My big project for 2014 (aside from becoming “Independently Self-Sufficient”, that is) was to be able to feed the household without having to purchase any vegetable I could grow myself.
Actually, the garden was a major part of the “Independently Self-Sufficient” plan – I just knew damned well that I could only just begin the project this year. I could only plant the stuff, and hope that in a year or two, I had learned enough and grown the garden large enough that we wouldn’t need to purchase items like tomatoes, cucumbers, strawberries and blueberries, melons, peas… you know – the kind of stuff that people around here manage to grow in sufficient amounts in their backyards.
My main concern was that gardeners around here have a big one-up on me.
They have dirt. They have places in their yards that they can dig holes in, and stuff green things in, and if the green things are properly nurtured (and sometimes totally ignored) these people can have a successful crop.
I have a parking lot.
It’s a good parking lot… secure, with a chain-link fence surrounding it, a locking gate, privacy strips through the chain-link so the girls can sunbathe without being stared at…
It’s a good size, too – we can comfortably park three vehicles in it, and I can still get the Prissy-Van turned around with a 37-point turn and not hit another car (or person, or dog, or cat).
No dirt, though.
So, in early January, I started researching “Growing in Pots”. I found thousands of links that would teach me how to grow lovely houseplants, but very few concerning vegetables.
Last summer, I had tried to do this same thing – but I was still on the J.O.B. full time, started late, played the whole experiment by ear, and ended up with one green pepper, a dozen puny (“weak”, as Louie Da Boss informed me) Jalapeno Peppers, and a cherry tomato plant that was still producing well into December of 2013, having been hauled up to my belfry in mid-October.
That cherry tomato plant gave me hope.
In January, I started experimenting with growing indoors, vegetable “re-grows”, and seed-starting. My results were mixed – but mostly… dismal. I refused to give up hope, however. I had time on my side, after all.
In a shrieky, tearful temper tantrum I had quit my job the previous November. January marked the end of any scheduled time away from the belfry (yeah… I threw a temper tantrum and then gave three months notice. I’m a little on the passive-aggressive side. This is also known as “wishy-washy”). I had months before the Northern Ontario growing season was upon me to prepare.
During my research, I discovered that people grew potatoes in small spaces utilizing trash bags. I was excited about this, and added it to my plans.
I had put myself on a strangling budget in order to get through my so-called “retirement”, and the only thing I was allowing myself to spend any of my savings on, aside from daily expenses, was the growing of my garden. I was delighted to find “potato bags” in a local store. I snapped up three of them at $10 apiece and threw them in the back of the van where they lay forgotten until June.
When I found them whilst dropping off a huge load of stuff at the recycling depot (Yup. I didn’t work there anymore, but still played “Girl Friday” to a degree – taking the recycling from both store locations to the depot) I worried that it was too late to start potatoes above ground.
Ruby, who has grown vegetables for as long as she can remember, told me it certainly couldn’t hurt to try, and wouldn’t cost me anything but time.
It did cost me dirt though, which, having none of my own laying around, I have begun to equate with cash. Potato bags hold a shit-ton of dirt.
I stole my potatoes from the girls – I was good about it, though – I plucked out three of the tiniest ones. They were already growing sprouts, too, and Ky and Em don’t like dealing with the trimming of those much, so a lot of the time, those are the potatoes that end up wizened, then slimy, in the bottom of the bag and don’t get eaten anyway. I felt no guilt over this theft.
I’ve prepared potatoes for planting before. In the Way Back When, during my first marriage, my mother-in-law did everything herself where her garden was concerned. She never bought potato sets, she used her own potatoes from the season before, and cut them into a couple of empty milk crates a few days before planting them. She grew a LOT of potatoes. Having helped her cut her sets for two seasons, I figured I could manage without consulting the internet, but I thought I’d best consult Ruby, just to be on the safe side…
“I just have to cut them into small pieces and make sure each piece has an eye or three in it, right?” I asked.
“Yep,” she said. “But three eyes is better than one. How big are the potatoes you’re cutting?”
“About yea…” I replied, holding my hands roughly into the shape and size of a small apple.
“You could get four good pieces out of that,” she assured me.
“Will it hurt if they’re already sprouting a little?” This concerned me. I didn’t want to pull the flaps on my potato bags in the fall and have a dozen rotten chunks of potato and three shit-tons of rancid dirt be my harvest.
“Nope,” Ruby assured me again.
“How many pieces should I put in each bag?” I asked.
“How big are these bags?” she came back with. So I clumsily tried to estimate the circumference of an open potato bag with my arms, and Ruby figured I could manage four plants to a bag without overcrowding them.
June 11, 2014Following the instructions for growing potatoes in trash bags that I’d found online, I set merrily to work. I cut my sets, and shoveled 4-6 inches of dirt into the bottom of each potato bag. I buried my potato pieces about half-way down. I had rolled the edges of the bags down low enough that they held the dirt but the sun could still call out to my sets.
My online instructions required me to wait til I saw green leaves poking through the dirt, and then to promptly shovel more dirt over the plants. Apparently this pisses the potato plants off enough to make them determined to see the light of day again, and they will keep growing upward in spite of me and my shovel. I was supposed to continue to thwart the green until the bags were rolled up to their highest of heights and then let the green become bushes, keep it watered, but not soggy, and I would be rewarded with a bountiful harvest come late September or early October.
So, I waited for the green to poke through.
And I waited…
Weeks later I was still waiting, and starting to worry. So, I consulted Ruby again.
“Shouldn’t my potatoes be up by now?” I asked her.
“Up?” She looked at me askance. “Potatoes grow under the ground; you know that, don’t you? They’re not trees, or tomatoes!”
“I know they grow underground! But shouldn’t they have leaves coming up out of the bags by now?”
“Well, yes, I would think by now you’d see something happening… What’d you do wrong?”
“I don’t know!” I couldn’t possibly screw up potatoes could I (Yes. Yes, I could.)?
Ruby sat, perplexed for a long while before she looked at me over her the tops of her spectacles and asked, “You planted them cut side down, right?”
“Tell me you’re joking,” I said.
She laughed. “I didn’t really think you’d be that stupid, so yeah, I’m joking. Anybody has enough sense to plant potatoes cut side down.”
I cleared my throat. She started to laugh really hard.
“Leslie!!!” When Ruby says my name like that, and it’s usually while she’s laughing really hard, I’m pretty sure that she considers me to be an ijit.
Once she got through her laughing fit, she assured me that all was not lost. I could probably dig down and rescue my sets, flip them over and rebury them, letting them begin growing toward the light the way God intended.
The next morning, I went out to my bare-dirted potato bags and exhumed my potatoes.
As Dog is my witness (that’s not a typo; the dog was there, and she’ll back me up), the potatoes had given up on the idea of being rescued by the ijit that planted them in the first place, and the sprouts that had been pointed downward (being considered to be “roots” by the ijit) had grown out and around the potato pieces and were now pointed upward. There was no evidence of leaves, however.
I looked at the dog, and the dog looked back and shrugged.
“Just cover them back up again,” she said. “You’ve done enough damage already.”
I took her advice.
Only a few days later, I saw green!
So I buried it.
Within weeks, all twelve potato plants had grown and been re-buried several times over and the bags were all at full dirt capacity by July’s end.
It was at about this point, that I asked Ruby how many potatoes I might expect to harvest. She had to think about that for minute or two, musing that I may not have as many as I would if I’d grown them in a regular garden plot.
“If those bags are big enough, you might get three or four to a plant. Maybe. If you’re lucky.”
“That’s all?!” I don’t mind saying that this news pissed me right off. Had I known I was only going to get three dozen potatoes (maybe, if I’m lucky) out of this ordeal, I’d have bought a dozen potato bags in January, budget be damned.
I did contemplate starting some trash bag potatoes up on the belfry balcony, which will house an experimental greenhouse over the winter, but I was out of dirt (and nearly out of money) by the end of July.
The plants seemed to hit a standstill for growth by August. I started to worry a little again.
“When will I know when to pick the potatoes, assuming there are any potatoes?” I asked Ruby.
“When the tops die,” she said. “You could probably get some little ones now, but you won’t have any left in the fall if you dig into all three bags.”
So I waited.
And I few weeks ago, after a particularly long bout of rainfall, I noticed that the leaves of my potato plants were infested with snails and slugs. I had been picking snails off my tomato pots all summer long, and now it looked like they’d moved house. The leaves on all the potato plants were lacy with holes.
Ruby said not to worry – they’d be fine. I hoped she was right.
And then, on the 15th of this month, I noticed that the plants in the bag on the far left had no leaves left on them at all. They were eaten down to spindly looking stems. Somehow, that embarrassed me.
So, I pulled the flap.
I expected the dirt to just come tumbling out, along with (hopefully) a dozen large potatoes. Instead, I was looking at a wall of hard-packed earth, with little thread-like roots (ROOTS!) meandering through it. It was harder work digging the dirt out of the bag then it was putting it in, I’ll tell you.
I had to scoop dirt out for nearly five minutes before I found my first potato. It was about the size of a marble. I nearly cried. The dog walked away disgusted, shaking her head.
I dug around some more, and came up with a decent-sized potato, a little larger than the potatoes that I’d originally cut up to plant. I also found two really big ones, so the more dirt I pulled out, the better I felt.
In all, I got thirteen potatoes out of that bag, and only three were disappointingly marble-sized. My “Harvest Photo” only shows nine potatoes, however – as I promptly washed the dirt off four of them and cooked them. They were fabulous.
The other two potato bags remain unharvested. I’m waiting until the leaves die, as Ruby instructed. I don’t know if I’ll end up with larger potatoes for doing so, and neither does Ruby, but she tells me I could leave those potatoes in the dirt right up til the New Year, and they’d probably be okay.
I doubt I’ll be able to wait that long. I’ll be planting another bagful right shortly, though – this time up in the belfry.
And to answer that question I asked 2216 words ago… No. I am not smarter than a potato.
Fun Fact: The word(s) “potato(es)” appears 49 times in this post. I know this because that’s how many times I had to correct it from “poatoto(es).” Ruby’s right. I really am an ijit.
Random Song-for-the-Day: “Emperor” – Marcy Playground