When And How to Harvest Potatoes

Well, hello there.  I’m so glad you joined me today.  I could use a hand.  Grab a garden apron, a 5 gallon bucket and a garden fork.  We are gonna dig some taters.

Those lovely little white flowers on the potato plants signal that it is time to dig for “new” potatoes.  Little sweet baby potatoes that are such so much better than anything you will find in the grocery store.

“New” potatoes are a luxury.  If you are gardening for survival, I recommend leaving them in the ground to grow to their full size.  Full size potatoes can be dug anytime after the entire plant dies and looks terribly sad and brown.   Letting them grow means higher yield overall.

However, I can never resist at least digging a dinner’s worth of “new” ones.

So whether you are digging them young or waiting for maturity, here’s how you do it.

Using a garden fork, gently poke a large circle around the potato plant.  With each poke give a little upward lift to the soil.  After the soil is loosened, put the garden fork in a deeply as you can and turn over the entire plant.

If you have a little helper at your side, have him root through the soil for any potatoes left below.  If not, you’ll have to poke about yourself.  It’s funny.  No matter how well I harvest, I always find a renegade potato the following spring as I rotate crops.

There is no rush to harvest them.  Take your time.  Dig some for dinner.  Dig now, dig later.  They are not fussy.  Just be sure to get them all before the ground freezes so hard that you can’t get them out or else you’ll be enjoying a tougher tater after spring thaw.

If you are container gardening, simply shove over your container and lets them spill out.

Another time we will discuss storage issues like canning and root cellaring.

Happy digging!


How To Raw ( Uncooked) Pack Fruit In Simple Syrup — Another Tutorial

If you want to preserve fruits, without sacrificing the fresh fruit flavor. Raw packing with simple sugar syrup is the way to go.

The most common or the favorites to pack this way seem to be plums, pears, and peaches. Later in the season I will discuss these, but this evening we will discuss the littler fruit coming into season.

Following all the rules about sterilizing and processing (click here for that,) you seal in that fresh flavor with out loosing the fruits’ lovely texture.

Here’s what to do.

1. Fill the canning jar just up to the neck with the rinsed and drained fruit.

2. Fill the canning jar just up to the neck with a simple syrup (recipe follows)

3. Cover.

4. Process.

Blueberries, Cranberries, Currants, Gooseberries, Elderberries (presumably mulberries, Jen) — in pints 15 minutes; in quarts 20 minutes

Altitude adjustments — don’t forget to add 1 minutes to the processing time for every 1000 ft above sea level that you are.

What about the syrup?

Well, there are 3 basic kinds, light, medium and heavy syrup.

The syrup recipe you use depends on the sweetness of the fruit. Jen and her super sweet mulberries will probably want a light syrup, while cranberries might call for a richer, more sugary syrup.

Note: feel free to substitute honey for half the sugar in any of the following, if your a honey fan, that is.

Yield: 5 cups (each quart of fruit may take somewhere in the neighborhood of 1 to 2 cups of syrup.

Light Syrup (Simple Syrup)

2 cups sugar ( or 1 cup sugar + 1 cup honey, for example )

4 cups water

Medium Syrup

2 & 3/4 cup sugar ( gee, I wish I knew how to do the little fraction do-hickey on this computer)

3 & 1/2 cups water

Heavy Syrup

3 & 1/2 cups sugar

3 cups water


1. Mix the sugar and water in a pan and let it soak for about 10 minutes without heat.

2. Over low heat, stir the mixture until the sugar dissolves.

3. Increase the heat to bring the mixture to a boil. Just briefly to get rid of the gritty texture.

4. Lower the heat and keep warm until you are ready to use it.

Other in the beginning canning series:

How To Make Jam — A Beginner Tutorial

How To Make Jam — The Canning Supplies

How To Make Jam — The Easy Canning Process

Strawberry-Rhubarb Jam — without added pectin

Strawberry Lemonade

A Ton of Garden, A Tiny Space: 100 pounds of potatoes in 4 Square Feet

After you grab a glass of Strawberry Lemonade from the refrigerator, get your tools.

My mom shipped my this nifty link for really high yield potatoes in a tiny footprint.

Go ahead give it a try.

100 pounds of potatoes in 4 square feet

Neighborhood Questions — Harvesting Mulberries and Rhubarb Jam

Grab a glass of Strawberry Lemonade from the frig and join your neighbors at the picnic table.

Today Jen Neff has posed our topic of discussion.

Please share any thoughts, experiences, rumors and here say on the following question:

I have a big old mulberry tree & the birds are having a hey day over it already. Are you familiar with mulberries (some people are not)? Well, they are very sweet, so I assume that I will probably be able to half the sugar content for the jelly… I don’t know. My big problem is harvesting them. It is a BIG tree. So, one year I put down like 6 full size sheets all around the tree & they drop down onto the sheet throughout the day & I went out to get them that night. I could just do that again, but I’m wondering in all of your expertise if you have any advise for me about collecting those berries. As I said, it is an OLD tree & I don’t want to be banging around the branches because they could just go flying off if I’m not careful… What do you think about making a rhubarb jam or jelly? ever heard of such a thing (without anything else added like strawberries?)

Here’s what I’ve heard:

Put sheets underneath.  Shove a garden rake up into the branches and shake, shake, shake.  Just a rumor though.

CLick here for more rhubarb info than you could ever possibly deal with

Now what other thoughts do you guys have for Jen?

And who has some good rhubarb recipes to share?

Planting Soybeans (Edamame) Quick Guide

Just a quickie about planting soybeans (edamame ) in the garden.

Soybean (edamame) spacing —  After last frost at about the same time as corn

If possible, soak seeds overnight to help germination.

Saying is: “if it is dry don’t even try.”

Plant about 1″deep.

In containers: 2″ spacing

In Rows: 6-10 seeds per foot with 15-30″ between rows

Intensive deep bed: Spread (scatter) seeds evenly to create about 3-4″ between plants in any direction  ( This one is an estimate.  It leaves more spacing due to lack of rows, but also nearly eliminates the need to weed after decent leaf developement

Square foot: 16 per square  ( possibly more )

Farm seeding rate: 80 pounds per acre

For higher yield and more nitrogen for the soil, try inoculating them.  Outstanding for crop rotation or in the planting season before introducing an orchard.

Sorry just a quickie, but I kept getting searches for this. In my zone, this is still 3 week away in my notes.

How To Plant Potatoes In Containers — Tons Of Options

Whether you are trying to avoid contaminated soil or teach the whole first grade where in tar-nation their food comes from, growing potatoes in containers is a fascinating pursuit.

Potatoes are nifty in that all the good stuff is going on under ground away from your curious eyes. Unless you are planting them in those giant clear plastic snack barrel, you never really know what’s going on under there until you dig ’em up. Surprise! There they are.

Let’s take a look at a variety on container methods.

Just click the link that interests you.

Growing Potatoes …

..in Straw — highly recommended for busy, busy teachers or anyone else that wants perfect, no-dig potatoes. Notice that the timing mentioned is for a specific locale. Now, combine this idea with any container below.

..in a Plastic Bag — plus good basic potato growing info.

…in Pots

… in Tires

… in a Garbage Can

… in a Wire Cage — perfect for those odd pieces ( 10 feet ) of welded wire or chicken wire left over from some other project

… in Biodegradable Boxeslook about half way down the page

or simply

… in a Bag of Compost.

For more on the basics of potato growing, I highly recommend Cornell’s clear, concise guide for the home gardener. Click here for potatoes.

For more gardening articles, check the beginner gardening category on the right.

Happy planting!

Any other ideas?

How to Figure Out If Old Seeds Will Grow — Germination Test

Oh my! You have a cobweb in your hair. Were you digging around in the dark recesses of the basement again?

I see. Oh, look what you found! Some old seed packets from another year of over zealous gardening.

Will they grow?

Well, there’s only one way to find out. Give it a whirl.

Here’s how:

We will use the example of corn for two reasons.

1. Corn seed looses it’s viability quickly. So it can always use pre-sprouting anyway.

2. I passed on some old corn seeds to my son’s 1st grade class for a little hands on math and science project.

Okay, let’s begin.

Most large seeds appreciate an overnight soak to plump them up and get them ready for sprouting. I just dump them in a mason jar and cover them with water. They will really suck it up and expand so don’t fill your jar more than 1/3 full of seeds. Then, fill it to the top with water.

Grab a tray or cookie pan.

Cover the tray with a layer of wet ( not really drippy, but good and damp ) paper towels.

Spread the seeds (corn, in this case ) in a single layer on top of the wet paper towels.

Cover with more damp paper towels, because corn prefers darkness to germinate.

Keep them moist with a spray bottle of water.

Note: Be careful and read the seed packet some things need light to germinated and therefore don’t get the top layer. These are trickier because you need to give them a little spritz of water more often so that they stay damp.

Wait and watch.

Plant whatever sprouted and you’re off.

Now you know what that germination percentage means on quality seed packets. 87% germination would mean that 87 seeds sprouted for every 100 attempted.

This is also a great demonstration of turning fractions into percentages. Kids dig it.

Tada! You did it yourself.

What is the oldest seed packet in your house?

After Hours Mischief at Neighbor Nancy’s

After the work of the day is done, the serious playing begins. When you live next door to your pop. And your pop is an antique truck fanatic. Well, let’s just say that it is charmed life I have lived. Here are a few pictures of the recent typical adventures.

One of the first adventures of Spring includes a tow to the top of the hill for an exciting roll start for the poor winter weary little Model A engine.

One of the first adventures of Spring includes one Ford pulling another to the top of the hill for an exciting roll start for the poor winter weary little Model A engine.

You know, I don’t think I ever saw the Waltons try this method. Too bad they didn’t have an F-250 to do the job.

After the tow up the hill, my pop unhooked the chain and whirled around the corner, popped the clutch and the engine roared to life. Every Spring, he tries to start it cold, but after such a long period of hibernation, he always end up doing it this way. Of course, this way is much more fun.

The towing of the Model A pick-up is a signal for me. It means Summer is coming. That the garden better be underway. That I need to stock up on chocolate chips for all the cookie requests.

“Hey, Naner, I’m headed to such-and-such truck show. Do you think you could make a batch or two for my truck buddies and I?”

“Of course, Pop.”

I don’t mind, ’cause a nicer bunch you’ll never meet.

And so it goes. Parades, auctions ( that mortify my mother as she wonders what’s coming home next ) and loads of antique truck shows. The loading, the hauling, the hearty breakfast before dawn on the road at “the best little diner” in some very specific town en route.

Did I mention that my dad knows all the best food places in a 100 mile radius of our house? Bingham’s for cream puffs, Snydersville dinner for pie, and a zillion other places each with their own specialty.

After arriving at any show, the big bustle is around the trucks as they pull in and unveil the latest of beautiful restorations. After some hand shakes, how do-you-dos and chatter about who brought what, they begin to migrate.

Oh, yes they stroll around contemplating each treasured antique, but it all leads to one eventuality. Food.

Barbaqued pulled pork or chicken, vinegar fries, funnel cakes, snow cones, popcorn from the antique popper wagon, lemonade from a barrel. And let us not forget that he still has a giant bag of “chocolate chippers” in the cab of a centrally located show truck (for easy access.) Oh, it is just marvelous!

After all that, you might as well walk the hundred or so miles home, cause you’ll never get the calories off any other way.

Of course, it’s not all about the shows. There’s a lot of just local fun to be had, too.

The big question: What is the best way to take a bunch of people to the local dairy for ice cream?

The way "little boys" of any age go for ice cream.  They might go a whopping 15 mph.  Zippy!

The way "little boys" of any age go for ice cream. They might go a whopping 15 mph. Zippy!

While I no longer wear roller skates to every show and pray there’s a pool, I do still enjoy the occasional show or a ride  for ice cream.  If for no other reason, it is fun to see my father’s world.  A world where the toys are big, the food says Summer and the friends are true. It is a fantastic way to catch a glimpse of the character that is my pop.

How to Plant Potatoes

30# of seed potatoes cut for curing

Seed potatoes cut for curing outside in the sunshine

Oh! I am very so glad you could join me today. Grab a cup of fresh coffee from the pot and let’s have a little chat about potatoes.

Since potatoes are a surprising source of vitamin C and are ever so prolific and easy to grow, let’s give it a go.

For each pound you plant an okay yield is about 10 pounds and a great yield about 20 pounds.

Personally, I forget to weed them, or forget to hill them enough as they grow or forget to even harvest them… once. I yield around 10 pounds per planted pound. Obviously, if you try, I’m sure you could do better.

Let’s begin.

Start with nice seed potatoes… oh, any kind you like is fine. Russets seem to have a zillion eyes and are usually an easy start. Katadin, Kennebec and Yukon Gold are all good keepers and generally easy enough to find. Well, at least at the seed and feed in my neck of the woods.

Cut each potato with a clean, sharp knife so that each piece contains one or (better) two eyes and is no smaller than an inch. Avoid putting the freshly cut side against the cutting board or touching it any more than necessary. Think of it like an open wound. You don’t want to introduce germs or viruses.

Carefully lay the pieces on their skins, in a single layer on any flat thing you’ve got. Place them in the sun for at least one whole day for the cuts to cure.


So they are less prone to disease when you plant them. If you cut your hand wide open, would it be wise to jam it directly into the soil or might you give it a little healing time?


I like deep beds. They are like raised beds minus the expensive, bug-attracting wooden sides. The 4’wide bed is never walked on and entirely reachabe from one side or the other.

Now imagine a domino. A double five to be exact. Okay with an extra dot between the left 5 and right 5. This is my planting pattern. A little staggered with no plant any closer than 20″ for maximum yield in a minimum space.

Now imagining that pattern, plant your seed potatoes 3 of 4 inches deep. The first five potatoes you plant will look just like the 5 from a pair of dice.

You know, I was going to take a picture, but by the time I finished putting them in and hiked back up the hill…I was just too pooped to care.

Hopefully, this makes sense.

Feel free to ask for clarification. In tomorrow’s “Neighborly Advice Vol 4” there will be another method. And they took pictures. In my defense, there are 4 of them planting and just one of me.

Did anyone understand that?

Where the heck did I put that tube of muscle rub?

If you go to the kitchen, could you grab me a cup of coffee, please?

Panic Gardening: For the Beginner Gardener Afraid Their Family May Go Hungry

Okay, it sounds a bit grim, but in this economy…

Let’s say that no one in your household has a job. The pantry is getting emptier by the day and you have never gardened. What do you do? How do you make sure the kids don’t go to bed hungry?

It’s scary. I know. I’ve been there. If you are experiencing this right now, you have my deepest sympathies.

First, get a tissue and wipe away your tears. Then, pick yourself up, dust yourself off and take some action.

The Great Depression survivors learned to grow as much as they could. You can, too.

What I am about to share is an emergency garden. Low start-up, low maintenance, high yield, well rounded nutrition. You won’t be winning any culinary awards from your harvest, yet the family will survive relatively healthily.

Hopefully, you can scrape together about $20.

The Basic Easy-to-Grow Prolific Crops:

Potatoes the average “seed and feed” will sell you 10 pounds of seed potatoes for about $5. A lousy crop will yield about 10 pounds for every pound planted. A really healthy harvest can yield 20 pounds per pound planted. More on planting these coming soon.

Soybeans — from 1 pound of seed that costs about $2.70 per pound, you will harvest phenomenal amounts of protein! I got mine here: Peaceful Valley. Harvest early for little sweet, nutty bursts of protein. Freeze what you don’t eat fresh or let them dry in the garden for next year’s seed or dry storage. Click here for container gardeners Garden planting advice coming soon.

Swiss Chard — Loaded with iron, b vitamins, and potassium, it can be substituted anywhere you use spinach. Because it can handle more summer heat, it can be harvest longer for more high nutrition food in the long run. Eat fresh or stuff your freezer full of it. Easily started from seed. It your trying to grow a years worth, grow a 2 ounce packet of seeds( around $2 ,) planted 4 to 6 inches apart. Click here for more on Swiss Chard

Tomatoes– For climbing varieties that require staking, New Girl and Pink Beauty are considered easy choices with excellent flavor. For bush varieties that do not require staking or pruning, give Celebrity a try. Share you used coffee grounds with your tomatoes to help keep them happy. Also, since tomatoes are acidic, they are easily canned by water bath method. All you need is canning jars, lids, bands and a stock pot to preserve your harvest. They are a real confidence builder when it comes to learning how to can. Easy peasy.

For tomato growing tips check Neighborly Advice Vol 2

You can do this.

Throughout these articles are many little money saving ways to get started. As harvest come in, we will learn some basic preserving. Hang in there. Check the many articles in the beginner gardening category to the right for more information.

Roll up your sleeves and dig in!

(With a worried brow, Neighbor Nancy sharpens her knife to cut more seed potatoes to cure in the sunshine for a few days before planting.)