Michael’s Garden Blog – Planting Potatoes in April

april-2011My main garden area on the first of April is adrift with garlic shoots interspersed with greenhouse purchased starts like brussel sprouts, broccoli, red and green cabbage, kale of several varieties, swiss chard and onion sets in addition to radish, lettuce and other greens seeds that were previously scattered in open spaces. The sorrel and rhubarb are bulging skyward and I am waiting for the year’s second planting of peas to emerge. The garlic, planted in mid November, will be ready for harvest mid to late June. And as predicted, the arugula, cress, cilantro and some kale has begun bolting and the first planting of peas are up about 4”in the raised bed on the south wall of my shed that was started in November. For the last couple weeks I have been leaving the cover off in an effort to slow down this process. We have been passing out some of the abundance of lively, scrumptious greens recently as production is outstripping our ability to eat it all [oh, what a problem].

April is the time to get potatoes planted – I am planning on trying a method I read about in the latest [April/May 2011] Organic Gardening magazine. The fellow, Doug Hall, did some test plots using various above and in ground techniques for growing potatoes. The one that sounds best to me [and was the second most productive of the methods he tested] is to prepare the soil, lay out seed potatoes and then cover with thick layer of straw. I have an abundance of barley straw from scattering in the chicken coup this winter that will be a good fit [and it will have some added enrichment too!]. The big advantage I see in using this technique is that one can pull the straw back and selectively harvest young potatoes as the season progresses, without having to dig up a whole hill or two to see how they are doing.

It is inspiring when those easy-to-plant strawberries begin showing renewed life, soon to be sending out runners to make more of themselves – after such a brutal winter – really quite a good value in food production. Right now is a great time to get some starts from the local greenhouses or Richard Balthazar who you can find at the Farmers’ Market on Saturdays with some good looking strawberry babies, albeit exact strain unknown. Strawberries thrive in moderate shade, producing sweet surprises throughout the entire growing season – if you expand your patch to more than a dozen or so plants, there might even be enough to share a bowlful with friends! One of my favorite is called Tarpan, an everbearing variety, which has interesting scarlet colored flowers and elongated small red, tasty fruits [currently available at Agua Fria Nursery].

April: Tip of the Month :
Santa Fe and environs just experienced the driest March that I can remember. Normally we would have had a couple measurable rain/snow events – that would have temporarily settled some of the pollen and dust. So, along with exceptionally strong, hot winds and virtually no moisture for two months, new and vulnerable plants will have required extra protection to help them survive. A near record cold spell that occurred without the protection of a significant blanket of snow earlier in February will further impact plant mortality this spring. As soon as you can, deep water vulnerable and valuable shrubs and especially trees. Repeat mulching to help retain added moisture that is continually being attacked by viciously drying winds.