November 29, 2015

Garden Review 2015: Sunchokes, Potatoes, and Other Roots

These were the most successful root crop I grew this year. I planted two purple tubers from Food Forest Farm, I think in mid-May. One tuber in each of two 60x60cm raised boxes with lined bottoms in the front yard. Originally these were built for potatoes, but the soil there is taking a break from nightshades for a couple years.

The plants came up fast and thick from the tubers like an express delivery of JUNGLE.

They quickly buried the other plants in the boxes with them. I was expecting them to flower when other sunflowers were out in late summer since they are in the same family. But they waited until mid fall to put their attractive yellow blooms out.

Seeing them grow and flower allowed me to identify some wild ones along the bike path, and sample those tubers.

The boxes get tons of sun and have good air circulation. But for some reason almost whatever I have in them gets powdery mildew to some degree. It devastated the curcubits I had planted there last year, and also afflicted the J chokes but not nearly as severely. I don't think it had much impact on their production of tubers, such was the vigor of these beasts.

In late October the plants had yet to die back but I was digging potatoes in the front yard with the kids and my mom and decided to yank one up and see what was hiding in the soil. Holy moly! The lush bush of a plant had a veritable medusa head of tubers dripping from it when I pulled it!

I took up the other plant and we pulled off most of the tubers. This is a lot of food from two plants. I'm impressed. After washing, this is what we had (keep in mind it is a little kid's wheelbarrow).

 I guess the increase from planting to harvest was maybe 30x or even 50x, an enviable level for any crop. I get maybe 4x with potatoes and something like that from wheat as well, but with a lot more fuss.

So given how easy these were to grow and that they made substantial amount of actual food in a way that a pile of greens can't compete with, I am moved to try to like eating them more. They are just not as good as a potato or even a rutabaga. Fortunately I don't experience the digestive distress associated with their inulin content that many people seem to suffer, which explains their nickname of "fartichokes". But still, they are limited in their culinary appeal.

Raw and fresh they have a nice snappy texture, but nothing special in the taste department. Roasted, they get a bit mushy and are not amazing, though certainly edible. You can peel, boil, and mash, and they are not bad that way especially when mixed with potatoes. Peeling them is a royal pain however.

They went into an open box in the basement for a couple weeks for storage, and when I took them out many of them had already started rotting. Anyone have some good advice on how to store them, besides in the fridge? Maybe next year I'll try fermenting some in brine.

Given how rampant they grew, and how many tiny tubers I must have left in the soil when I took them up, I'm glad I confined them to these boxes and didn't put them in some other area I hope to use for anything else ever again. I could easily see it being a constant battle to reclaim an area from this plant after growing it there for one season.

Crosnes/Chinese Artichokes/Mint Root
I was pretty excited to eat these, and figured they would grow well since they are in the mint family. Early in the season they came up and grew well in the boxes with sunchokes and groundnuts (all from Food Forest Farm), but they were overrun with the sunchokes and struggled after that. You can see them to the side of the sunchokes in the early summer pic above. When I pulled them up I did see some tiny signs of tubers but none bigger than a pea. So at least when grown with sunchokes, it is a fail.

One did not come up. The other one did and climbed up it's companion sunchoke for a time. You can barely see it in this picture.

Eventually I could no longer find it in the dense sunchoke thicket. When I dug up the box, there were no signs of anything except sunchokes. So maybe it got shaded out and didn't make any tubers. This companion planting/guild thing seems more difficult than it sounded in the permaculture books...

I think I'll give them another try, next year from Fedco.

After reading Carol Deppe's book The Resilient Gardener, I was inspired to put more emphasis on potatoes and corn.

So I set aside quite a bit of space in various beds, all of which were planted later in the season but side by side with the spring greens. I put in the seed potatoes between the greens in early May. All of them were German Butterball. In the front the plants jumped up and grew fast along with the remaining greens.

After the greens came out, I put hay over the rest of the bed to keep down weeds and keep in moisture. Here are the two patches of potatoes in the grain maze beds in back.

I overestimated the amount of seed tubers I needed, and gave away the extras to neighbors and anyone interested at work. At the end of the season several people graciously gave me some of the potatoes they grew from that seed.

The plants got big, especially in front, and made some potato berries which I can't recall seeing before.

The ones in back didn't do quite as well, but did grow with reasonable success, especially for that challenging location.

One lovely fall day in late October, after Buster and Millie cut up a fallen tree branch, we dug the tubers. Buster likes to use the biggest saw I've got, a large ryoba, though last night he told me he's too good for saws now and wants use use an axe instead.

Millie and my mom helped collect the potatoes as I brought them up with a fork.

The plants were long dead and dried up, so I'm sure I could have dug them sooner. But we also get a CSA, and they had been giving us quite a few potatoes, so I let these lie until later. But I'm thinking I could have maybe run some fast fall greens in those beds if I had dug the potatoes at the earliest opportunity.

There are many small potatoes, but that is typical for me. No real disease or insect issues. They did grow better and make more and bigger tubers in the front yard box than in the grain maze beds, but the disparity was not as pronounced as it was for the spring greens planted in both spots.

The carrots didn't start as well as last year, I think because of the relatively dry spring. I wasn't as attentive about watering over the long period it takes carrot seed to germinate. Though in the end we got a decent amount of carrots. When you get down to it, there are not that many things better than carrots.

Buster wanted a little space to grow his own carrots, so he took a little 1/3 meter space between the tomato trellis and the center terrace walk. Violet planted carrots in the front of her 1 meter square.

And I put down carrots in the front of the two squares hosting the tomatoes at their north edge. We probably had about two square meters of carrots in all. You can see why I was not optimistic about the carrots in the photo below.

We tried three different types of carrots this year. Caracas, Atlas, and pelleted Laguna seed, all from Johnny's. The Atlas (a little ball type carrot) did not grow that well and the couple which got to any size had an issue with splitting. Here is Violet's plot with the carrots to the left, probably mid June. She used mostly Laguna with a few Atlas. Strawberries, Sea Kale, Comfrey, and Lovage in background to the left. Lavender to the right, basil and corn in the same bed as the carrots. Next bed to the rear has asparagus (or should have it, but is pretty bare in this photo), and this year garlic and leeks.

Caracas was better performing than Atlas, but not as good as Laguna. I don't know if it was the variety or the fact that the seed was pelleted, but the Laguna grew best and made the most roots. In any case the pelleting made it easier for the kids to plant and it needed less thinning.

Carrots are great for the kids because unlike radishes they like to eat them. They love to pull them up and wash them too.

We picked a few in late spring, but then I had sort of lowered my expectations for the carrots and just didn't think about them for a while. Finally we pulled the rest up in August, and I was surprised by how big they had gotten, without being woody. You can see some good sized Caracas towards the front here.

After eating some fresh and putting more in the fridge for near term use, I put these in the basement in my meat aging chamber.

We did use most of them up, but I don't think the meat aging chamber was good for storing them. This is what the stragglers looked like by fall (dumped in the compost bowl).

As I mentioned in the greens post for this season, we planted quite a lot of Shunkyo Long in spring, but the roots were all destroyed by some bug, I think root maggots. We also planted a few Easter Egg, which mostly came out ok.

I was inspired by pictures of Skirret fries and so got two plants from Food Forest Farm. I put them in the corners of the square occupied by the Lovage on the east side of the terrace. They did ok, I guess probably better than average for the grow-challenged east side of the yard. When I dug them in the fall though, the roots were tiny, so I replanted them in the Lovage square on the west side of the terrace. We'll see if they get anywhere by next fall.

As discussed in the greens post, I planted a dual purpose beet (Early Wonder Tall Top) in mid-summer. In front I put them where I had pod radish in the spring, and in back I put them where the garlic had been. We got some roots from them, though not a ton.

As I mentioned in the greens post I grew these from some starts I got off the forum. The ones in the micro-orchard did great; too great actually so I'm planning on moving them in the spring. Here is one flopping down in fall, on top of some nearby leeks. It really is a big plant.

I dug one from the orchard, but it broke not too far down; probably will be trying to grow back like mad next year. Guess I should have dug it more before pulling it up. Here is Millie toting it around the back yard.

And Buster cutting the leaves off.

We cleaned up the root and put it in the fridge. It is zingy!

The ones I put in the maple sidebar all came up but eventually died. Sheesh, what is it about that maple sidebar?

Over thanksgiving we hauled and spread a 3 yard delivery of compost I bought in from Cambridge Bark & Loam. My arms, shoulders, and back right now can affirm that a 3 yard pile is quite a bit of organic material! Luckily I had helpers.

We layered it on to that maple sidebar, so hopefully after a couple years of that it will respond.


Anonymous said...

Hey Holly - thanks so much for good company and the tour of your garden last weekend! If you run out of space you're welcome to plant stuff at Stroudwater or Five Islands.

WendyM said...

Hi Holly, love to see your garden blog. I was mentioned in 2012 as source of potato AKT. If you got potato berries, they are called True potato seeds, you can grow them and make new potato varieties. A way of having self-reliance~ (WendyM)

Holly Gates said...

Hey Wendy, great to hear from you! Yes, you definitely got me into potatoes so thanks for that. Actually I had a bunch of extra seed potatoes last season so I gave them away and got four or five people to grow them in my neighborhood and at work.

I had not seen seeds on any of the potatoes I grew so far until the ones this year on German Butterball. I've order Nicola to plant this season from Maine Potato Lady. Perhaps if they make seeds I'll try planting some.