Year-Round Growing Guide- February
As we leave the January chill behind, the days are starting to lengthen. Moving towards the equinox, many US zones now have enough daily sunlight to start crops without the use of supplemental lighting. February marks the return of roughly 10 hours of daylight, and is a great time to start your year-round growing plan. This month, we start growing potatoes and sage- no seeds involved!
Potatoes can be started outdoors under cover or indoors in containers soon. Potatoes like full sun and fertile, well-drained soil. To prepare for outdoor potato planting, you’ll want to ready your garden plot by digging the site thoroughly and incorporating plenty of well-rotted organic matter and high-potash fertilizer. A slightly acidic soil is best but not essential; potatoes can thrive in a wide range of soils. If your soil is more alkaline, a light application of sulfur will help establish healthy plants.
For indoor planting, you’ll want to select and order your containers. Each plant will need 10 liters, or just over 2.5 gallons, to grow into. A standard household garbage can-sized container can hold around four plants, and there are grow bags of various sizes that are handy to use as well. Whatever container you use, be sure there are adequate drainage holes to allow excess water to freely drain away.
As important as the container, choose what type potato to grow. First and second early varieties are best for container growing, and harvest before most diseases can take hold. Salad potatoes, ‘Charlotte’, ‘Lady Christl,’ ‘Rocket,’ and nutty-flavored ‘Anya’ are great selections that do well both in and out of the ground.
How to chit potatoes
For early potato crops, we recommend chitting from seed potatoes. Start with seed potatoes and sprout them for planting to encourage a head start. Place them in a shallow container, such as an egg carton or seed tray, blunt end up, in a cool, bright window. Some growing guides recommend chitting in a dark place at room temperature, but we have found that thicker shoots sprout when there is more light and the temperature isn’t too high.
When the shoots are near a half-inch long, cut your seed potato into chunks containing at least 1 thick, sturdy shoot (preferably two) and lay them on racks to heal and dry. Once a skin has formed over the cut parts, usually in 3 to 4 days, the potatoes are ready to plant.
Growing Potatoes Outdoors
Once your chitting process is complete, you’ll be ready to plant outdoors or in containers. Potatoes prefer fertile, loose, well-drained soil at a soil pH of 5.2-6.0.
For growing potatoes outdoors, dig a 4-inch depth trench and place your seed potatoes with the shoot pointed upwards. Fill the trench, and fertilize as recommended above.
To protect young potatoes from frost, which can blacken tender shoots, recover with soil as soon as stems emerge above ground. When the stems reach a height of approximately 5-inches, mound more dirt over them again to stop tubers near the soil surface from turning green. This is called hilling, and helps to keep sunlight from reaching the tubers. Hilling in the morning, when plants are at their tallest, will help support the plant and keep your growing potatoes from getting sunburned. Sunlight on the tubers causes them to turn green and produce a chemical called solanine, which is bitter and toxic.
Growing Potatoes in Containers
A deep container is ideal for growing potatoes year-round, particularly early potato varieties. Drainage will be helped by adding some material such as a pot, broken brick or ceramic, or even polystyrene to your container then fill with about 4 inches of soil or medium. Standard multipurpose potting soil works well, but can be expensive. A mix of soil from your garden, potting mix, and compost will save money and stretch your resources.
Space your seed potatoes, with sprouts upright, evenly in the container. Cover with 4 inches more if soil mix, and begin to tend as you would outdoor potato plants. As the shoots grow, continue to add layers of potting medium to shield tubers from the sun.
Watering Potato Plants
Unless there’s plenty of rain, outdoor potatoes will need to be watered well while tubers are developing. An even amount of moisture is important. Too much water right after planting and not enough as the potatoes begin to form, can result in misshapen tubers. From the time when sprouts appear until several weeks after they blossom, the plants will need approximately 1 to 2 inches of water per week. Irrigate thoroughly when needed, allow the soil to dry out somewhat before watering again.
Growing potatoes in containers will also require an even watering schedule. While outdoor plants can reach down to chase valuable soil moisture, their container plants are dependent upon your care. See to hand watering the plants as they grow, and particularly once the foliage has filled out. Actively growing plants will also benefit from liquid nutrients during their growing time; we like organic fertilizer such as seaweed extract.
Health Benefits of Potatoes
Potatoes are a healthy diet staple, in spite of current trends towards low-carb eating. They contain dietary fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals which support immunity, lower inflammation, and help maintain bones.
Potatoes are rich in iron, phosphorous, calcium, magnesium, and zinc. These aid in building and maintaining bone structure and strength. Iron and zinc also play crucial roles in the production and maturation of collagen.
Potassium, calcium, and magnesium are also found in potatoes. These are key to decreasing blood pressure. Potassium encourages vasodilation, or widening of the blood vessels. The potatoes’ significant fiber content helps lower the total amount of cholesterol in the blood. Vitamin C and vitamin B6 content also help decrease the risk of heart disease.
Antioxidants, choline, and folate are also present in potatoes, and affect the body’s DNA repairing abilities, muscle movement, mood, learning, memory, and nerve impulse transmission.
How to Grow Sage
Both of our suggestions for this week’s year-round growing plan are best not grown from seed. Sage can take over a year to establish from seed, so we instead suggest propagation by layering or cutting from a mother plant.
To layer sage, you need mature plant. Bend a side branch down to the soil, then attach with a landscape staple, allowing air to circulate. The branch will soon develop roots, and can be severed from the mother to transplant.
To grow sage from a cutting, use an actively growing branch. Cut a piece 3 to 4 inches from the tip and strip off the leaves. Insert your cutting into a growing medium, and keep the cuttings moist. You’ll have established roots when your cuttings start to develop new leaves.
When rooted, plant sage in full sun outdoors, or in your sunniest container location. Plant in well-draining soil. Sage won’t tolerate sitting in wet soil, so soil type is extremely important. Young plants enjoy frequent watering until they are fully grown. They’ll need a consistent moisture supply until they start growing quickly. Soil temperatures should be between 60º and 70ºF.
Sage companion plants well with rosemary, cabbage, and carrots, but keep sage away from cucumbers.
Health Benefits of Sage
Sage is one of many herbs with extremely high antioxidant capacities and anti-inflammatory, antifungal, and antimicrobial effects. Recent studies have also shown promise that sage could positively impact cognitive skills, improve memory, and protect against neurological disorders.
Sage may reduce the amount of glucose in the blood. A 3-month study of diabetes patients with high cholesterol had the results of lower fasting glucose, lower average glucose levels, and lower total cholesterol, triglyceride, and levels of harmful cholesterol. However, the participants had increased levels of HDL or “good” cholesterol.
Researchers also conducted a double-blind clinical trial on 80 individuals with poorly controlled type 2 diabetes. This trial found that sage caused a positive effect on blood sugar levels, and suggests sage leaves may have anti-hyperglycemic and lipid-profile-improving effects.
Finally, sage and other flavorful herbs are an easy way to season a healthy meal. By replacing salt with fresh herbs, you can easily make a lifestyle choice that lowers your sodium intake. Growing fresh food year-round will give you access to the freshest herbs and ingredients. This makes healthy life choices easier than ever.
Furthering your growing season
Spring is coming soon! Now’s the time to stock up on supplies for spring and summer. Gothic Arch Greenhouses is ready to help, with ground cover, containers, shade cloth, irrigation, benching, and of course, greenhouses for growers of every sort. Give us a call today if we can help you get ready for this growing season, 1-800-531-4769. Happy growing!