seem to love it.

In order to test it out, I planted ten seeds of ‘Black CoCo’ beans in each of two identical slightly raised 3′x3′ beds that held onions until July. I added compost, fish meal, kelp meal, and a small cupful of Sure Start to each bed. Then I added a quart of Soil Reef to only one of the beds. (Just for the record, I have no connection with Soil Reef, or it’s makers. And Soil Reef does contain compost and worm castings along with the biochar.)

In each of the beds 8 of the 10 seeds I planted germinated over a span of 12 days or so, The young plants did well in both beds, though the Soil Reef beans seemed perhaps a bit greener than the untreated bed. Then it got really hot and dry and I got very busy with work and couldn’t water nearly as much as I wanted to.

Black Coco Beans in Drought Conditions
The smallest of the seedlings died and the others lost several of their leaves. In the regular bed, that is. Both plantings were lightly mulched with straw before germination and then more straw was added to retain moisture after the seedlings were up. This was not enough to sustain the beans planted in my usual soil mix very well through the drought. And the Soil Reef patch? A leaf or two was lost there as well, but the plants are bigger, greener, and much more vigorous.

Coco Beans with Soil Reef BiocharThese two pictures were both taken today. I left the toe of my shoe showing in both shots to give you a size reference. The leaves you see on the bottom left corner of the Soil Reef patch are sweet potatoes. And they present our second potentially confounding factor. Both bean patches are adjacent to a large rectangular sweet potato bed, in my standard soil mix. And it just so happens that the end of the sweet potato bed nearest the unhappy CoCo beans is not growing as well as the end near the happy, Soil Reef CoCo beans. There is also a large sunflower near the sad bean patch, which may be hindering the growth of both the beans and the sweet potatoes.

Even with the usual confounding factors found in the average urban garden, this experiment looks well worth repeating to me. What about you? Are you adding biochar? What sort of results have you had with it?

Potting the African Prince

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Starting potatoes from true potato seed (TPS), takes some patience, good eyes or magnifiers, and a sense of adventure because when you grow potato plants from seeds, you don’t really know what you’re going to get. This year I am growing TPS of ‘African Prince’ and ‘Chaposa’, both from New World Seeds and Tubers. I’m also growing TPS I saved myself from the ‘Long, Tall, Red’ potatoes that looked so promising in our trials for productive small-space varieties.

Potato seed is produced in small, round, usually green, berries that are reported to be highly toxic.

Potato seed is produced in small, round, usually green, berries that are reported to be highly toxic.

The seeds were started on August 1st in peat pots under lights and watered from the bottom.

The seeds were started on August 1st in peat pots under lights and watered from the bottom. The first ones sprouted after ten days.

Now that some of the seedlings are about 2″ tall, I am potting them up into regular containers in potting mix.

Cut-Pod-WrappersThe first step is to cut the netting that holds the peat pod together. Carefully unwrap the pod holding the ball of peat cupped in your hand so you don’t dislodge any of the roots formed by the potato seedling. Next, gently place the peat pod into the pot on top of a thin layer of soil.

Potted-PrinceWith the fingers of one hand around the tiny potato plant, slowly add soil around the peat pod and up the stem of the potato plant, in effect ‘hilling’ your new potato plant for the first time. Leave a bit of stem and the top leaves above the soil line just as you would in potting up a tomato seedling. (Potatoes and tomatoes are close relatives and have many of the same growing characteristics.)

Your TPS seedlings can be hardened off and transplanted outdoors where they will grow into larger vines and produce tubers. Or they can be grown in small containers and allowed to set a few mini-tubers that you can then select for specific characteristics and grow out only the ones that look promising for the skin color, shape, etc. you want to grow. TPS presents the gardener with lots of possibilities which is one of the things I enjoy about it most.

Want to know more? Here’s an interesting take on breeding potato varieties uniquely suited to your garden growing conditions.

German Butterballs Growing Up

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German Butterballs Growing Up

What happens if you take five ‘German Butterball’ seed potatoes and grow them, with minimal inputs during a very hot and dry year, in a 3′ x 3′ space hilled with compost and hay three times over the growing season? Well, it turns out, surprisingly wonderful things!

For several years we’ve been trying different potato varieties to see which ones have the best potential to grow vertically in a small space. ‘German Butterball’ certainly proved to be a contender this growing season.

This tiny (barely 9 square feet) patch of basically untended potatoes produced a total of 59 tubers! 14 regular eating size for the variety, 14 small, 15 mini and 16 micro tubers. The vines grew over 3′ tall and stolon development occurred along the deepest 7″ of the potato stems. The longest stolon recorded was not quite 12″ long. No berries were seed on this variety this year.

During the fall potato growing season these potatoes and the ‘Long Tall Red’ potatoes will be grown side by side for height and yield comparisons during the hopefully wetter and cooler part of the year.