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Hey Potato, Open Your Eyes

White-fleshed spuds have long been a Canadian staple. Fortunately, you can find good varieties in other colours, too. A reliable provider of tasty tater treasures is Eagle Creek Seed Potatoes, Box 70, Bowden, Alta., T0M 0K0. Write to this address, call 1-877-224-3939 or email [email protected]et.comto request a print catalogue. Half the fun is thumbing through their potato guide describing a sundry of names and colours. You can also go online to www.seedpotatoes.caand view Eagle Creek’s complete inventory.

Early-maturing potatoes include Eramosa with smooth skin and shallow eyes. It’s rated as moderately resistant to common scab and responds well to green sprouting. Caribe, another early spud, is described as high yielding and oblong. Caribe is great for boiling with excellent storage qualities.

Among mid-seasoners are Dakota Pearl, Red Gold, Ruby Gold and Cherry Red. Late-season spuds include German Butterball and Bintje. Both are also heirloom and have been grown for over 50 years.

Top that off with fingerling seed potatoes such as Banana and French Fingerling and… well you get the idea. Fingerlings are usually mid-to late season and eagerly sought after as the main ingredient in top-rated potato salads.

AL ASKS ABOUT SCAB

I got an email from Al Armstrong of Edmonton: “Hi Ted, I read your articles religiously,” he writes. Then he asked a couple questions. He needs tips on how to prevent scabby potatoes. He also asks: “Do you know of any way to get rid of mice?” How about some input and feedback from Grainews readers in this connection? My email address is at the end.

In the meantime, I’ll give my two cents’ worth. Most veggies prefer a moderately acid soil with a pH in the range of 6.0 to 6.8, but spuds are somewhat different. Common scab fungus exists in many soils. It becomes a real balancing act.

Just because a growing site hasn’t been gardened or farmed for many years is no guarantee of scab-free potatoes. Spuds are ornery and prefer an acidic soil with pH in the range of 4.8 to 5.6. It’s a tight range as scab also thrives in soils with a pH above 5.6 and especially once it reaches 6.0 and higher. Yields will drop when pH falls below 4.8.

Scab can be particularly severe in neutral (i. e. pH 7) and alkaline soils. The pH scale runs from 1 (very acid) to 14 (very alkaline). The fungus that causes common scab can live in the soil for many years. It’s not active when soil pH is below 5.4.

If you have a serious scab problem, get a professional soil pH test done. Home soil test kits are also available at many garden centres and from seed catalogues.

Organisms develop readily when a garden patch has slightly less than the optimum amount of moisture required. Potatoes demand a steady, season-long flow of water, especially in dry periods. Continue watering until the soil is moist eight to 10 inches below ground.

This is really crucial during the first six to 10 weeks after planting when tubers start developing. Lack of water at the critical time followed by a sudden rainfall and home watering will result in cracks and odd-shaped potatoes. An uneven water supply can lead to potatoes with knobs and growth cracks on their skins. Stress from hot, dry weather and drought can cause tan or brown streaks inside tubers, with some varieties more susceptible than others. Potatoes are also heavy feeders. Adequate nutrients are essential during the first critical emergence of plants right through ’til before harvest.

Keep spuds and tomatoes planted well away from each other and avoid using the same growing site for three years. Late blight can be passed back and forth between infected tomato and potato plants. Potato beetle control is a subject unto itself. Home gardeners can plant some green beans and flax here and there among potatoes. This helps keep down the number of bugs and the rest can be hand picked.

APPLY MANURE IN FALL ONLY

When manure is used, it must be well rotted and applied in the fall previous to planting…not in springtime. Manure should then be turned under and worked into the soil. Such advance application and tilling results in a more favourable balance of nitrogen, phosphorus and potash (potassium) and contributes to best tuber growth. Fresh manure applied to soil just before planting time is a no-no.

In past, if you’ve experienced lush, knee-high top growth and small, piddled potatoes underneath, it may be the result of excess nitrogen from a fertilizer imbalance with other nutrients. A mix such as 6-8-6 or 13-16-10 can give good results. Chemical fertilizers applied too close to the planted seed potato can burn. Aim for two inches to one side or two inches below. This may be done right at planting time or once first shoots appear.

HOME REMEDIES FOR PH

Think of pH as the measure of soil acidity or alkalinity. To make soil more acidic, here are four suggestions to experiment with. If trying all of these, separate into separate plots and compare results.

1. Buy some books of the so-called penny matches. Place two or three penny matches off to the side without touching the seed potato in each planting hole, then cover with soil. A book of 20 will do seven or eight hills.

2. Add one tablespoonful of apple cider vinegar (not white vinegar) to one litre of water. Pour on soil at ground level by hand as soon as potato leaves appear. This is enough for two plants.

3. Stir one cup of ordinary drinking tea into four litres of water (enough for about eight plants) and apply at ground level early in the morning or after hottest part of the day.

4. Rake up fallen and dried evergreen needles and work a sprinkling in each planting hole or on surface.

Spray or mist potato leaf foliage with seaweed fertilizer three or four times during the season at half-strength according to label directions.

HOME REMEDIES FOR MICE

Now on to Al’s other issue: mice. Having a cat or two isn’t always convenient. Try mixing a cupful of cornmeal with one-quarter cup of dry cement and place in a container inside for mice to find. Make sure children, dogs, cats and other pets don’t get access to this. The mixture won’t work if it gets wet or rained on outside.

Some seed catalogues and garden centres carry a host of rodent control products. Gizmos are available that produce high frequency repelling sounds that mice alone can hear and they quickly vacate. Check Early’s Town & Country seed catalogue out of Saskatoon. Phone 1-800-667-1159.

Stan Mills of Eagle Creek Seed Potatoes at Bowden, Alta., related an unusual approach for catching mice in traps. This concept apparently works, as long as you’re receptive to painting a white latex strip, two inches wide, on a clean floor surface, four inches away from walls. Set mice traps at various and sundry places along the strip. For whatever reason, mice appear to claim it as their personal run and head straight for the traps.

SO YOU’D LIKE TO WIN SOMETHING

Alas, I can’t enter my own Singing Gardener draws, but you can. I have a nice selection of credit vouchers, redeemable toward Early’s, McFayden and T&T Seeds catalogue items, Eagle Creek seed potatoes and Bluebell grape plants from Corn Hill Nursery to draw for in March. Cross your fingers, say a prayer and send your name and mailing address to:

SINGING GARDENER Draws, c/o Grainews,

1666 Dublin Ave.,

Winnipeg, Man. R3H 0H1.

This is Ted Meseyton the Singing Gardener and Grow-It Poet from Portage la Prairie, Man. Having a set of green thumbs is not something I have and my neighbour doesn’t. It’s an acquired talent. One of the best ways to retain wellness is to eat something we don’t like; drink what we turn up our nose at and do a good turn for someone we’d rather not. My email address is [email protected]

About the author

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Ted Meseyton

This is Ted Meseyton the Singing Gardener and Grow-It Poet from Portage la Prairie, Man. I salute all gardeners and farmers who help make our world a little safer and more ecologically balanced, and who toil to provide health-giving produce to others who cannot produce their own. It takes all sorts to make a world. One half of the world doesn’t know how the other half lives. The best physicians are Dr. Diet, Dr. Quiet and Dr. Merryman.

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