Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Dirty Treasures

Few things are better than a baked potato topped with sour cream, shredded cheese, bacon, and chopped chives or onions. For me at least. I love baked potatoes, and down here, the Aussies have shops that will make them. Often they're called jacket potatoes, and they'll be piled high with sour cream, cheese, chopped onion, bacon, even pineapple, corn, or marinara sauce, depending on where you go and what you ask for. They are seriously hard to beat when you've got a rumble in your belly, and are seriously addictive (well, for at least a week or two).

So that brings me down to the actual subject: the humble potato. 

What would we do without the potato? I personally would be an unhappy camper if I had to go without (though they say you can't miss what you've never had... or something like that). Without the potatoes we wouldn't have oh... potato chips (crisps), fries (chips), hash browns, potato noodles (otherwise known as glass noodles, they are made with potato flour or starch or something and they are translucent and jelly like and although they look like alien brains, they are freaking awesome in stir fries!) We wouldn't have potatoes to go with the roast beast for Christmas, or mashed potatoes to put beside the turkey at Thanksgiving, or home fries to have at breakfast on the weekends. You'd have to find something else to make that beef stew tasty, and there would be no shepherds pie without the mashed potato topping.

So, early on in the planning stages of my gardening adventures (or fiascoes) I decided that we should attempt to grow potatoes. This was encouraged by the first really big investment in gardening: the renting of two plots in the local community garden. They're each about 12x18, and they provide plenty of space for three adults to grow plenty of food for themselves throughout the spring, summer and fall. My plan was that these gardening spaces would be supplemented by what I could grow around the house, so between the three spaces, I should have plenty to store for the cold seasons.

So, if you don't know much about growing potatoes, it's pretty simple. The tuber (the part you eat) is what you plant. You leave the tuber in a dry, warm place without light to "chit" (sprout from the eyes). All potatoes, when left in our larder, will sprout, even the ones from the store, so I bought two sacks of seed potatoes (Dutch Creams and Kennebecs), and left them to chit in the kitchen. I think I had covered them with some paper just to eliminate the light, and I then let them be for a few weeks.

The potato, now, is in the same family as tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers (capsicums). They're all nightshades, so that means those who are allergic to or sensitive to nightshades should avoid them. It also means the plants are somewhat toxic (but, they are perfectly safe to throw on the compost pile.) Also, you should never eat the little fruits the potato plants bear. I dunno what they'll do to you, but if you eat them and die, I'll only say "I told ya so!" Only eat the potato part.

Now that your potatoes have little sprouts on them, you can plant them. Plant them in well turned earth (makes it easier for them to grow, and make sure it's well fertilized. Well rotted animal poo that was turned in at the end of last season should do the trick. Rake up some hills and trenches. Swear at yourself when you accidentally step in the middle of one as you work and have to rake it up again. Then, when you've got all that finished, in however many rows you want to plant in, fetch your spuds and plant them.

Now, I planted mine in the hills, and let them grow in the loose earth I had raked up. Others reckon you should plant in the trenches, and pull the dirt over the plants as they grow. Whichever way you choose, you'll still get potatoes growing. Throw your spuds in the ground and cover them up with a few inches of soil, water them, and walk away.

Okay, so occasionally you go back and water them. Once or twice a week maybe. For the most part, they take care of themselves. It won't take long for them to grow into impressive looking, dark green plants. They've got oblong leaves, and some even bear flowers. I've had some white and blue flowers on my plants. They're quite pretty in their own right.

As they develop though, they'll start to look pretty sad, disreputable almost, as their green fades into yellow and brown. But that's okay! Because it means harvest time is nearly upon you!

When you do finally get around to harvesting your taters, don't water them for a couple days. I find that's the best, less messy way to do things, because then you're not digging in mud and getting everything gummed up. Start by pulling the plants gently but firmly, straight upward. This usually will dislodge the potatoes, and make them easy to dig up. More often than not though, you'll just pull the green bit off and will be left to dig with your hands. No worries though, it's just dirt.

Now, some people will say to use a garden fork to turn the potatoes out of the ground. Although that is an effective method that doesn't require you getting down on your knees (too often) you also greatly increase your chance of spearing the spuds, thus opening up avenues through which they can go bad, very quickly in some cases, and since most people want to store their potatoes, we'd like to avoid that.

Once you've harvested your potatoes, throw the plants on the compost, let the potatoes out in a single layer to dry in the sun for a bit, and then back into paper bags or cardboard boxes, and store in cool dry places. Don't worry about washing them; just knock the worst of the dirt off, and by "knock" I mean with the gentlest touch, to avoid bruising the tubers. Then, whenever you want them, you'll have potatoes, fresh from your garden, totally organic, UN-sprayed, UN-poisoned, and otherwise wonderfully tasty. :)

Enjoy your dirty treasures!

Living, Learning, Loving

What better way to start a new blog, I suppose, than to introduce oneself? Or, at least, one's character? It's a good way to start, I think. Yes, a good way to start.

So, this morning, I was up way too early again (it's an interesting habit I have developed, this "getting up early"). Anyway, up early and bored- well, not really bored, just not doing anything useful. The usual really: checking Facebook, checking emails, checking forums, chatting with friends. Vaguely wondering what adventure I should undertake to feed myself. That sort of thing.

Ah yes, and here's my first character detail: I ramble, and take forever to get to the point. So, moving on.

I am a California girl (yeah, go ahead, sing that song). I am 24 years old, so still young, if not as spry as I actually should be (I'm working on it). I come from a varied, if somewhat mundane background. Public school kid, local college following art, music, culinary arts, graphic design, web design, etc. Wage slave at a local market (I was the morning baker, and then moved into the coffee bar). I was pretty tired and worn out and depressed after three years of all that.

I escaped from the crazy hamster wheel in 2010, when I married the love of my life and ran away with him (not really though. I'd been planning to move in with him down there, as he had a house an and established job, and because I wanted a little adventure and something new in life.) Although I miss my family and the familiar sights of homes, I love Tasmania (which is a state of Australia, NOT a country in Africa; seriously, some of my relatives thought my husband was a black man when I first told them).

Since I've moved, I've had time to rest, recuperate from the slump the rat race had put me into, and after we got the letter granting me temporary citizenship until they got around to processing my papers, I finally had the time and energy to think about what I actually wanted.

I learned that suddenly, I had a desire to garden. Now, I've always been fascinated by growing things (plants, animals, people). It grew into a desire to grow produce organically, free of poisons and other nasty things. I started looking for and buying heirloom (open pollinated) seeds, and reading the gardening books in the book store. Then I started thinking well, a more natural lifestyle would be better. Then I finally caught on to the fact that oh, the library is a huge resource. 

I started checking books out on all kinds of subjects. Gardening in general, gardening in particular, composting, homesteading in general, animal husbandry, even homeschooling children. Tons of subjects. I swear, I think the library staff run away when they see me come in, because I almost always have my library card maxed out. When I have the books, I read them, pick out the useful bits of information that apply to me, and record them in a note book I keep. Oh, how I love my notebook.

I've started groups, a forum, I've joined forums, I've searched the internet for all sorts of information that would help me on my "self education" goals. I've made new friends with a vast array of skills, and rely on their advice and experience when I have questions, I don't just thirst for knowledge, I hunger for it, want to live for it.

So, what do I do when I'm not cramming my noggin full of cool and useful stuff? I relax. I read, draw, write fiction, watch movies or TV. I also like to think. I think while I cook, while I'm in the garden, while I lie awake in bed, before I fall asleep. I'm always thinking. Thinking is good. It keeps the gears greased and rolling smoothly.

So, that's sorta me in a somewhat sloppy nutshell: Housewife wanting an organic lifestyle, making new friends in a new place, searching for new things.

I leave you all for now with a simple message:

Live, Learn, Love.