Arcadia Farms

  (Portage, Michigan)
Eat healthier. Save money. Create local jobs.
[ Member listing ]

Potato Experiment Results

Back in April I wrote this post about planting experimental potatoes. They were experimental in that they are:

  1. Planted from spouting (organic) spuds we purchased at the grocery store.
  2. Planted (mostly) in hay.
  3. Planted outside the fence, intermingled with garlic in hopes that the deer will be deterred by the garlicky smell.

Today I spent the better part of the evening digging up these experimental potatoes and I’m pleased to report that they are amazing! Even better than the potatoes planted from official ‘seed potatoes’ in the main garden!

Here’s a quick recap of what I did – along with thoughts on what worked well and what I’ll do differently next year.

First, I started with chitted potatoes – potatoes with eyes growing on them. (Click here to learn how and why to chit potatoes before planting.) Next I dug pits along the outside of the fence which were 10-12” deep. I put the potato pieces (with at least 2 eyes) in the pit and covered them with composted waste hay from the bunny. I didn’t go out of my way to water these at all – occasionally they would get some overspray from watering the garden and they definitely received their fair share of rain! When the plants grew about 6-12 inches above the hay, I added another layer to “hill” them. Unfortunately I ran out of hay before I had hilled them all so I added some compost to two of the sections.

That’s it! No fertilizer, no watering. And here’s what I received…

Our experimental New Potatoes harvested from outside the garden fence.

Our experimental New Potatoes harvested from outside the garden fence.

Part way through harvesting.

Part way through harvesting.

Amazing!

Planting the potatoes in hay (or you could use straw) really did make it much easier to harvest them. (Trust me… I am WAY over digging for potatoes in the 100% compost bed!). Now that the hay has broken down, the soil in these areas looks quite rich. This should be a good way to add organic matter to the area surrounding the garden.

Also, I originally planted onions and garlic in between sections of potatoes to keep critters (especially deer) away. I’ve seen many deer tracks in that area, starting as early as the week I planted the potatoes. On the face of it, the garlic/onion strategy seems to have worked. However, a friend (who has much more gardening experience than I do) pointed out to me that deer won’t eat potatoes because they have a high amount of a certain acid in them. (I wish I could tell you the name of the acid…) Still, with anecdotal advice I received from the stories of other gardeners (both in the area and online) it seems that the real test of whether or not a deer will eat potato plants is whether or not his belly is full when he finds the potatoes. So whether the garlic kept them at bay, the potato plants are too acidic for their taste or they’ve been feasting elsewhere by the time they get to me, the deer have left my potato plants completely alone.

All things considered, this feels like a pretty successful way to grow my potatoes. The best part is that it frees up space in my raised garden beds (I only have so many!) and makes use of what would otherwise be unused space while still keeping things pretty central to the garden area. In fact, these potatoes are from just one side of the garden. There are two other sides which would be suitable for tater-growing. Giddy-up!

The only downside in this year’s potato-growing endeavor was this: Overgrowth. The pits I planted my potatoes in were simply dug with a shovel. In early spring, this fence-line row of garlic and potatoes looked quite neat. Meanwhile, piles of overturned sod created a bit of a berm to the west of the piles. I kept telling myself I’d “get to moving those piles eventually.” Well, I never did, save for one small section. Because the ground is freakishly uneven there, Ryan won’t mow it. Which means weeds and grass have taken over and are growing quite snuggly in with my potatoes. Next year I’ll till everything up properly and I’ll be sure to level the area so it can be mowed.

overgrown potatoes

Without proper tilling, the potatoes and garlic quickly became overgrown with grass and weeds. Next time I’ll be sure to clear the area and keep the ground level so we can mow.

overgrown potatoes

More overgrown potatoes.

overgrown potatoes

Here’s a view of the west side of the garden where the potatoes and garlic were planted along the fence. There are more potatoes on the south side of the garden as well.

Based on what I’ve learned, I have plans for a new experiment next year. Along the West fence, I’ll plant potatoes just like I did this year. Here are some variations I’m planning for the other two fence lines.

  1. On the South Fence: All potatoes from store-bought organics, but some planted with waste hay and some with grass clippings.
  2. On the East Fence: Using waste hay, I’ll plant some potatoes from ‘seed potatoes’, some from store-bought organic potatoes that have sprouted and some from ‘seed potatoes’ from my own garden.

So there you have it… I’m considering my experimental potatoes to be a smashing success! Anyone else harvesting potatoes? What other things are you harvesting right now?

 
 

Caring for Baby Chicks

Chickens may be “easy to care for” but baby chicks are fragile. Follow these tips to give you little peeps the best chance at a healthy adult life.

Before the Chicks Arrive – Brooder Setup

Baby chicks need a warm, safe, clean place to live during the first 4-6 weeks of their life. That warm, safe, clean place is called a brooder and it can come in all kinds of shapes and sizes.

The brooder can be as simple as a cardboard box or as complex as a wood and wire box built for the occasion. The container should be able to keep bedding (i.e., pine shavings), chicken poo, chicken feed and, well, chickens, enclosed at all times while still allowing air flow. Our brooder was initially a large plastic Rubbermaid tub. As our chickens grew we graduated to a large cardboard box and eventually a large dog crate with cardboard inserts to keep the bedding inside.

plastic tub chick brooder cardboard box chick brooder dog crate chick brooder

Temperature is critical during the first few weeks so you’ll want a heat lamp to keep those chickees warm! During the first week the temperature inside the brooder should be 95*. Every week after that you lower the temperature by 5* (move the lamp higher) until eventually you settle around 70* and turn the lamp off. To be able to accurately determine the temperature you’ll also want to include a thermometer. I placed my indoor/outdoor thermometer inside the brooder – tells me the brooder temp and (remotely) tells me the greenhouse temp.

DSC03623

Chicks also need something to eat (typically commercial chick feed) and something to drink (whiskey water). Becuase they’re messy creatures, it’s your job to make sure their food and water don’t get (overly) contaminated with poo. Ergo, these puppies come in handy:

DSC03622

Pardon the mess… these were photographed right before being cleaned.

The other thing you’ll need in your brooder is bedding. The bedding absorbs chicken waste. I’ve heard rumors that pine shavings are bad for chickens because they give off some manner of harmful emission. Unfortunately I didn’t learn that until after I had already filled my brooder with pine shavings. I did more reading (especially in the forums at www.backyardchickens.com and the overwhelming majority of chicken owners said they had been using pine shavings for a long time with no signs of impact on the chickens. All the same, after we ran out of wood chips I used timothy hay. I have to say, the wood chips definitely did a better job of absorbing moisture and smells. Plus the with the way our final brooder was setup (dog crate with cardboard sides) there were small cracks where the bedding would fall out onto the floor when the chickens scratched in it. Long story short, I ended up with chicken bedding on my floor. Not. Happy. I’m going back to wood chips. (On a side note, resist the urge to use shredded newspaper. Apparently it is very slippery under the little chickees feet and can lead to abnormalities in foot development.)

pine shaving bedding brooder

In this picture you can see that the bottom of the brooder box is covered in pine shavings. This type of bedding did an excellent job absorbing moisture and odor.

timothy hay bedding in brooder

In this picture the brooder has timothy hay for bedding. Not nearly as effective as the pine shavings.

timothy hay bedding in brooder

When the chickens scratch they are constantly causing the hay to fall out onto the floor. Huge mess! That’s why there are blankets on the floor. Have I mentioned how happy I am that it’s time for these girls to go outside??

Bringing the Chicks Home

Now that your brooder is setup and the temperature is just right, you’re ready to bring some babies home! If you ordered chicks to be delivered through a hatchery, they’ll arrive a little stressed. The chicks are packaged in a way that they’re collective body heat keeps them warm, but as soon as you open the packaging, getting them into an appropriately warm environment is critical. Also keep in mind that it’s not uncommon for one or two chicks to die during delivery because of the stress. Keep that in mind if you have little ones who are helping you get the chicks setup. (Knowing that this is common, hatcheries will often send you a couple of extra ‘insurance’ chicks.)

If you’re picking your chicks up, you’ll want to keep them warm in transport. Our six chicks came home in a cardboard box from Tractor Supply Company that looked a little like a happy meal with ventilation holes. (Perhaps we should name one nugget?) The ride from TSC to our farm is about 5 minutes so I just made sure the temp in the car was comfortable.

Whether you bring them or the mailman does, the first thing you want to do is encourage your chicks to take a drink of water. Gently pick them up and dip their beaks into the water container until they drink.

Now is a good time to take note of how the chicks behave. If they huddle together under the light, they are probably too cold and you’ll need to lower the heat lamp. If they scatter to the edges of the brooder, they are probably too hot. Having a thermometer in the brooder takes some of the guess work out of this part.

Another thing to check for is “pasting up.” This is a condition where a stressed chick gets a buildup of feces on their vent (where their poo comes out). You want to check your chicks often for pasting up. (I checked mine a couple of times a day during the first week they were with us – their second week of life – and since none of them ever had a problem, I stopped checking after that.) If one of your chicks has a problem with pasting up, guess what you get to do? Clean it. Grab a damp, warm towel and wipe away the problem. Sounds gross, but think of all the street cred you’ll gain in the backyard chicken community…

Ongoing Chick Care

In addition to the things mentioned above, remember that you need to adjust the heat lamp every week so that the temperature drops by 5 degrees. This process is essentially “hardening them off” just like you would do with a plant that has been living indoors and is now ready to live outside. You’ll also want to change the chicks’ bedding at least once a week or more often if it gets especially nasty in there. After the chicks are 2-3 weeks old, they can take field trips to the outdoors so long as the temperature is warm. Keep a close eye on them to protect them from family pets and predators like hawks or racoons. Our chickens ventured outside twice before they moved to the coop – once at four weeks old and once at five weeks old. Both occasions were on warm (60*) sunny days and lasted for about 30-40 minutes. Marley helped us to keep a watchful shepherd eye on them both times.

marley shepherd chickens

Although Marley looks like a lab, he is part Australian Shepherd. We see the shepherd in him coming out when he interacts with our chickens and our bunny.

When your chicks are four to five weeks old, they’re probably ready to be called chickens. They’re also ready to move to their permanent outdoor home. Because our chickens are old enough to get the heck out of my spare bedroom already be outside now, they’ve moved to their new home in the backyard (more on that later this week!). Though daytime temps are up in the 50?s and 60?s, our April nights still dip down to nearly freezing. For that reason, I plan to keep the heat lamp on at night for another two weeks or so. I’m being careful to keep it clipped to a spot where the hens can benefit from the warmth without danger of touching its hot surface.

A Note on Food

I ran into conflicting opinions about what to feed my baby chickens. Many hard-core permaculture peeps felt it was important to reject commercial starter feed. (After all, our grandparents or great-grandparents probably didn’t rely on medicated commercial chick feed to get their flock off to a good start.) The idea is that commercial “starter feed” has everything a baby chick needs, namely proteins that are easy for little chick stomachs to digest. You can buy medicated or unmedicated feed. The medication – as well as an available vaccine – are intended as a preventative measure against coccidiosis, a disease caused by an intestinal parasite. On YouTube I saw several videos where chicken owners have chosen to give their chicks yogurt as “insurance” against intestinal issues. For easy to understand info on coccidiosis, medicated starter feed and vaccinations, I recommend this article at Urban Farm Online: Hatching the Facts on Medicated Chick Starter Feeds for Layers. We opted for non-medicated starter feed and have given our chicks a few doses of yogurt. I have no idea whether or not they have been vaccinated. We’ll plan to feed our chickens starter feed for the first two to three months.

Chick starter feed chick starter feed

Chickens also need grit. Grit is a substance (usually small stones) that chickens use in their crop (the first part of a chicken’s digestive system) to help grind their food. (Look ma, no teeth!) Whether or not you need to feed your chickens grit depends on their diet. I suggest doing some research before you decide what to do. Here’s a good place to start: Chicken Grit; Grit for Baby and Adult Chickens. I still haven’t made a plan for the kind of grit we’ll provide our chickens.

Did you enjoy this article? Visit www.arcadia-farms.net for more info on eating healthy, saving money and buying locally.    

 
 

Planting Experimental Potatoes

Since it didn’t snow yesterday (yes!) I spent some time planting potatoes and lettuce in the main garden. Lettuce will go in under plastic row covers in some of our narrow beds (2' x 12'), along with spinach which overwintered and is already growing. I’m scheduled to plant lettuce in two additional narrow beds on the hugelkultur side of the garden… the problem is, they’ve not yet been built. (This past December we put in 4' x 12' hugelkultur beds but skipped the 2' x 12's since they were too narrow to dig with the bobcat.) I guess I better grab  my shovel and get on that…

Meanwhile, I cleared a blanket of leaves that have been keeping fall-planted onions sung over the winter.

I cleared away a layer of leaves that have been protecting fall-planted onions through the winter.

I cleared away a layer of leaves that have been protecting fall-planted onions through the winter.

Fall-planted onions debuting for spring.

Fall-planted onions debuting for spring.

I was also able to plant some taters. These are ‘experimental’ potatoes in that:

  1. I’m planting eyes from spuds we purchased at the grocery store.
  2. I’m planting them in hay.
  3. I’m planting them outside the fence, intermingled with garlic in hopes that the deer will be deterred by the garlicky smell.

Planting from Potatoes that Sprout in the Cupboard

From everything I’ve read, the most reliable way to get great potatoes is by buying seed potatoes. That’s because some potatoes you buy at the grocery store have been sprayed with a chemical sprout inhibitor to keep them looking tip-top on the grocery shelf. Despite all of this sound advice, the potatoes we grew in our very first garden came from store-bought potatoes… and they were delicious! We typically buy organic potatoes so I thought I’d give it a whirl. Fortunately twice now I’ve discovered forgotten potatoes in the pantry with some hefty eyes on them. In one case I was able to simply cut the eyes out, store them in a brown paper bag, and use the potatoes for dinner. The other time they were way too far gone to be eaten. This afternoon I planted those whole. No waste here!

Planting Potatoes in Hay

Ever heard of planting potatoes in hay? The benefit is that its easy to “mound” the potatoes with more soil (ok, hay really) and its super easy to dig the potatoes up when they are ready to harvest. The danger in planting with hay (or straw) is that you have to make sure the potatoes stay covered so that no light gets to them. Potatoes exposed to too much sun will go green and become toxic. (Don’t eat green potatoes!) I planted our “experimental” potatoes in 1 foot deep holes outside the Main Garden fence and piled on about 8-10" of composted waste hay from Nacho’s (the bunny) cage. Nacho’s hay (and poo) has been composting all winter in a special bin. I think the recent sunshine has kicked the process into overtime because a good deal of it has already turned into soil.

planting potato in hay

This potato started sprouting in our pantry. Now its growing underneath composted waste hay.

At any rate, here’s a video about how and why to plant potatoes in hay.

Keeping Taters Safe from Critters

I’ve done some research about what deer will and won’t eat. Turns out – during cold weather when plants are scarce – they’ll eat anything green they can get to. During more abundant seasons, there are some things they’ll avoid, including onions and garlic. I’m interested in growing lots of storage potatoes this year but just don’t have the kind of room I need in our raised beds. So I decided to do a little experiment and place a few potato plants between sections of garlic. So now on the west side of the Main Garden I have alternating plantings along the fence – about four feet of garlic (which is coming up beautifully already!) and about four feet of potato plants (1 per square foot).  I plan to direct seed a few scallions in with the potatoes for extra insurance. Here’s hoping these city deer won’t get too curious!

young spring garlic

Our garlic is coming up! It’s going to be a good spring.

Anyone out there have advice on how to best grow potatoes? Have you tried planting in hay or straw? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Did you enjoy this article? Visit www.arcadia-farms.net for more info on eating healthy, saving money and buying locally.   

 
 
RSS feed for Arcadia Farms blog. Right-click, copy link and paste into your newsfeed reader

Calendar


Search


Navigation


Topics


Feeds


BlogRoll