Weekend gardening, Weekend 27 & 28 January 2019

After a week of record heatwave conditions in our region, this weekend was about repair work, mostly. About half the tomato bushes were pretty much dead, so we picked off the tomatoes that were left on them, and pulled the bushes up. I pruned the dead leaves off the other bushes, and we watered them well.

Half my potted plants died, including all of our window boxes on the balcony. We watered the poor darlings twice a day, but the hottest day in half a century did them in. We also lost some of the plants under the fully shaded patio; this gives you an idea of the intensity of the heat.

My baby avocado tree may still die. It’s previously chirpy new leaves now resemble pot pourri, making for one very sad gardener and an even sadder tree. I am hoping that ongoing watering will bring it back. It is shaded, but alas – see above re hottest day in half a century.

Our two mornings in the garden weren’t all doom and gloom. We had a gorgeous garden helper on one day, my three year old niece, who helped me pick corn and started digging out our potato crop. She informed me that she “doesn’t like eating ‘tatoes, but I do like gardening ‘tatoes.” We spend an enjoyable half an hour digging spuds until she announced that it was very hard work and she had had enough. We went inside and ate freshly picked sweet corn for lunch, followed by cupcakes with rainbow sprinkles as a reward for all our hard work.

The following day, my husband and I continued our spud harvesting. We planted Red Otway potatoes in October 2018. We do the traditional trench planting method, hilling up the plants with soil and sugar cane mulch as they grow. We stop hilling up once we have run out of soil and have calculated the cost of the mulch is not worth the amount of spuds we can possibly get.

Digging up spuds is a dicey affair. You have to be careful not to cut them with your spade. Our method is to dig around the base of the plant carefully (see above), exposing the tuberous treasure below. My niece was quite delighted to find tiny potatoes still clinging to the roots of the plants after I dug up the large potatoes, and made me pull off and keep every tiny spud.

This was our second year growing potatoes. In 2017 we harvested the week before Christmas, and our potato crop was prolific, but small in size. This year we waited another five weeks and were rewarded with much larger potatoes (similar weight crop). We planted only one variety this year, choosing the Red Otway variety because it had performed the best for us in 2017. From 1 kilogram of certified seed potatoes, we harvested 10 kilograms of potatoes.

A former colleague informed me that growing potatoes is a waste of time and money, given they are so cheap to buy. I probably can’t argue with his overall economic assessment, as he is much smarter and definitely richer than me. Potatoes certainly could not be described are as a cheap crop for the home gardener. They require an investment in certified seed potatoes, mulch, fertiliser, a lot of space in your garden, and water during warmer months. But I still enjoy growing them. It is almost impossible to buy really fresh potatoes in the shops, and new potatoes taste wonderful. Growing your own also enables you to grow varieties you might not be able to find in the shops. Red Otway is a lovely potato, that is not commonly found. Lastly, it’s fun. Sitting outside in the sunshine with a three year old as she sits in a big pile of dirt searching for hidden treasures is just a great time, even if she doesn’t like eating ‘tatoes (she refuses to believe chips are ‘tatoes).

This brings me to my second harvest of the weekend, Painted Mountain Corn. This ancient variety is hundreds of years old, and is grown for maize and for popping. I grew it for fun and interest, and because I like to help continue endangered heirloom varieties.

I picked the corn once the husks had dried on the stalks, and dried it in the oven on a low temperature. I was stripping the kernels from the cobs and showing my youngest child, a teenager of 14, and explaining that we will be able to pop it on the weekend. I was telling them the history of this corn, and how continuing to grow corn like this contributes to the genetic diversity of the planet.

They stared at me for a long moment, listening to the ‘plink plink’ go the kernels falling into the tray.

“You are such a hipster. Even worse. You’re a nerd hipster.”

Correction: a nerd hipster with a jar of rainbow popcorn.

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