Archived Story

Tickling potatoes, other tips help your garden grow well

Published 3:37am Monday, July 15, 2013 Updated 5:42am Monday, July 15, 2013

Petunia put Bunkey in charge of raising vegetables, she does the flowers. That being the case, you would have found Bunkey on his hands and knees these early mornings, mulching the garden.

He first lays four to six layers of damp newspapers between the rows then covers them in leaves. The newspapers have been marinating outside the back door since he started collecting them around Halloween.

He bundles them up and hopes he has enough damp papers by spring to cover the garden.

The leaves have been piled behind a fence all winter, too. To get enough, he regularly picks up his neighbors’ leaves. It takes him about 20 hours to completely mulch the garden. He is willing to do the work now so he can go fishing and forget the garden the rest of the summer.

The only weeding that will need to be done are weeds that pop up in the vegetable rows and they can be pulled as he is harvesting. He is not a lazy gardener, he just hates working in the garden when it is 95 above with matching humidity as often happens in the summer. There are better ways to spend those days. Inside an air conditioned house reading for instance.

While he is busy hauling papers and leaves, Petunia is cutting the flower stalks off the iris and removing some of the taller seed heads of the columbine. This not only makes the gardens look neater, it ensures blooms next year. Growing and ripening seeds takes a lot of energy from a plant. We want blooms not seed-heads.

She leaves about half the seed heads on the columbines. Goldfinches love the seeds and spread them as they feed ensuring more flowers next spring with no effort on Petunia’s part. She usually has a heavy mulch on the flower beds too, but leaves a few bare spots for the birds to plant.

Both Bunkey and Petunia love new potatoes so as soon as the plants bloom, she sends Bunkey to the garden to “tickle” the spuds. You have never heard of this trick? It’s easy. Simply stick your fingers in the soft soil around the potato until you feel a spud.

Dig out one or two from each plant until you have enough to eat. The plant will continue to grow new tubers and you can not only have new spuds all summer, you will still have a fall crop. Not as big perhaps, but you can enjoy treats all summer.

Since Petunia is not fond of “supplemental protein”, that is worms, in her cabbage plants, Bunkey covers the new cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower plants with a floating row cover as soon as he plants and mulches them.

The edges are anchored with metal “hairpins” — a U shape that is stuck in the edges of the row cover. Now the cabbage butterflies can’t get at the plants to lay eggs, so, no worms. The covers can be used for many years if they don’t get torn.

To prevent tomato diseases, Bunkey mulches the new plants as soon as they are planted. A three pound coffee can with both ends cut out is stuck over all new plants for about 10 days or until they are strongly rooted.

This keeps them from being wind whipped and dried out or broken before they get established.

Try a few of Bunkey’s tricks to make your garden less work and a lot more enjoyable.

 

Bev Johnson is the master gardener for Otter Tail County.

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