Sunday, August 2, 2009

Timing is everything

Clichés abound. A populist and pragmatic truth.

I dug up our red potatoes yesterday. It was time, for the plants had died back. I quit watering them a week or more ago, not because they were ready to harden off, but because the plants were dying. Something was wrong, although I did not know from what exactly, I knew that if we were to get any red potatoes at all, I would have to cut off the water.

I say that I did not know “exactly” what was wrong, but I had my suspicions, the first being that they had been affected by a blight, a pathogen in the soil from past plantings of spuds in the same area. We had pushed our luck by using our own seed potatoes in previous years, and even though this year’s seed potatoes had come from a certified seed source (blight-free), if the soil was already contaminated from a planting two years ago, it would not make any difference. A second possible problem might be the proximity to the firs and pines that border this paddock. Pine needles litter the ground, and when they decompose, they lower the ph of the soil, making it more acidic. Potatoes can tolerate acidic soil, yet it might be too much in a soil that is already very acidic.

Mental note: plant potatoes in a completely different paddock next year (if there is a next year) and add lime to the garden soil. It’s a shame, really, as the soil in our garden plot is otherwise so perfect for potatoes and other root vegetables, as it has a lot of crushed granite in it from when it was a horse corral. Otherwise the soil here is a silty clay loam that packs hard and is slow to drain.

So, I turned off the water to all of the potatoes, the reds, the whites and the blues. Why all of them and not just the reds? I’m not quite certain. The blues are all on one line of drip hose, and the reds and white share a hose. I could have just turned off the Rs &Ws, or removed the hose from the reds and left it at that. But I didn’t. Looking back, it may have had something to do with the fact that I noticed some of the other varieties exhibiting some of the same symptoms as the reds. I planned on cutting the water for a few days, dig up the potatoes from the ailing plants and then turn the water back on. Whatever the reasons were, it didn’t work out the way I had hoped.

Some time ago I mentioned that I had injured my back, how exactly, I don’t know. After some visits to the massage therapist and an up-tick in my exercise routine, it was feeling better. Then I tried to pull a rolled-up hose out of some tall grass. The grass wouldn’t give without a fight, yet my back did. That was over two weeks ago, and it wasn’t until the garlic a couple days ago that I felt up to doing any gardening, and even then it was only accomplished with the help of 3 Extra-Strength Tylenols.

And then there was the heat. I wouldn’t have tried to do any heavy work in 106° weather anyway, but the heat also removed the moisture out of the soil faster than I would have liked.

So, when I went to dig up the reds, I was a bit dismayed at the condition of all of the potatoes. I did water the blues yesterday, just to see if they would come back. And even if they do, I will have to be careful with the amount of water I put on them, for potatoes require a very even watering schedule if they are to grow properly. Uneven watering causes them to split and/or grow in a manner where they develop hollow cores.

Still, no water might have been the best solution after all. As I was nearing the end of the row of reds, my attention diverted to the row of russets. Among the withering plants were dry white toadstools. Fungi in the garden? I had never seen such a thing before. Not good. And more water would just mean more toadstools. Yes, there is definitely something amiss with the soil. I will be harvesting small russets. Mind you, they’re just as tasty as the big ones, and they’ll cook up faster; yet, like the reds, we won’t get the crop I was hoping for.

If everything was perfect, I should have pulled 75 pounds of reds out of that one row. Instead, I got 30. I’ll give the russets a few more days in the soil to cure before I dig them up. And if it looks like rain, I’ll dig them sooner. There’s nothing worse than leaving finished potatoes in wet soil, for they’ll start growing like seed potatoes, or rot. Worse case scenario is that we only get 150 pounds or so of spuds this year, but more than enough for us. We just won’t have much extra to share. A pity.

1 comment:

Memphis MOJO said...

Sorry you didn't have better luck with the spuds. The reds in the photo look nice.