Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Mockingbird Moon

Maybe I should call this the Mountain Laurel moon instead. The Texas mountain laurels have started blooming, filling the air with their sweet fragrance. That means it's officially spring!

I've still got tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants to plant out in the garden. I'm going to do that ASAP. I don't care if they say our last frost date is in March. I really don't think we're getting any more frosts.

In addition to the purple potato seedlings I talked about last time, I planted out my purple tomatillos at the end of the same bed where the potato seedlings are. I had just the right amount of room.

In the back, the potatoes grown from tubers are starting to sprout. It took them a long time, but they're finally starting to poke out.

The beets I planted back in fall still aren't doing that well. They just haven't gotten enough rain, so they're just sitting there hardly growing. I'm really starting to wonder if I'll get a decent harvest from them at all, let alone be able to tell which varieties are best.

The second batch of beets are also still tiny. They only have two or three months left before it starts to get too hot for them.

The celery is also growing very slowly. I've heard celery needs a lot of water, and these just aren't getting much. I guess I need to buy a lot more drip hoses.

The kale and garlic are not doing much either, but at least the cabbage worms are finally gone. I haven't harvested any kale, and I might not. I get kale from my CSA, and the kale I'm growing is doing so poorly I think I might just leave it alone. I planned to save seed from this kale, since I used up the seed I had for this variety. Maybe I'll just leave it alone and let it do that.

Speaking of seed saving, the arugula is starting to make seed pods. The bees really like the flowers too.

The shallots seem to be doing ok. I've never grown shallots before, so I hope they do well. Onions are hard to grow here, so I'm looking for alternatives. Plus shallots are so expensive at the grocery store! I don't think I've ever eaten shallots before.

The fava beans seem to be doing fine. That's another thing I've never eaten before, but they grow during the winter, which is a good time to grow things here.

Some of the overwintered peppers are starting to put out some little leaves, though some look like they have died. I think once I can tell for sure which lived and which didn't make it, I'm going to transplant them into the front yard bed I just made. Peppers are pretty plants and would make good front yard plants.

I went ahead and put up some bird netting over the bamboo tee-pees I put up for the peas. It's not to keep birds away, but to give the peas something to climb on, since they were having trouble clinging onto the bamboo.

Well, spring is certainly in the air! I'm going to plant the rest of my nightshade transplants as soon as I get the chance, and I need to start seeds for some warm-weather things like basil soon. It's starting to become one of the busiest times of year for gardening!

Friday, February 22, 2013

Growing Potatoes from True Potato Seed

The potato seedlings I'm growing from some "Purple Potato Seed" I got a couple of years ago are doing great! This was seed that got thrown in as an extra in an online seed trade. I tried to grow some of them last year, and none of them made it, so I went ahead and planted the rest this year. Honestly, at this point I don't even remember where I got them from.

Now I have more than 50 healthy potato seedlings! And here I was thinking I'd be lucky to end up with just a few.

Most people plant potatoes using "seed potatoes" which are not the same thing as "potato seeds". Seed potatoes are tubers that you cut up and plant, so you end up with genetically identical clones. This is great if uniformity is what you want, but if you want to genetic diversity, you need to let your potatoes have sex.

Planting potato tubers, just like taking cuttings from a plant, is asexual reproduction. Sexual reproduction allows for the genes of the parent plants to recombine into new varieties. Potatoes have a lot of genes to recombine too, since they're tetraploids. That means they have four sets of chromosomes instead of the usual two, so there's even more combinations you can get in the offspring than with a diploid organism (like we are).

In a nutshell, when you let your potatoes flower, have sex, and produce fruits with seeds, each seed is genetically unique, and all your plants are going to be different from each other.

My goal in growing potatoes from seed is to find which of my genetically individual plants do the best for me, and start growing them again year to year, eventually resulting in the evolution of potatoes that actually grow well in my climate. Which is kind of a tall order considering how Central Texas is not potato country at all. Potatoes prefer cool weather and loose, acidic soil, but maybe out of my 50 plants, I'll find at least one that actually does all right in my alkaline rocky clay soil, and can produce a good crop of tubers before May, when it starts to get hot. I can then name my new potato whatever I want and become famous for developing a potato variety just for Central Texas! (Or something like that.)

To my surprise, a week or two ago I noticed that several of them were already producing little pea-sized tubers at the base of their stems! Staying true to what was on the seed packet, most of them are purple, but some of them are other colors, including a pinkish-red and creamy white. There's genetic diversity already showing!

The potatoes are also showing diversity in their leaves. Most of them have nice, big leaves, but a few of them seem sort of stunted, with small leaves. However, some of the small-leafed ones have big tubers growing on them, and some of the big-leafed ones don't. I really don't know what's better, so I still planted them all to give them a fair chance.

Here is one of the yellowish-white ones on the left, and a pinkish one on the right. Also, some of them have lots of little tubers while some have a few big tubers. This is a lot of fun! I just don't know what I'm going to get!

I ended up going ahead and rototilling that plot in the front yard I've been thinking of turning into a garden for a while now. I wanted to plant my potato seedlings ASAP, and there just wasn't room in the garden in the back.
Here are the potato seedlings in the new plot getting watered with a soaker hose. I got another sack of cheap dog food and mixed it into the soil for fertilizer. One thing I noticed while tilling is that the soil in the front yard is much less rocky than the back. I wonder if it will turn out to actually be a better spot for growing things. I just hope the deer don't find them. Potato leaves are supposed to be poisonous, but it probably just depends on how hungry the deer get. I have another bale of moldy hay I'm going to mulch them with.

From what I've read about potato seedlings, I shouldn't expect to get a good harvest this year, but I might get some small tubers I can save and re-plant next year, just like regular seed potatoes. I'm really getting my hopes up since so many of them already had little tubers in their pots before they even went in the ground. Hopefully those will just keep getting bigger.

It's also possible for them to flower and produce another generation of potato seeds, giving me further opportunity for breeding Texas-adapted potatoes.

And I do have the potatoes I planted from tubers in the back: Purple Viking and Red Pontiac. I just noticed yesterday that they're starting to sprout. Both of those varieties are supposed to be better for warm climates, so we'll see. Maybe I'll get a good crop from them to tide me over until my seedling potatoes start giving good crops.