October 2013

Monthly Archive

Potato Towers

Posted by on 14 Oct 2013 | Tagged as: Uncategorized

This year I decided to experiment with potato towers.

july garden 10

I had read tales of harvests of mythical proportions, and the fact that they take up less space. But I was mainly interested in the ease of harvest, as last year I dug through half of a garden box, and still did not find all of the potatoes, as evidenced by all of the volunteer potato plants that came up this year.

There are a few methods to make a potato tower. There were two main ones that I was aware of. The first method had you planting a few seed potatoes in the bottom of the tower, then as they send up vines, burying the vines most of the way throughout the summer. This supposedly makes the plants grow potatoes all along the stems. This has the advantage of maximum output per seed potato.

The second method is to plant several layers of potatoes all the way up the tower, with the seed potatoes on the edge so that they send out leaves through the sides of the tower. This has the advantage of most of the work being done at the beginning of the season, with little upkeep other than watering throughout the summer. This is the method I chose.

I got it all set up at the beginning of the season. I used some four ft wire fencing because it was inexpensive and durable, and pushed straw up the sides to keep the compost in. I placed in seed potatoes in layers with compost. Then I left it, watering it about once a week, and harvested last week after most of the vines had died.

Here are the results:


Yield from the potato towers, minus a few

Yield from the potato towers, minus a few

The yield was pretty disappointing. That was the entirety of the harvest from the towers, minus about 6 potatoes the size of the dirty one in the middle. And this comes entirely from one of the two towers. The other, in which I had planted my blue potatoes, yielded not one potato.

Here is where I tell you what I think I did wrong. I didn’t water enough. You see, when you plant potatoes in a trench, only one side, the top is exposed to air. In a potato tower, all of the dirt around the potatoes is exposed to air. In a desert, like where I live, that makes for quick evaporation of any water in the tower. And potatoes love there water. In fact the tower that actually produced potatoes was the one that I left the hose dripping on all night at the beginning of summer. (Side note: you shouldn’t water too much, as my neighbor did, or your seed potatoes will rot. But potatoes do need quite a bit of water).

I think potato towers would work well in the following situations: Areas with high humidity/low winds (aka the exact opposite of here), people with limited space, people who are willing to be very consistent and thorough in their watering, people who like to experiment.

I think you shouldn’t do potato towers if: you don’t have a lot of water (we were under water restriction part of the summer), if you don’t want to experiment.

I will be doing potato towers next year, experimenting with the method of planting one layer at the bottom and piling on dirt as the season progresses. But I will also be planting potatoes in a traditional row.

Canning and Carbon Monoxide

Posted by on 11 Oct 2013 | Tagged as: Uncategorized

Well, I had a post scheduled to go up today on potato towers. In fact it actually was up for 8 hours, even though I hadn’t finished it yet. I took it down and am replacing it with this post, and the potato tower post should go up next week. (Why I am even explaining this is beyond me, as no one reads this blog.)

Any how, I need to put up this post instead, to caution homesteaders so they don’t make the same mistake that I made.

A week ago I purchased two bushels of pears, with the intent of canning them. And, for the last two nights, I have done a 7 quart water bath canner full of them. Last night I wrapped up canning my batch of pears, cleaned up and went to bed. At 2 in the morning, our carbon monoxide detector went off.

Now a bit of background: Our smoke detectors have been prone to false alarms in the past. But we still get up, evacuate our kids and call the fire department to make sure that everything is okay. Last night we did the same thing, though I was a bit more worried than usual, as our CO detectors have never gone off before, false alarm or otherwise. It has always been our smoke detectors.

Well, the fire department showed up, and tested the air, and there was CO present in our house. However, they suspected, having seen the canning supplies on my counters, that my canning on my gas stove had caused it. I was somewhat indignant. I am always careful in using my appliances, and I have canned several times before and never had a problem. However, we still called the gas company to send out a technician to double check that our furnace and water heater were not spilling CO.

He got here around three in the morning, and went to work. (As an aside, through this whole ordeal, no one from the fire department or the gas company ever criticized us. They were all wonderful and helpful, and glad to rule out any problems we might have.) The technician checked our CO levels, which were practically gone, as we had vented the house by opening windows at the fire department’s advice. He checked our furnace and water heater, and neither was spilling CO or having any problems. And then he checked our stove. It was also burning cleanly. Then he told us what had almost certainly happened to set off our CO detector.

Here is what we learned:

  • A gas stove in your house, unless it has a hood over it that vents outside, will put out tiny quantities of CO during normal use. This is generally not a problem, as one generally does not leave it on for hours at a time.
  • If the flame is high enough to be in direct contact with the pot or pan, it will not burn quite as cleanly, and put out a little more CO.
  • The longer the stove is running, the more CO will be emitted.
  • So if you are canning on your gas stove, you likely will have at least one burner on for a long time, and quite likely will have multiple burners on (making syrup to can fruit in, simmering lids, etc.) You will also likely have the flame as high as possible to keep the large pots boiling. This adds up to a build up of CO in your house.
  • If you can using your gas stove, open a couple of windows to vent the house, and prevent any build up of CO. Or use a camp stove outside to can. They can boil large amounts of water much more effectively anyways.

I felt it necessary to share this post today, because prior to last night, I had no idea that there was any danger of CO emissions from my stove. Now that I know, it makes sense to me, but prior to today, I had never taken the precaution of venting the kitchen while canning. Now, my family was probably never in any serious danger. We have a large, airy house, and CO detectors are made to go off well before CO levels are very dangerous. But it is still well to take precautions.

Today my mother came with her camp stove and helped my finish my pears, all 35 jars. We set up the stove on the front porch, and the temperature was just perfect to enjoy canning outside (though we did the prep work inside). We didn’t have to heat up my kitchen either.

So to sum up, if you have a gas stove, vent your kitchen when using it for extended periods (canning, large amounts of baking, Thanksgiving or Christmas dinners). Even better, use a camp stove to can on, OUTSIDE (NEVER use a camp stove inside), as it is more effective, and often more pleasant to can on a camp stove. And if you don’t have working CO detectors in your house, get them. Put one on each level. I hope this post has helped someone.

P.S. This isn’t my best writing, I’m sure, but please forgive it, as I am running on minimal sleep after the adventures of last night.

Wood chip mulch

Posted by on 09 Oct 2013 | Tagged as: Uncategorized

Now, I follow Reformation Acres.  She is actually one of my favorite bloggers, and if you are into homesteading at any level, I would really recommend you read some of her stuff. I really like a lot of her ideas. She has talked  a lot about the culture in the dirt, and encouraging the best soil food web for what you are growing in that spot. Orchards prefer wood chip mulch, gardens prefer straw mulch, because that is what would fall naturally in the area. I think this makes a lot of sense.

However, I have a problem. I live in a super duper horribly windy area. Winds strong enough to blow my neighbors all wood playhouse (like this) over three times last year, until they replaced it with a metal one. Someone gave them a trampoline, and they quadruple tethered it to the ground which worked beautifully, until their dog chewed through one of the straps, and then the trampoline blew over our henhouse, and nearly blew over the 15 foot tall sound wall between us and the highway. When we got it down, the circle part was bent like a pringles chip. So, yeah, we have bad winds.

In 2012 I mulched with wood chips. Now, my yields weren’t great, but I made a lot of mistakes, like not watering regularly, and planting late, and crowding my plants. But once I started watering, I only had to water once or twice a week. Even with the heat and wind, with the mulch my beds retained water beautifully. And there were almost no weeds. Yay!

This year I decided to try mulching with hay, as it was easier to get than wood chips. I laid down a nice thick layer of straw. . . and it all blew away within 3 days. Not to mention that the straw, which was supposed to be weed free brought tons of weeds to my bed.

So even though I think that the soil biology would be better with different mulches on the garden then the orchard, I think I’m going to go with wood chips all around next year, because the straw won’t stay. If any one has a better idea, let me know in the comments.


Posted by on 07 Oct 2013 | Tagged as: Uncategorized

Well, I’ve been doing a lot on the homestead since last I wrote. We had a hard frost, so prior to that I brought in as much basil as possible, and made eight cups of pesto to freeze. Also 7 lbs of cherry tomatoes (drying them and eating them) and 3 dozen + tomatoes, 8 long island cheese pumpkins, and 6 sibley squash. I traded some of the winter squash to my mother for carving pumpkins. And finally a couple pounds of bell peppers and jalepenos.

Today I went out used some wire fencing to fence off my strawberry bed, that actually held summer squash this year. I put 5 of my chickens in it (the other three strenuously objected) and I tied a tarp over the top to keep them in. They are going to make sure it is free of weeds and squash bugs today, and maybe tomorrow. Then I am going to turn the bed and lengthen it so it is 4′ x 20′ . Plenty of room for all the strawberries my hubby can eat.

I also harvested my potato towers. I’ll post in depth on that tomorrow, with my thoughts as to pros, cons, what to improve, and if it is worth it.

I am planning on staking off the area that I plan on expanding the garden to either this afternoon, or tomorrow. I’ll spend the rest of the week clearing the weeds and leveling it, as well as finishing off cleaning out my other garden beds (maybe I’ll throw my chickens in the other beds too.) Then I need to order a truckload each of compost and woodchips, and spread the compost over all of my beds, then the woodchips.

I’ll build my new bed in ground, instead of building a box for it. Boxes get expensive after a while. After the ground is clear and level, I plan on laying a layer of old newspaper, then 4-6 inches compost, then 3 or so inches wood chips. I have a post coming up with my thoughts on wood chip mulch as well.

Preservation wise I have done the following: canned 7 qts applesauce, froze 20+ pints peaches, dried tomatoes and peach fruit leather, canned whole tomatoes and peaches (can’t remember how many), froze pesto in ice cubes. Still have to can 2 bushels of pears, more applesauce, buy storage apples, and figure out h0w to preserve peppers.

So that’s what is going on.