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All that meat and no potatoes?

June 19, 2009

I thought I better quit posting about meat, lest you think I don’t eat vegetables.  I should do a grazing post, and I should do a garden post, and then a Father’s day post… .  Potatoes will have to do for now.


I likelove potatoes, I like to cook them, I like to eat them, and I really like growing them, since they are so easy to grow.  Low fertility and water requirements, and a great yield if you select the right variety and provide a little care, such as hilling.  Potatoes too, are like apples, with many different flavors, textures and uses.  Thought provoking names such as German Butterball, and Garnet Chile just make you want to try them all.  The home garden is good place to get away from supermarket fare such as the low yielding, but ubiquitous Yukon Gold, or the dry texture of the Russet.  Potatoes are also easy to store, requiring no further energy to keep until spring.  Just harvest, store and eat.  Of course, you do need to store them in root cellar or basement and keep them from drying out or getting wet, and keep them from freezing or getting too warm.  Oops, am I making them sound fussy?  They aren’t – when we buy food from the store, someone has taken all that fussiness away – it’s time for people to take charge of their food and being responsible for it, from seed to plate.  I live with my food 24/7 every day of the year, in some form or another.  Everything I do on the farm is connected in some way.  The cows eat the grass and make milk and meat,  their poop helps fertilize the gardens, and without each of us doing our part, we would become, well, nothing I guess.  Rambling here…



Why do I like potatoes in the garden?  Because in the process of hilling the soil around them, I am weeding a good portion of the garden.  I don’t need to weed first and then hill.  These weeds are small and some may be severed by the hoe and some may just be buried.  Either works just fine.
Potatoes form between the planted seed potato or piece and the soil line.   If you don’t hill, or hill enough, your yield will be small.  I find a hoe to be perfect, for the job.  I’m only moving a small amount of soil at a time so it is easy on my back, arms and whatever else is used hoeing.  Potatoes need to be hilled several times before bloom, after that, you have missed your opportunity.  It also takes a fair amount of soil, so the plants need to be spaced accordingly.  My rows are 4′ apart and the potatoes in the row are approximately 3 1/2′ apart.  I also don’t plant too deeply, when it is time to harvest, the potatoes will be above or at the soil line, no digging and stabbing, mostly just scraping the hill aside and hunting for bounty.  I still get excited at each hill when we harvest.  Easter Egg hunt for anal gardeners, I guess… .  And, I don’t irrigate my potatoes, they will keep longer if you don’t.


Lath, the inspector.  Useless fact o’ the day – she’s Blackie’s sister.  She is Della’s companion for the summer.  Their job this week is keeping the headlands mowed.  They are doing a great job.  But, they are mighty curious.  Oh, and what is that behind her?  A partially dismantled greenhouse?  I guess I don’t need that roll-up side now with the convertible top down 🙂


While I’m hilling potatoes I can’t resist weeding the adjacent onion row.  The multi-plant plant block of onions makes it easy to reach over there and hoe away.


Potatoes hilled. 

Meanwhile back at the headland detail.  Della’s thing is to stare at what she wants until I notice her and do something about it.  If I don’t notice, she starts burning holes in me.  She’s trying to look tough with that soil on her horns.

I guess she really means it! 

I’ve been immersing myself in Holistic Planned grazing, especially Greg Judy’s high density stock grazing, first by reading and pondering it, and this year by finally doing it.  It is hard.  My grass isn’t good enough yet, but at least it keeps my mind from wandering.  The herd is easier, these two – aaack, giving them enough space to keep Lath from Della’s horns, and still make them eat the grass.  Let’s just say it’s a work in progress.  This next miniature paddock was about 30′ x 40′ and they did a pretty good job.  For Lath’s sake, I am leaving them without a back fence, and there is a lane to get back to the water.  So they actually have more space than the 1200 square feet in the new grass.  And in reality, I would rather move a wire and post or two than fire up the tractor.


The only thing that excites me as much as cow guts, is cow poop.  The texture of this cow pie (thanks Della) shows that Della is getting enough long stem forage in her diet.  Normally when I was grazing the grass with a shorter rest period, the grass was greener and lush, and gave the cows the green grass squirts.  I know, I know, file this under more than you wanted to know.

In other news, the Food Renegade has a great post up about Wendell Berry and the NAIS, and of course the Fight Back Friday post is filled with great recipes and ideas.

23 Comments leave one →
  1. June 19, 2009 2:08 pm

    Green grass squirts! Now I have to know more. 🙂 I’d actually like to see pictures of that.

    Thanks for sharing your potato wisdom with us today!

    (AKA FoodRenegade)

  2. June 19, 2009 2:36 pm

    Can you recommend any information on growing crops, like potatoes, without any irrigation. I have read and re-read Steve Solomons books but am still hesitant to try this type of gardening on a large scale.

    We have a large non irrigated field just sitting their waiting for me to try, but it can get really dry here in the summer, or not. It would take a big commitment on my part to get this field ready so I just want to be prepared before diving in. Have you tried this on a wide variety of crops or just certain ones?

    By the way, my wife just finished making the cottonwood salve you wrote about and it turned out great.

    • June 19, 2009 8:48 pm

      Mike, I understand your hesitation. Potatoes are probably the easiest to grow dry land. I have grown all our crops that way, except what is grown in the greenhouse. It is just too dry and hot, however, even in the greenhouse I only water once a week, and stop August 1st.

      I am not saying I never water, if we are going to get a week of 100 degree weather, I will water the gardens. But, I try to stick to my guns and keep to my wide spacing, and keep the ground weed free, and the plants thinned. The idea of dust mulch is contrary to most people’s thinking, but it does not mine the deep soil moisture out as it acts as a stopper. Whereas conventional mulching materials make the soil seem damper because the mulch is actually helping wick the moisture out of the soil and up to the mulch. So much of what is being done now in farming is an interpretation of what we see with our eyes. People make assumptions and go from there. There are many truck farms around here that do not irrigate and their crops do well, year after year.

      Probably the biggest thing would be getting your ground prepared. To hold moisture you need good organic matter, and next to no weed pressure. That means soil prep at least a year in advance. I don’t know if it is true in ID, but here, the saying goes – “what you plow down, comes up…” Meaning, if you want grass, say for pasture, plow and then disk, if you want bare ground, disk and harrow, and then plow when the ground is clean. (I need to say here, that tilling with a tiller, is different than using a disk, harrows, and plow.) We’ve done both, establishing new pasture and turning pasture to garden. Two different methods. All a lot of work, but worth the effort. Cover crops after the bare fallow can help build your soil, and by working it in advance you will know where you are going to have problems. Here in one garden I can feel it when I go over the ground with the equipment, it sounds different too, and that is where I have a persistent hardpan, and persistent weeds.

      I would say try corn and potatoes first, both big crops but easily cultivated. I always follow corn with potatoes, since I really add compost to the corn patch, and the next year there is enough residual for the potatoes.

      Have you read any of the Nordell’s writings about market gardening in Pennsylvania? They practice this, although they are concerned more with summer rain eroding their ground so they use living mulches in some crops. But that is only after they have established a weed free area. The living mulch is great and different than just putting down excess carbon, but they do stress if your ground is weedy, wait (may take years)until you have it clean enough that you just have minimal weed competition. They grow most common crops (including lettuce) without water and are very successful at it.

      I don’t know if any of this helps, the growth rate seems slower at first, while the plants are establishing deep roots, but after that they catch up. Just try a little at first, to see if it works for you. Water is getting to be a precious commodity, and my gardening mentors never watered, and they grew great, productive gardens.

      I find it interesting that people fuss and fuss about me raising fast growing Cornish Cross chickens, and Broad Breasted White Turkeys, but if I allow my plants to express themselves in a slower manner, I am a crack pot. C’est la vie. For the record, I don’t mean you, I am just ranting here a little… .

      Wow, that is great about the salve – I think you will enjoy it. Thanks for comment Mike!

  3. Pam permalink
    June 19, 2009 2:53 pm

    I am loving the Food Renegade site ~ thanks for sharing! I’ve read severalof the articles, put books on hold at my library, and am excited to go home and harvest dinner from the garden!

  4. June 20, 2009 1:24 am

    One of the things I like about potatoes is how different the flavor is in each variety. All potatoes, but if I eat a variety of types, it stays interesting. Plus they each lend themselves best to a different preparation. (Though I admit, after eating so SO many stored potatoes, and as grateful as I was/am for them, I’m ready for a break!)

    • June 20, 2009 5:28 am

      mangochild, I hear you on taking a break – we ate so many carrots and so much squash this winter, that I will give the last squash to the chickens. Same with broccoli and kale, I am liking the late spring milder greens. And I am definitely not missing the potatoes right now either. I think eating seasonally is a better way to go – giving us some variety and a sense of how the natural world works. When you shop at the store most produce is there year round, shipped in from somewhere, the on demand life… .

  5. June 20, 2009 3:34 am

    I stopped in for a bit of a read and to say Thank You.
    I read about your deep bedding methods and decided to try them in my chicken house.

    It had been a mess. I was stripping it out every 7-10 days, scraping out all the manure stuck to the floor, putting down a thin layer of shavings, and starting all over. Over and over and over. And it was smelling, too. Come fall, I was at a loss as to how to keep the floor warm.

    THEN I read about “deep bedding” on your blog. I don’t know if you referenced using it for chicken houses, but I certainly gave it a go.

    I put down a really thick layer–about 4 times as thick as normal. I’d sort of pick out any lumps of manure I’d see, but when the top became really soiled, I’d add more shaving. Now that was the weird part…felt like I *should* be cleaning instead of adding more on top. In some way, it felt like kicking things under the bed rather than cleaning up, you know?

    Anyway, I didn’t have any smells all winter AND the floor stayed nice and warm for the girls. But…..I was dreading cleaning it out. Not that it was smelling, I just figured there were over 5 months of manure in there…oh dear!

    This was the week to clean it, and I was prepared for the worst. But There Was NOTHING! No smells. No manure. Just a layer of soiled shavings on top of composted shavings. I mean NO stench whatsoever! NONE. No droppings stuck to the floor like concrete. No gooey messes. Nothing.

    Thank you so much for spreading the information on this idea. I am a true believer!

    • June 20, 2009 5:32 am

      Pamela, thank you! It is surprising isn’t it? I am glad you stuck it out. Same amount of manure just in a different dose, I guess, and not quite such an annoying job. I do use deep bedding on my hens and like it much better.

      Thanks for stopping by.

  6. Kristen Fry permalink
    June 20, 2009 5:23 am

    I have never grown potatoes…..for some reason it seems intimidating to me…..think I’ll try next year…:-)

    • June 20, 2009 5:34 am

      Kristen, once you do grow potatoes, you’ll never go back to the store variety. Pretty easy and you get a good pay back for your work! 🙂

      Depending on how far south you are, you may be able to grow Irish potatoes over winter for a spring harvest… ?

  7. June 20, 2009 6:02 am

    I will look into the Nordell’s and agree with you on all of this as I have been reading about the many native Americans and homesteaders that farmed in this manner. I am also aware that the times of plenty, as far as water in my area goes, could end soon for various reasons. I will probably try this with potatoes and a few other select crops next year.

    One of the best lessons I have learned in life is to keep an open mind and learn from those with more experience and knowledge. I am fascinated in the way you grow your food. This information is very helpful, thank you.

    • June 20, 2009 7:11 am

      Mike, they are already starting to curtail water use here in Oregon. Drilling a well any place will be a thing of lore. We hooked up to municipal water a few years ago, just in case, and rarely use it. But we rely on our springs/hydraulic rams for our water, so we are well aware of the waxing and waning of the water supply.

      The aquifers are dropping fast, and water is cheap for now, but not for long. I think water will get scarce before oil does. Drought proofing the farm by rotationally grazing and doing some dry land gardening has helped immensely. At this point we still have a choice, but who knows what the future will bring.

  8. June 20, 2009 6:24 pm

    bwaaaaaaaaaaaa ha ha ha ha ha ha haa…
    Cow pie. And even a recipe!!

    You always make my day.

  9. June 21, 2009 5:11 am

    Another great post I’m learing from, Nita…thanks! You know me, always another question, ha…I was wondering if that single strand of wire really does keep the cows in one section and out of another? Inquiring amateur wants to know 🙂

    One of the things I’m learning from you lately is about the dry gardening. We have mostly sand here, and I don’t have any background knowledge about how folks here successfully farmed in the past…in fact, most history books say farmers migrated huge herds of cattle from point A to point B over a lot of land. Just putting down a layer of manure and wood chips has changed our hardpan sand a great deal. I’m sort of wondering if we’re working against nature doing that, though, after reading about the dust mulching you’re talking about. A lot of “Hmmm” going on in my head and not sure what direction to take as we learn…

    🙂 Robbyn

    • June 21, 2009 1:46 pm

      Robbyn, LOL if the single wire didn’t keep them in I wouldn’t use it. Pretty simple, really and cows and pigs are the easiest animals to contain in electric fence. And I have to remember to turn the fence on. 😉 They know if I forget, and then all bets are off!! Look at the second picture of Della and you can see how far they will reach under the fence to eat. They can feel the pulse, so they know how close they can get. I guess I should write my fence post (no pun intended) for NDIN, huh?

      Sand!! You have sand and citrus! No fair. Sand drains too well some times and has to have irrigation for the plants. I think the soil building techniques you describe would be necessary before you could garden without much water. The soil has to be able to hold some moisture. Our farming friends near Portland, who farm on an island in the river, have to irrigate, that being said, after a rain, they can get right back out there too and work the soil, because it drains well. Find out what subsistence farmers did in your area and proceed from there.

      And as always, I love your questions! They are so good.

  10. June 22, 2009 6:09 am

    When I get to MI I’ve got weeds/grass that I’ll have to clear before I can put in a garden, and I was thinking of getting a couple of pigs to do the job. Any thoughts on accelerating the weed battle with pigs?

    I figure that with the 10 acres I should have enough space to move them around and keep them busy while they’re growing out, and if I focus them in the prospective garden in the beginning and then again at the tail end of the season, I might be in decent shape for a garden the following year.

    Is this a hopeless fantasy, or do you think it might work? I was thinking to mark out “3 greenhouses” of garden space, minus the greenhouses, to prep. With luck one tunnel greenhouse would go in the following year, but may never put in more than the one.

    Your thoughts?

  11. June 22, 2009 7:05 am

    Where we live we pay MORE for water, WAY MORE, than we do taxes on the land. AND we can NOT save rain water, it is illigal and punished with a fine AND jail time.


  12. June 22, 2009 5:36 pm

    I’m trying out potatoes for the first time in my little urban garden just north of Boston They’re in a spot where they get ~7 hr of sun a day (my yard gets a lot of shade from buildings or trees)…it’s a new bed, but corn, beans and squash grew OK there last year. My potatoes look like they’re a lot taller than yours…maybe they’re not getting enough sun?

    I planted them about 6″ deep in a raised bed, and hilled them up a couple of times, but I went away for a week and when I came back they’d gotten really tall. Now the plants are almost 2 ft high and they’re about to bloom.

    I think they are French Fingerling potatoes, I forget exactly which variety I’d settled on for a first try!

    • June 22, 2009 8:31 pm

      Karen, they could take full sun, but hey, 7 hours is better than nothing. If you can, hill them some more with soil, or straw or grass clippings. Once they bloom they will start forming potatoes and hilling at that time won’t be worth the effort. I think it sounds like you’re doing pretty good for your first try on potatoes 🙂

  13. June 23, 2009 10:34 pm

    You saw where we had planted a row of potatoes early this spring–Russets (which I do like for roasting) and something else…maybe Yukon Golds? Nothing memorable, obviously. Well, late in the game, I found my German Butterballs online as well as some Rose Finn Apples, my two favorites. By then we’d planted all the existing beds. So Mike borrowed a friend’s rototiller and now we have 3 new 4′ x 25′ beds, two planted with potatoes, one I’m just going to plant with buckwheat and then favas. The soil is sad stuff–very clumpy, slow slow draining. Completely different from what’s in my raised beds that I’ve been building up with compost, oyster shells, kelp meal, rock phosphate and fish meal for 8 years now. Really opened my eyes. I mean, I knew, theoretically, that this is what we’d get, but the reality is striking.

    I was visiting a friend’s garden recently and she was lamenting the state of her cucumbers, which she planted in a newly dug bed right along the side of her house. She’s an experienced gardener, but this is a new place for her and she’s not been having as much success as she’s had in the past. I reminded her that it takes time to build that soil. Also, that soils are especially compacted around house foundations…cucs especially don’t like compact soils.

    It’s so easy to forget how important that stuff under our feet is. I appreciate how you remind us to look down–even just too look at poop.

  14. June 23, 2009 10:38 pm


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