Category Archives: In the Garden

Leaning Tower of Potatoes

Okay, so when most people say (write, text, etc.) “potato tower,” they’re referring to some variation on that time-honored tower-of-tires method, in which one continues to heap earth or straw around a growing spud, using a mounting stack of tires to hold said earth or straw in place, thus allowing more and more new spuds to form along the original’s ever-lengthening stem.

That method is not the subject of this post.

It isn’t that I have nothing to say about the tire-tower; I do, oh, I do. In fact, I have a rant building on the near-ubiquitous nature of this method and its variations (involving wire mesh, newspaper, cardboard boxes, tomato cages, reed mesh, and assorted combinations and permutations of the above), but that rant not having yet reached its finely honed apex, will have to wait. Or we must wait for it. Or something.

In the meantime, I shall try to subdue my rage, curb the temptation to rant, and discuss the other type of potato tower that is the subject of this post. I stumbled on it while mucking about on the web a few weeks back, first on, of all places, Popular Mechanics, and then elsewhere, including Mother Earth News and a blog that’s new to me, Mavis Butterfield’s One Hundred Dollars a Month.

In this version of the tower, you don’t rely on a few potatoes to fill the entire bin. Instead, you put in several layers of potatoes which then grow out the sides of the tower. Having had minimal success in the past with getting potatoes to sprout along a stem as it grows, and having in hand more seed potatoes than made sense, I decided to try this.

Aside from finding enough earth to fill the cylinder (mine must be almost a yard in diameter) this is an easy enough project, largely because I didn’t do it right. Everyone says to line the wire cylinder with straw. Not having any, I didn’t. Instead, I mixed the soil with generous amounts of coconut coir and spruce duff (the layer of decaying needles beneath the tree.) Both hold water beautifully, so I’m hoping the spuds within don’t suffer for lack of straw.

It has taken on a distinct tilt, as you see:leaning tower of potatoes

But there at the bottom—yes—a sprout!

first sprout

That was actually five days ago. The day after this one appeared, I saw another, and two days later a third. Then they started to appear at the top of the tower. So far those three are the only ones poking their leafy heads through the wire into the light, but I have my fingers crossed.


Return of the Shaggy Parasols

Chlorophyllum rachodes

IMyoung boletes

Last year, when I was at first too sick, then too discouraged, to do much in the garden, something magical happened: a second variety of edible mushrooms joined my dependable fairy ring crop, the Marasmius oreadesI wrote about four (four!) years ago in “Back Yard Mushrooms” (July 6, 2014).

The Marasmius oreades come up in two places in the yard, each in a wide curve that follows the arch of a tree root, each year that curve a bit wider, a few inches displaced from where it was the year before. They’re a small mushroom, delicate in appearance, in color, in flavor, excellent in an omelette.

But there’s nothing delicate about the newcomers, which appeared at both shaded, eastern corners of the garage, bulbus and flaky and dark, big even when small, if you know what I mean. Actually, they weren’t newcomers, having put in an appearance in force, ten years ago or so, but at that point I considered them merely a novelty, not having yet learned that an edible mushroom might grace my garden.

Last summer, however, I took steps, which of course consisted primarily of inviting over Sarah, the same friend who’d helped me I.D. the fairy ring mushrooms as an edible variety. This time, she looked at the lunkers bulging out of the dirt by the garage and said,

“They look—oh my gosh, they look like Shaggy Parasols.”

And so they proved to be. I got a number early summer, and through assiduous watering, was able to bring on a fall crop as well.

This year, as the spring rains dropped off, I watered the yard areas where all my mushroom crops have appeared. One of my fairy rings showed up the next day. The other I’d nearly despaired of, but it finally appeared just a week ago.

As for the parasols—no sign. Not a hint. Nothing. Nada. Until today, when I saw one—no, two—four—half a dozen or more—in fact, an even dozen—cropping up in a new area very near the trunk of one of our big pines. I’ve fenced off the area, sent thanks to the mushroom gods, and started tuning up my taste buds.

Buried in the Garden

Well, if this year in the garden doesn’t kill me, it will probably cripple me. I’m trying to come back after multiple surgeries and other medical anomaly (I’m beginning to feel like a medical anomaly myself) and bring the garden(s) back after years of neglect, and oy, but it’s a lot of work. Especially since the whole project (multiple projects, really) seemed so overwhelming that I couldn’t face it (them) and therefore got a late start in an early spring.

However, progress is being made. An important point to remember, as I gaze at the mountain of incomplete and unstarted tasks, the unmulched beds, the unplanted beds (!) the compost piles to be built, weed barriers to be installed, beds whose soil has compacted or been invaded by weeds or both—Yes, in the face of all that’s undone, it’s essential to bear in mind what’s done.

So here’s the rundown, minus before and after pictures because photography was not at the top of my priority list when I started. Besides, having no faith that I’d get even this far, I hardly wanted “before” pictures, lest there be no “afters” to trump them.

— New compost bin built (thanks to S.O.), and winter’s compostables moved.
— Major compost pile built and brought to cooking temp. (This involves me trolling the alley for weeds, which I rely on for the nitrogen necessary to bring my piles up to speed.)
— Strawberry beds next door weeded, no small undertaking, believe me.
— home beds composted and at least partially planted; sprouts sighted!
— peas, both pod and snap, soaked and planted.
— greenhouse paths “finished”—at least, walkable.
— greenhouse vent installed (again thanks to S.O.)
— Strenuous attack on bindweed undertaken in beds next door.
— corner area next door dug out; new bed created!
— Patio baskets planted (all but three largest)—something not done these two years past.
— Raspberries clipped back, staked, and mulched.
— Several batches of dandelion/mustard pesto packed into the freezer for winter delectation.

So–it’s a start. I remind myself: all finished tasks start at the beginning.

Too Many Spruce–?

I’ll never look at my garden the same way again.

Only a few pages into Sue Reed’s Energy-Wise Landscape Design: A New Approach for your Home and Garden (New Society Press, 2010) I started glancing around my  yard with a new eye. How well did our trees funnel summer breezes and block winter ones? Were deciduous trees and conifers planted in the optimal places?

Well, I already knew the answer to that one: no. I’ve got five large spruce grouped on the east and south-east side of the house, and while they do a marvelous job of keeping us cool during heat waves (like the one last week), they do an equally good job of blocking winter sunlight and preventing passive solar warming of the house. And by large, I mean fifty or sixty feet tall–much, much taller than our two-story house.

Continue reading

The (Nearly) Weed-Free Garden – Podcast #30

Here’s a picture of Lee Reich’s garden:


Either he knows a lot about gardening, or he’s a whiz at Photoshop. I’m betting on the first, which is why I interviewed him for this week’s podcast, The Weed-Free Garden.

Lee has a four-part system for beating the weeds:

  •    – Don’t disturb the soil. (prevents buried weed seeds from surfacing and germinating.)
  •    – Set up permanent beds and paths. (so you won’t have to till to aerate the soil.)
  •    – Keep the soil covered at all times. (so weeds can’t get established.)
  •    – Use drip irrigation where irrigation is needed. (prevents disease in a densely planted bed, saves water, and puts the water where it’s needed: in the root zone.) Continue reading