Today we are packing up and getting ready to set off on a camping tour of Northern British Columbia. Summer travel always poses a dilemma. We devote every spring and early summer to developing and nursing along our gardens. And then every August we go away for a holiday and let the gardens fry in the sun, and the vegetables and fruits go uneaten. You would think we would learn from past years' experience and alter this pattern, but no, we do it every year.
We don't quite abandon the gardens. We either hire someone to come and water them and look after the house, or in recent years, our son has been with us in the summers to house sit. But as you know, gardens need more active involvement than an occasional squirt of water. And every summer we come home at the end of August to a tangle of weeds and vegetables that have failed to thrive. (This is not a criticism of our son. I know he puts lots of effort into watering and lawn care, and we are grateful for it.)
The photo above shows Rob this morning standing at the corner of our patio (click on the photo to see the full width of it). Behind Rob are three planters that he built with ABS pipe. He used 4 inch pipe with many elbows, and mounted them on concrete paving stones. We filled each opening with soil, and it works perfectly for wave petunias. They thrive in the planters, in fact doing much better than those that we have planted in the front annual bed. To the left in this photo is a regular patio tub planted with more wave petunias and a geranium. To the right is a potato bag.
Yes, I am the vegetable gardener of the family. As I have only a tiny garden plot, I have taken to planting potatoes in bags. I set the bags along the edge of the patio next to the petunias, and I think they look quite lush and decorative!
The potato bags are available for purchase at our local garden centre. They are made of a woven polyethylene material (according to Rob), and have grommet holes around the bottom so that excess water can drain out. They way I plant them is as follows. I put a few inches of black garden soil and compost in the bottom. Then I arrange three or four seed potatoes on the soil (I like to use Yukon Gold potatoes for the bags). Then I just cover the potatoes and their sprouts with more soil and water well. Once the potato plants come up and before they are not more than about three inches tall, I completely cover the plants with another layer of soil. Then I arrange three more seed potatoes on that layer and cover them. I repeat one more time, ending up with three layers of potatoes, and a bag that is filled to the top with soil.
The first year that I tried potato bags, I was sceptical. I thought the layer of soil over the plants in the bottom layer would smother them. I thought there would not be room for nine or ten plants in one bag. But, amazingly, the potatoes thrive in the bags.
Here is a photo of the potatoes that we harvested from one bag yesterday. I have actually had more success with the potato bags than I used to have hilling them in the garden the traditional way. (Mind you, I lived in a completely different climate then - a coastal rainforest - and I had a garden infested with comfrey plant run wild, which is hard to get rid of when you garden organically).
A few tips I have learned for growing potatoes in bags are: 1) water them very regularly and throroughly; 2) don't use manure enriched soil; 3) they grow better in a sunny spot rather than part-shade (the patio is the sunniest spot in our backyard); and 4) harvest them a week or two after they flower. There will be some tiny potatoes. However, I have found that if I wait a lot longer to harvest them, some of the potatoes on the bottom layer will have begun to to sprout extensively.
So, added to the usual tasks of packing and getting ready to go, we are doing some frantic last minute gardening this week. The upside is that we will be setting off with freshly harvested potatoes and bags of fresh herbs and greens as we leave on our camping holiday.