Posts Tagged ‘Guide’

Solanum tuberosum Nocte: Preparing Potatoes for the Night

A blast of fungal color has accompanied the potatoes' search for Spring.

A blast of fungal color has accompanied the potatoes’ search for Spring.

As I mentioned in my last post, one batch of my ever-so-scholarly Solanum tuberosums (potatoes) did find its way into the soil at the “ideal”

Our on-time (and slightly cramped) potatoes!

Our on-time (and slightly cramped) potatoes!

time prior to this week (which contains our last-frost date in central PA). This means that in one cramped edge of the garden, a patch of potatoes has emerged from the soil, ready to greet the warm spring sun! And, with the leaves of the tubers emerging, there are four things to keep in mind to keep your potatoes as healthy as possible!

Potato Maintenance:

1. Weeding: Potatoes, being a tuberous plant, need as many nutrients as they can store, so they prefer to grow in areas free from weeds and close companions. This is especially important for me, since, as you might be able to see from the picture on the right, a host of other little greens have joined the burgeoning tubers. And, while I have equal respect for all plants, my respect is a bit more equal for the plants I actually try to grow, so the weeds and things inhabiting my potatoes’ space will have to relocate!

2. Watering: From the day you plant your potatoes, try to keep the soil around your potatoes moist. However, to avoid contracting a blight (a variety of fungal diseases that can plague potatoes), try not to water the leaves of the plants, and ensure that your potatoes have sufficient drainage (potatoes and standing water tend not to get along).

3. Insect Control: While the potato can be munched on by a select few insects and pests, their ties to the nightshade family renders much of the potato plant poisonous to most insect invaders. Having plants that can defend themselves is always a plus for the busy gardener!

Baby potatoes all tucked in for the night.

Baby potatoes all tucked in for the night.

4. Temperature: Even though potatoes are touted as a cold-loving crop, their tender shoots and leaves can still be crippled by an unexpected frost; so, even though the plant under the soil can survive a frigid attack, it will take another two – three weeks for an exposed potato to regrow its above-ground energy source. This means that proper precautions must be taken to keep potato greenery warm overnight.

Here in PA, we’re expecting an unseasonably late frost (only a day before the last frost date!), so we’ve covered our potatoes with a sheet secured with rocks. You could use anything from newspapers to halved gallon jugs to keep your fragile plants safe from any arctic invasions!

That’s all the time I have for now: the rest of my shivering plants are in need of blankets before the night falls! Be sure to stop in soon to catch the third and final part of my potato triad: Solum, Nocte, et Farinæ: Preparing Potatoes for the Plate!

Until next time, happy gardening!



Solanum tuberosum Solum: Preparing Potatoes for the Sun

These pink dogwood bracts are a sure sign of Spring around here!

These pink dogwood bracts are a sure sign of Spring around here!

As I emerge from the haze that’s enshrouded my past four years as an undergraduate student, I’m coming to the startling realization that Spring has finally unfolded across central PA!

Mucking through the forest to find signs of life.

Mucking through the forest to find signs of life.

And, while I am eagerly awaiting May 15 (our last-frost date here), I’m having to rush to complete my early-Spring gardening checklist in time, which would, of course, be far easier if I actually had an early-Spring gardening checklist prepared! As it stands, however, in the madness of graduation, certification, job hunting, and substitute teaching, fragments of my gardening knowledge are slowly resurfacing to remind me of what needs done before the illustriously imminent last-frost date arrives!

The Task at Hand: Finding the Right Time

First on that ever-expanding list of things to do? Finally plant my favorite member of the Solanum, or nightshade, family: potatoes! The best time to plant potatoes is, ideally, two – three weeks prior to your area’s last frost date, as the potato shoot takes about this long to emerge from the ground; however, in our garden, only one set of potatoes actually got planted at that time, so the other two varieties we’re currently growing have only just been put into the soil. As the potato is a cold-friendly plant, try not to wait too terribly long past your last-frost date to  put these spuds in the ground! You can find your last-frost date (in the United States) here! 

How to Prepare and Plant Your Potatoes

Each year when I go to plant my freshly-purchased bag of seed potatoes, I find that I’ve long since forgotten how to go about planting these admittedly odd-looking tubers.

A truly unique bit of flora.

Forgetting to plant your potatoes will turn those slight sprouts into truly unique bits of flora.

So, I thought I’d compile a step-by-step guide to prepping and planting potatoes (for my benefit and hopefully yours)!

Obtaining and Preparing:

1. Find a source of seed potatoes in your area (avoid planting grocery store tubers, as these tend to be treated with chemicals to prevent sprouting), and choose the varieties that speak to you. This year, I’ve gone with Reds, Russets, and Kennebecs, just for these varieties’ “cookability.”

2. Place your seed potatoes in a cool, dark place for two – three weeks to allow them to sprout (if they haven’t already).

3. When the sprouts are about a 1/2 inch to an inch (1.5 – 2.5 cm) long, they’re ready to plant.

4. Using a non-serrated knife, cut your seed potatoes into chunks with at least two eyes/sprouts each. You may choose to let these chunks sit for a day or two to allow a “skin” to form over the cut edges. I’ve heard conflicting reports of whether this step is necessary, but, so far, I’ve yet to hear that this is detrimental to your future crop, so I’ll let you decide whether or not to “skin” your potatoes!

Finally Planting Your Potatoes

1. When your Solanum tuberosum chunks are ready to plant, find a sunny spot in your garden to

Not exactly a standard trench, but it will do!

Not exactly a standard trench, but it will do!

dig your potato trench. The trench should be long enough to allow for about 12″ (30 cm) of space between each potato, and between 3″ and 6″ deep (9 – 15 cm).

2. Line the bottom of your trench with rich organic compost or rotted manure, and fully incorporate your chosen fertilizer with the soil (this will give your tubers the boost they need to emerge healthy and ready for the sun!).

3. Place your potato chunks into the trench with their sprouts pointing up, 12″ (30 cm) apart.

4. Cover completely with soil and keep moist. You’ve just successfully planted a potato crop!

While putting in your potatoes is just one aspect of the early Spring countdown, it’s certainly one of my favorites! Of course, once your potatoes start sprouting, they will need to undergo some slight maintenance to ensure a solid harvest, so stay tuned to my coverage of potato upkeep in Solanum tuberosum Nocte: Preparing Potatoes for the Night!

As always, happy planting!


The Beans of Bos

Among my close friends and relatives, it’s common knowledge that I’m quite set on one day owning a small farm. When I have little else to do, I’ve been known to peruse

Honestly, who wouldn’t want to see these little guys in their backyard every day?

chicken catalogues, ponder the logistics of utilizing cows as petrol-free lawnmowers, and daydream about the day I’ll finally be able to purchase my own herd of ridiculously adorable Olde English Southdown Sheep. However, while my current occupation as a full-time student is helping me realize my dream of becoming a high-school English teacher, the amount of time (and money) required to make it through the world of higher-ed has proven only to hinder my dreams of moonlighting as a part-time farmhand. So, what’s an aspiring homesteader to do? Well, grow cowpeas of course!

Nearly indistinguishable from their moo-ing namesakes!

Granted, while the plants classified under the moniker of “cowpea” (or “Vigna unguiculata” for the Latin-minded) have no relation to our milk-giving friends in the genus Bos, a particular strain of this prolific crop seems to indicate otherwise. This strain, known as the holstein cowpea (available for purchase here), has won my heart, and now stands as one of my all-time favorite crops (especially in a land devoid of actual holsteins)!

Not only are the beans of these peas delightful to the eye, but they’re a blessing to a busy gardener as well! To be sure, this crop has been the one plant in this year’s garden which has yet to worry me. While I was fighting flea beetles on the eggplants, squishing cabbage worms around the broccoli, and pondering over how to get the forever-climbing gourd vines out of the nearby trees, these peas grew unencumbered and without issue. The only difficult (if one can call it “difficult”) aspect of planting this legume is deciding where and how to plant it in your space. So, I thought I’d provide a few tips and tricks for adding cowpeas to your yearly harvest!

Picking a Location for Your Cowpeas

1. Climate
As these plants originate from Africa, they are not particularly cold-hardy, therefore, warmer climes will ensure a stronger start for your plants.

2. Sun and Moisture
Since these legumes put out a high volume of fruit, a spot in your garden that receives full sun for most of the day is essential for the well-being of your peas. An area with well-draining soil is also a plus for peas: too much moisture can cause leaf-yellowing, disease, and rot.

When and How to Plant Cowpeas

1. Timing
Plant your seeds after the last frost date, and when the soil is at least 65 degrees F (if you

Even though my peas are probably a bit too crowded, they’re still faring wonderfully!

plant tomatoes, put these two crops in at the same time).

2. Spacing
Officially, cowpeas should be planted with 3 inches between each plant, in rows 3 feet apart. However, most cowpea varieties can withstand and thrive in more crowded conditions. If your peas are a vining variety, you can also train your plants up trellises or tripods (this is the method I chose to use with my holsteins, with help from this video guide: “How to Lash a Bamboo Tripod”).

Waiting and Harvesting

1. Germination

Within approximately a week to 10 days, you’ll
see the little cotyledon (seen below) begin emerging from the ground. This is a particularly vulnerable period for the plant, as any significant damage to the cotyledon will prevent the pea from regrowing buds. Placing a small cage or fence around your baby beans can be useful if you have seedling-devouring critters in your area!

2. Harvesting

As your peas begin growing, they can be harvested in three different forms. First, the young leaves can actually be eaten as greens, and can add a rather attractive touch to a garden salad!

Most commonly, however, the fruit, or bean, of the plant is what you’ll be after. While the pods are still young, the beans can be collected and eaten “green.”
If you’d like to store your beans as seed, or you have a favorite recipe which calls for dried beans, you’ll have to wait a few extra days, and harvest the pods when they are dry and yellow.

When the time comes to finally pick your peas, don’t be alarmed if you see a cloud of wasps orbiting your plants! Although the sight of these predatory, stinging insects can be quite alarming, they’re actually there to help make your job even easier! It would seem that the wasps are drawn to a sap excreted by the peas, and then stick around to eat the harmful insects that would like nothing more than to bite into your hard-earned harvest! From my own experience, the wasps paid no attention to me as I plucked the pods around them; and, after a few trips to the vines, I was able to actually enjoy watching these typically fearsome creatures go about their work!

Whether you are, like me, yearning for a bovine imitation, or would simply enjoy growing a deliciously obscure variety of pea, I really cannot recommend the holstein pea highly enough! Hopefully you’ll consider adding this eye-catching and nitrogen-fixing legume into your garden next year!

Until next time, happy gardening, baking, and doing whatever it is that brings you joy!

Building the Foundation

Since it still has yet to warm up in these parts, I thought I’d share a little bit more on the beekeeping topic that I brought up in my last post. If you read “A Look Ahead,” then you’ll already know that my friend Eric and I will be starting a small beekeeping hobby/business this Spring; and, that I promised to post a few pictures from our trip up to the site of the future bee-yard. Well, true to my word, here are a few of the shots I took while we transported our hive!

Because our bees won’t be arriving until April 10, we decided to lay down the foundation and leave the hive itself inside for another week or so. In case you’re wondering why we’re not keeping the bees in our own backyards, or if you’re simply thinking of starting your own hive, I thought I’d include a little five-step guide explaining the ins and outs of beehive placement.

How to pick a spot that will keep you, your bees, and your neighbors in perfect harmony

1. Check the laws in your area regarding beekeeping.
For a general overview of where beekeeping is illegal, here’s a list of the “No Buzz” zones in the continental United States: Illegal Beekeeping. There are only about 90 cities left on this list, but it’s always a good idea to check (my city is actually on the list, which is why we’re keeping our bees on another property). Even beyond the city law, check with your township for any regulations that must be followed; some areas require that the hive be kept at a certain distance from your property line, for example.

2. Talk to your neighbors about your new found love for the bees!
Image found at to them that because of the bees’ typical flight pattern (they leave the hive and fly straight up into the sky and then spread out away from their home), the neighborhood isn’t going to be flooded with stinging insects. To increase the bees’ natural inclination to do this, you could plant tall hedges around the hive or erect a 6′ fence in front of your bees.
If you want to really win over your neighborhood, you can always give away some free honey after your first year!

3. Make sure that your backyard/property will give the bees ample space.
A beehive doesn’t take up much space at all, but if you live in a crowded development, the bees might not appreciate the close quarters. Bear in mind that the more unfamiliar people there are in a close vicinity of the hive, the higher the chance of a bee stinging a person that it perceives as a stranger.

4. Find an area that will be ideal for the bees.
In general, a good spot for a hive has three things: moderate shade, a nearby water source, and food.
Placing your hive on the edge of a grove of trees, where the shade provides adequate protection from the sun but does not completely eclipse the hive is ideal.

Like any animal, bees need water to survive (and to make honey!); so, having a source of standing water (like a constantly stocked bird bath or, as you can see in the pictures above, a pond) is essential.

While you certainly don’t need to place your hive in the center of a tulip farm, you will want to make sure that the area around your chosen spot will have enough blooming plant life to feed your bees. Unless you live in an area devoid of vegetation, I wouldn’t worry about this factor too much; but, nonetheless, it is important to consider.

5. Make sure that the perfect spot for your bees is the perfect spot for you, too!

If you are unable to house your bees on your property, but have a satellite location in mind, check the distance between your home and the future site of your bees. If the trek from home to hive is long and inconvenient, you may want to look into finding a new spot. Even if the area is perfect for the bees, you don’t want to dread making the weekly trip to check up on your hive (hating the drive can ruin all of the fun of beekeeping).

Hopefully these pointers will help you pick the ideal home for your bees!
If you’d like to learn more about beekeeping in your area, here are two links that provide the contact information for a plethora of beekeeping associations around the world: Beekeeping Associations in the United States, International Beekeeping Associations.

It’s getting pretty late here, so I’m all out of time!
If you have any questions, as always, please feel free to ask! If you’ve noticed something that I’ve forgotten here, or have some words of beekeeping wisdom to share, I’d love to hear what you have to say!
Until next time, happy gardening!

Sowing the Seeds

The Scholar’s Garden: |ðə ˈskälər’s ˈgärdn|
1 Denotes a piece of land owned or operated by a specialist in a particular field, usually the humanities, used for growing flowers, fruits, or vegetables.
2 May also refer to the Chinese Classical Garden, designed for the contemplation of nature.

Hi! I’m Nathan (or Nate, either way is fine), a second-year English major at Penn State University. To be 100% honest,  I’m not exactly a scholar (yet), and I have yet to put together an actual “garden,” and I don’t live in China; so, if you’re offended by the  slight misdirection in the title of this blog, it’s ok if you stop reading. Really, I won’t be offended at all.

If you’re still reading this, I’d like to welcome you to the chronicle of my adventure into the world of gardening, cooking, beekeeping, and whatever else this year might bring! I have little to no experience in any of these activities, so as I find helpful resources, I’ll be passing them along to you!
I’ve run out of time for now, but I’ll leave you with a great, simple guide for starting a summer garden: “Your Complete Guide to Summer Vegetable Gardening.”

Hope to see you back here soon, but until then, happy gardening!

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