Vegetable Gardening 101: Potatoes!


PotatoOk, there are more starchy roots than potatoes and sweet potatoes but how many times have you grown Arrowhead, Cassava, Kudzu, Malanga or Taro. That’s what I thought.

So potatoes, there are the Russets, Reds and Yukon Golds. These are the most popular around here anyway. Heirloom varieties are coming back making them much easier to find and it’s about time! I can’t wait to plant some blue skin/ blue flesh potatoes! This season check out a new (old) variety in addition to the usual.

When preparing you plot for potatoes keep a few things in mind: Potatoes need deeply cultivated soil. This allows the roots and potatoes to more easily develop. They also grow the best in acidic soil. (If you remember from the “Compost” article wood ashes  will give your soil more alkaline properties, so when you add your compost be sure to use the pile that you haven’t been putting ash into.)
Potatoes can be planted in the early spring because they can handle a light frost and can stay in the ground in the fall through a frost as well. A cooler growing season is perfect to get a great harvest.
Potatoes do flower and produce tiny little seeds, however these don’t make for a good planting seed. You will want to start with seed potatoes. Each potato has multiple “eyes”, which are little dents that if left in a cool place will sprout. The eyes tend to be very dense at one end of the potato and spread thinner over the rest. To plant your potatoes, cut a seed potato so that each piece has at least one eye. I would recommend doing this yourself as well as getting your seed locally. If they come pre-cut they are treated with chemical which you don’t want; do you?
There are a couple common ways to sow your potatoes. My dad would dig a hole 3 inches deep after the last frost or 6 inches deep before the last frost, about 18 inches apart (maybe a little more). Us kids would follow behind placing the seed potato in each hole, eyes up. It is very important the eye is up when you plant. Then cover with dirt. In years past I have had very limited garden space so I began by digging a trench, same depth as before and placing my seed about 6 inches apart. Then cover with dirt. You can also plant your potatoes by placing the seed on top of the soil, cover with at least a foot of straw and water well. All ways will show sprouts in 3 to 4 weeks. If you plant in straw you won’t get as great of a yield but they are much easier to dig, because all you need to do is rake away the straw.
Hilling the potato plants is not necessary but will increase your harvest. By this I mean when the plant gets about a foot tall or so take your hoe and pull soil up around the stem/stalk up to the leaves. I usually do this twice during the growing season. Potatoes grow from the root vines under the plant, adding soil up the stem will encourage more root vines to grow. When planting close together in a trench hill the row as a whole. The soil will fall between the plants, then you won’t risk harming neighboring plants if you hoe between.
To harvest potatoes simply dig. This sounds like a pretty easy task, but is really a lot of work too. They are fully grown when to stem and leaves have dried and turned brown. They can be dug and eaten before full maturity, these are known as new potatoes. I use a pitch fork to dig. I stick it in the ground at the bottom of each potato hill and lift. The bigger potatoes will be resting between the tines. A little extra digging may be needed to get any smaller ones left behind. Any small ones I miss our lab mutt, Diesel, finds. He digs each hole behind me and eats what he finds no matter how many times I try to chase him out of the garden. (He really likes “helping” pick green beans too)
Before you store your potatoes for the winter they should be sorted. The very little ones, can be used right away as “new potatoes”. Any ones that I “got” with the pitch fork go to the kitchen right away and are used first, whether we eat them fresh or clean them up for canning or dehydrating. Then the rest are spread out on thee floor of the root cellar, basement or garage and allowed to cure and dry for about 2 weeks before they are put in the potato bins for storage.
If you’ve got a lot going on and just don’t have time to process one more crop, potato bins in a cool basement or root cellar it the best way to keep your potatoes. They can be canned I have with no problem. Just be sure they are very clean. Canning is not recommended by the USDA ( I don’t believe many of their regulations) and it is said they can only be canned in a pressure cooker. So I will leave that up to you. Dehydrating potatoes is very easy too. Slice into 1/8 inch slices or dice them into small pieces, blanch them in salt water and spread thin on your drying trays. I use a dehydrator rather than open air or the oven because I can get more done at one time and I don’t have to worry about somehow stealing them (he has been found with potatoes from the bins and I’m not sure how he does this yet).

Sweet potatoes are grown like potatoes but are actually not related. They love warm weather, opposite of potatoes. They come in a variety of colors from the deep orange that we are most familiar with, to red, white, yellow and brown.
Sweet potatoes do not have eyes, but if you keep them long enough they will sprout, these are called “slips”. You can then grow the slips in a hot bed, buried about 3 inches apart, only covered halfway. They need at least a foot deep of soil if you are doing this indoors. This can also be done in a tray of water. Either way they need a constant temperature of 75-80 degrees.
Once the slips are at least 8 inches longs and have little roots growing from them, they can be carefully plucked from the original root and planted in the garden. If your not able to keep them at least 75 degrees in the garden, transfer them to a hotbed first. These should be planted 3 inches deep and 3 inches apart in a hot bed. When in the garden give about 3 feet between plants.
Once the plants are growing well and have vines at least 3 feet long you can take a cutting from it, about 8 inches long or so and plant the cutting. Plant all but the top couple inches. When doing this again watch the temperature as well and make sure they have plenty of water.
To harvest the sweet potatoes don’t wait for the tops to dry. If the tops get hit with a frost and turn black the potatoes need to be dug immediately because this will affect the taste and it’s not good. The best way to know if the potatoes are of picking size is to dig up a plant and check. Digging these is done in the same manner as potatoes.
Before storing these they need to be set out to cure as well. This is the hard part in the north, they need to cure in a place with a temperature of 80-90 degrees for about 2 weeks. They are usually not ready to be harvested until October… See the problem? If you have an indoor wood stove that will heat the area, this will work, assuming you are ready to start burning wood that early in the season. Once they are cured they can be stored like potatoes. Be careful not to bruise them during the process, this can cause them to mold much quicker and if one molds it can easily spread to others.

Previous Article: Legumes
Next Article: More Roots (the non-starchy ones)

Sweet Potatoes Asian Style
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This is a very simple, yet flavorful and pretty dish.
Sweet Potatoes Asian Style
Print Recipe
This is a very simple, yet flavorful and pretty dish.
  • 2 lbs Sweet Potatoes pealed and diced into bite size pieces
  • 1 tbsp Brown Sugar
  • 1/2 tsp Cardamom
  • 1/4 tsp Cinnamon or Nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp Saffron threads soaked in 1 tbsp. warm water for 30 min.
  • 14 oz Unsweetened Coconut Milk
  • 1/2 cup Almonds chopped
  • to taste salt
  1. Steam the sweet potatoes, until soft but not mush.
  2. In a bowl combine everything but the potatoes and almonds.
  3. Place the potatoes in a baking dish and pour the seasoned milk over them.
  4. Sprinkle the almonds on top and bake at 325 degrees until it is bubbling and the almonds are toasted.
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Potato Bread
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This is such a soft dense bread, it's excellent hot out of the oven with lots of butter or as a pulled pork sandwich.
Potato Bread
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This is such a soft dense bread, it's excellent hot out of the oven with lots of butter or as a pulled pork sandwich.
  • 1 tbsp Yeast
  • 1/2 cup Honey
  • 1/2 cup Warm Milk.
  • 1 cup Water from boiled potatoes
  • 3/4 cup Butter softened
  • 1 1/2 tbsp Kosher Salt
  • 2 each Eggs
  • 1 cup Mashed Potatoes
  • 6 cup Whole Wheat flour
  1. Combine the yeast and warm milk.
  2. Allow to set for 5 minutes.
  3. Add the honey, water, butter, eggs and potatoes. Mix briefly.
  4. Add the flour, then salt.
  5. Knead for 15 minutes on a lightly floured board.
  6. Place the dough in a covered bowl over night in the refrigerator.
  7. The next day remove from the fridge, and allow to rest for a few minutes.
  8. Knead for 5 minutes, form into loaves or buns.
  9. Allow to rise to double the size.
  10. Bake at 375 for about 40-50 minutes.
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Butter Crumb Potatoes
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This was a childhood favorite of mine.
Butter Crumb Potatoes
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This was a childhood favorite of mine.
  • Potatoes
  • Butter melted
  • Bread Crumbs
  1. Using any amount of potatoes:
  2. Peal the potatoes and cut into wedges.
  3. Dip the wedges in melted butter then roll them in bread crumbs.
  4. Place them in a glass baking sheet with a little more butter and bake at 350 until they are soft. Serve warm with sour cream
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Scratch Shaving Cream

Scratch Shaving Cream

The easiest way to make the switch from store bought to made from scratch is one thing at a time. Don’t go through the house and toss everything you plan to make from scratch, by the time your done you could have a mile long “to make” list and not have the time or ingredients. As one thing runs out, don’t buy a new one, rather make it from scratch; it’s not nearly as over whelming.

My husband made the mistake of mentioning he’s almost out of shaving cream. he was a good sport trying my homemade deodorant. It works great for me but not for him. Now he’s up for some homemade shaving cream.

Winter Shaving Cream
This is a very moisturizing cream, great for the dry winter air.
5 tbsp. Olive Oil
3 tbsp. Cocoa Butter
3 tbsp. Honey
2 tbsp. Baking Soda
4 tbsp. Liquid Farmhouse Soap or Castile Soap
Melt the coco butter and carefully add the olive oil and liquid farmhouse soap. Combine the Honey and baking soda mixing well so there are no lumps and add to the oils. Stir to combine well. Once cooled whip for a couple minutes in a stand mixer.

Healing Shaving Cream
This is a great cream for those who’s skin needs healing or are infection prone.
1/4 c Shea Butter
1/4 c Coconut Oil
3 tbsp. Jojoba Oil (or olive oil)
6 drops Rosemary Essential Oil
6 drops Eucalyptus Essential Oil
(or 12 Drops of Tea Tree Essential Oil)
Carefully melt the Shea butter and coconut oil. Stir well to combine. Add the jojoba oil and essential oil drops and stir to incorporate. Once hardened whip in a stand mixer to a whipped butter consistency.

Fast & Easy Shave Cream
This is a super fast and easy recipe. It works well but I prefer the other two better.
1/3 c Coconut Oil
1/3 c Shea Butter
1/4 c Olive Oil
Carefully melt and combine the oils. Once cooled this can be whipped in a stand mixer for a lighter texture.

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Vegetable Gardening 101: Legumes

This is a HUGE category including Peas, Lentils, Bush Beans, Pole Beans, and Dry Beans. To write about each individual one would be write a sizable book, something I don’t plan to do. But I will give you the basics of the popular.

PeasBush/Pole Peas, Snap Peas and Snow Peas are very easy to grow during you cool season. For me it’s in the spring and sometimes fall. Peas are a great crop for me because I can’t wait to get in the garden and begin planting and they can be planted when the ground is still very cold. I plant them only a few inches apart and about that deep too. If I’m feeling really impatient for a fresh garden picking, I soak the peas just until I see a sprout and then plant them quickly. They are usually ready a week earlier doing this. All my peas prefer to climb. I wish I could say I have this beautiful trellis that they vine on and it’s so lovely. The truth of it is I rig up anything I have handy for them to climb on; I’ve used tall tomato cages (the peas are done by the time the tomatoes need them), random bamboo poles (I bought for who knows what), an old dog kennel (you know the chain link fence kind) and steaks with twine. In the fall you can plant peas to climb the cornstalks if you like. Short of it, peas will be happy to climb on whatever they are able.
Harvesting peas is pretty straight forward, they flower, then a pod begins to grow. If you are growing Snow Peas the pods will be picked when they are still relatively flat, Snap Peas and regular peas both get harvested when the pods are full.
To save seeds just leave the pods on the vine until they dry. Crush the pods and keep the dried peas for new seed.
I prefer freezing my peas to canning them. I like to dry some not just for seed but for use of split pea soup (made with home grown ham hocks 😉 ). This year I think we will end up canning them due to freezer space taken by grass fed chickens. Yay!

BeansSnap Beans are the “common” beans (Phaseolus Beans). These can grow anywhere and come in many colors. I like to grow the purple ones mainly because they look neat but for my main harvest I grow green bush beans. Yellow beans, known as Wax beans are popular for some people too, they tend to have a more mild flavor.
Depending on the variety you pick they will either climb as a pole bean or not, as a bush bean. Plant your beans about 5 inches apart and about an 1 inch deep. Plant after the threat of frost as these don’t tolerate cold well. In fact planting pole beans should be done two weeks after the bush varieties.
Harvesting beans should be done when the beans just reach their mature size, this will vary depending on the variety. If you allow your beans to get too big they will become woody but don’t worry all is not lost. Beans that have overgrown can be left on the vine to dry for seed or picked and pickled.
Beans can be stored canned or froze.  Immature beans can be blanched and dried, I have never tried this; I don’t mind canning them.

Green Shell Beans are beans that are grown until the bean seed has fully formed, then shelled before the bean pod and seed has dried. I get the concept, but for the work it takes even I don’t bother with these.

Dry Bean varieties are numerous from Black, Pinto, Kidney and many more. They are grown the same as other varieties. Harvesting these is held off until they are completely dry. Pick the pods, crush them, allow the crushed pods to blow away (doing this outside) and keep the seed for dry beans and next years seed.

Black Eyed Peas ( I know I should insert some lame joke about the band, but the name is all I know about them), Chickpeas aka Garbanzo Beans, Fava Beans, Lentils and surprisingly Peanuts are all in the same family, the  Non-Phaseolus Beans. A quick run down of these goes like this:

Black Eyed Peas and a few others are known as “Southerns”. They grow well in the south and although usually called “Peas” they are neither peas nor beans but a closer relative to Lentils.
Lentils are more work than they can be worth as a garden crop, so they are usually grown as field crops.
Fava beans are also called Horse Beans; the plants can be harvested and used as hay for horses. They like cool weather and can handle much cooler seasons than the “Common Beans”.
Peanuts or Ground Nuts grow really well in hot climates. They are native to Brazil. They can grow in the north but will take some extra preparation and care.  They can be harvested when the pods are very young. They can then be boiled in salt water and toasted. Or, you can let them reach full maturity, dig the whole plant, let it hang to cure for about two months, when they are ready the nuts will fall from the vine. Then they can be boiled, roasted, or smashed into peanut butter.
Soybeans should be planted about 1 inch deep and 3 inches apart. They like warm weather as most other beans do. They should be harvested before the pods dry even when saving seeds. The pods can get very brittle when dry, so if you leave them in the garden or field until they dry you can have broken pods and lose the seed. Soy beans are made into soy milk, soy sauce, miso, and tofu to name a few.


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  • 1/4 c Water the Chickpeas were boiled in
  • 1/4 c lemon juice more or less to taste
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons tahini
  • 2 cloves garlic crushed
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
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Next Article: Potatoes!
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LemonGrass Lotion Bars

It’s the middle of what seems to be a never ending cold spell this winter. The fire crackles away and here we sit…ok so I can’t just sit still. Winter air is always dry and with the wood stove in the house it seems worse this year.

I made some awesome lotion bars to pass some time. I don’t like how greasy my hands feel after using regular hand lotion, to the point that I look like a fool only rubbing the backs of my hands together to rub in the lotion. Greasy fingers drive me nuts. The lotion bars I can use on both sides of my hands (Yay!) because it soaks in quickly and doesn’t give me greasy fingers (or sticky feeling like some bars I’ve tried). I can rub some extra on my cracked knuckles without looking like a fool! (another Yay!)

Lotion Bar

I have a few available for sale in my Country Market if you want to give them a try.

*Prices include shipping;

**If your lucky enough to live in the Bemidji and can get me to come to town I can take the shipping cost off (if you live in town contact me directly, ordering online will charge shipping.

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Scratch Baby Food

Scratch Baby Food

There’s a few different schools of thought when it comes to feeding a baby. I will explain mine, in doing so I need to say I am not a doctor, nutritionist, or dietitian. Quite simply a mother who is concerned about her family’s and her own health. I do a lot of research to find what will best fit my families needs.

I planned to nurse through the first year because I don’t trust what is put in  formula. This didn’t happen because I had to take some medication (which I don’t agree with either) so I quit and switched to formula. There a multiple studies stating breast milk is better than formula and vise versa. So pick the studies to sway your way. Bottom  line is nutrition. If mom gets adequate nutrition baby will too. If not, formula can be just as good. (This doesn’t make me feel much better about it. But that’s the way it goes)

Now were are ready for starting solid foods. Yay! This, I have been waiting for. We are in the very beginning of the transition so I will start there. As we move forward I will write about the next stage.

I am doing things a little different in today’s standards. We are not going the cereal route. I find no real good in it. We don’t eat white starches (aside from the occasional potatoes), such as white rice, white flour and refined sugars. By reading the ingredient list on the baby cereal box it may look relatively harmless. Going deeper into how the body digests these food it looks a little different. In the most basic terms, the body turns these starches and carbohydrates into sugar before absorbing. So a bastardization would be baby cereal is more sugar then nutrition. Have you ever had a stack of pancakes with lots of syrup and orange juice for breakfast? Did you notice that that day you craved more sugary foods? How about the day you had bacon and eggs for breakfast? Less sugar cravings that day? I bet if you kept track you would see the pattern. For this reason I don’t want to start the little Mister on cereal.

Again I don’t plan to buy baby food. I don’t feel you get what you pay for. The finished product of store bought baby food is almost void of nutrients, not to mention your can guarantee the quality of ingredients they started with. Have you ever tasted baby food? It’s not good. If you wouldn’t eat it why would you feed it to your children?

Making baby food is just as easy as taking a bit of what you made for yourself and pureeing it. Of course, this again assumes you are eating a highly nutritious diet as well.

Baby’s digestive system isn’t fully developed until 28 months. So you need to be somewhat careful what you feed them and when. Starting at about 6 months (give or take) your baby is ready for some “real” food.

They are able to easily digest fats and protein at this stage. Mothers milk is usually about 50-60% fat. This is a good thing fats are very necessary in baby’s development. Coconut, olive oil, butter and animal fats are best. Have you ever seen a vegetable with natural oil aside from olive and coconut? The process in which producers turn canola and vegetables to oil is not good. In fact, additives are used because the raw product smells rancid. I don’t see how that’s good for anyone.

Protein is a huge part of baby’s nutrition too. This is highest and most easily absorbed in the form of egg yolks and organ meats, liver especially.

I know what your thinking, I wouldn’t eat soft egg yolks and liver so why should I feed my baby this?! Quite simply, nutrition again and whole foods. A diet of all natural foods (what we all should be eating) is so much healthier and easier for our system. Our bodies know what to do with whole foods, and tends to store and/or have a very hard time breaking down processed foods.

So for now we have a soft poached egg yolk, (be sure it’s only the yolk as the white can cause irritation) topped with a pinch of finely grated liver, fresh butter and a tiny bit of salt. Yes salt is also very important in the development of baby too. Homemade apple sauce, papaya and avocado are eaten eagerly. Sweet Potatoes and squash are a favorite too.

I portion servings by the “ice cube” or shot glass. Yes, I know a shot glass may not be deemed appropriate by some but he’s got no clue and it’s the perfect size. Start small. We started with an egg yolk. The next week we added a half shot glass of apple sauce. The following was the yolk and a full shot glass. Now we are having the egg and full shot in the morning and a full shot in the afternoon. Once he eats his “real” food, I then give him a bottle to fill up the rest of the way on. I don’t want the little guy malnourished or hungry.

Keep in mind it can take at least 10 times of trying something new for a person to develop a “taste” for it. The reason a lot of adults don’t like certain foods; they try it once, maybe twice and “I don’t like that”. It takes time.

Another thing to think about when starting your little one on “real” food, only introduce one food at a time. Feed the one food for about 4 days. In the rare instance they have a bad reaction (constipation, diarrhea, rash etc.) you will know exactly which food it was.

I’m not going to give you recipes for baby food. I don’t find them necessary. If you are thoughtful about what nutrition is received from what food, and take things slowly it’s not rocket science. If your not sure or not comfortable with the idea then do what you find is best for yours. Not everyone is the same and what works great for us may not for you. We all have the same goal; Happy Healthy Children.

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