Monday, April 6, 2020

Tater Time: The Farm Report 04-06-2020

Tater Time
The Farm Report

"Spring has sprung, the grass is riz; Tater Time is what time it is...."

I don't know why I say this silly little ditty every year, but I've been saying it every year about this time for as long as I can remember.  This year, especially, I wanted to get my spuds in the ground and growing as soon as possible. We've always tried to be self-sustaining. This year seems like it might be more important than ever. Maybe not, but I enjoy growing things, and COVID makes a good excuse. Plus, if you've ever eaten fresh new potatoes from the garden, you already know the main reason I plant 'em. Delicious!

As I've said many times, I only appear to be a patient guy. The stores kept telling me 'next week' for their expected arrival of seed potatoes - only to let me down and repeat the guess on when they'd be in. Phoey on that! So I just went over to the 'eatin' spuds' shelf and looked for sacks full of potatoes that were showing some green. They'll grow. I've planted them many times before with good luck. What kind? Klondike Rose, Norkota, and Burbank Russets.

Never throw away potatoes from the cellar! These are left over Kennebec from last year. They were all shriveled up and ugly, but look at the sprouts! They're ready to grow.

Actually, some gardeners especially in England, put their potatoes out in the sun to make them sprout. They call it chiting. It sounds like... well, that's what it sounds like. I'll knock off most of the sprouts before they land in the row so I get one plant with bigger potatoes. If I leave all of those, I'll get multiple stems and a lot of little potatoes. I like 'em big.

Row(s)? Yep, that's little Henry Ford's nose you're seeing. He helps me make the trenches. Annie is down there inspecting them.

I was thrilled to find my fields just loaded with night crawler earth worms. Healthy soil!

I discovered that Annie was actually being helpful when she was running up the trenches. Every place there was a dog print was about the right distance for good tater spacing.

Covered up and ready to go. I actually us a 1923 restored Planet Jr. double wheel hoe with mounding shovels to cover the potatoes. It is an old fashioned walk-behind wheel hoe. It makes this job a snap. I'll show you a picture of it sometime. I have just covered the spuds enough to give them a start. As they grow, I'll keep hilling more earth on top of them to encourage potato formation. Did you know a potato never goes any deeper than the level of the start you plop into the ground? That's right. They don't grow down. So as they grow up, you put more earth around them and the potatoes form from buds on the growing stems. If you bury them too deeply right at the beginning, it takes them a long time and a lot of energy to get growing. 

Ain't he pretty?! I just had to put in one more pic of Henry. He's a late 1952 8N model. That's a 'middle buster' plow on the back end. I dig the trenches with it and later dig the spuds with it. The rest of the summer, he is my lawn mower.

Well, it was a windy day and Annie got bored planting potatoes. A gust blew my hat off, and you already know how much Annie likes playing keep away with my hats. She snatched it and took off.

She's playful, but ornery! She headed out towards the fields and I thought I might not ever see that hat again.

Annie is easily distracted, and she loves water. So all I had to do was turn on the hose I have set up for the chicken waterers.

'Oh Boy, water!' Annie would play with that water all day if I let it run.

Bad news on the Honey Bee front. I got all loaded up as you can see, and went to the bee yard to set up a new improved remodeled hive for my one surviving colony. I'd been watching them all winter and waited to do this until the weather got a little warmer. I didn't want to open the hive and let cold air in. Well, when I opened the hive - and there were bees all around the outside of it - there was nobody home. There were about 4 dead mice inside though. So maybe that's why they left home. I don't know but it is discouraging. Keeping bees is hard to do. I got them all the way through until late March, and then lost 'em. Textbook! March is when every beekeeper will tell you to expect losses.

I never give up, but I don't necessarily keep pounding on a bent nail either. I decided that instead of spending a lot of money on a new package of bees (each one costs about $140 this year) I would make some swarm traps and try to catch some. The Timber is full of bees - I see them all the time. AND, they are probably MY BEES that have moved out into hollow trees. So it seems fair. I left a good hive set up for them to move back into if they want, and now I'm on the hunt.

On the floor of the woods, I'm seeing signs of spring. 

If you look close, you'll see two things: One is Trout Lilies. The other is Wild Anise. Both come extra early.

The broad leaves are Wild Anise, the spikie leaves are the Trout lilies. If you pull an Anise plant, the roots smell just like licorice. The Trout lilies come up, bloom a little and go away. If you weren't in the woods at the right time, you'd never know they were there, but they mat the whole floor of the forest right now.

Ice - in April! Welcome to Iowa.

Joyce was always on me to get the potatoes planted in late March. She would remind me that there would be a few nice days then that would tease you into thinking that we had turned the corner on winter and it would be free sailing the rest of the way out. She would also remind me that Mother Nature was just kidding. So, for a long time, I've tried to get the potatoes planted in that little interval of nice weather near the end of March. Then the spuds usually get snowed in. This year was no different. Ice in April - again.

In the greenhouse, we've had an interesting development. I'm starting sweet corn in plug flats trying to get a head start on the season. In this tray, you can see the little corn plants peeking up to get started.

But look at these! Same seed, same soil, same flats, same day, same everything. The difference? These little corns were put into my inside the greenhouse chuck wagon tent. I'm not sure whether it was warmth, luck or what, but wow! Look at the difference. Now if I can just keep the mice out of the trays, we're still on course for some extra early sweet corn. Fingers crossed! All is well.


  1. Hi Tim, you make me homesick for Iowa. It is raining here today. I have had so many bees this spring. Don’t know where they live. So many flowers that they like. Thank you for the blog!! I look forward to them. Cheryle

  2. Best wishes on your swarm hunting!


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