Thursday, April 26, 2012

Agent Orange Corn

I just heard of a very concerning event. The USDA is on the verge of approving a genetically engineered corn which can withstand the powerful chemical 2,4-D. This is one of the defoliant chemical components of Agent Orange. Agent Orange has been linked to "birth defects, cancer, and other health problems." (webThere is an opportunity for you to give critical feedback to the USDA by Friday, April 27, 2012. I stand in opposition of this technology being released to the gene pool.

If this gene modification is approved, a host of chemical companies are working on follow up species. The first two already in work are soy and cotton. "Of the 20 genetically engineered crops awaiting government approval, 13 are intended to be resistant to one or more herbicides." (web) Just as we saw with the exponential use of Round Up, I fear these even more powerful chemicals will dramatically rise in use. This is not the way to confront the weed problem! Already there is a weed that has shown genetic resistance to 2,4-D.

The effect is many fold:
  1. Genetic modification to the plant which could stimulate allergic response just from tampering with the corn genes.
  2. Increase in the use of the chemical 2,4-D is virtually guaranteed. This will build up in the environment and could affect other vegetable crops.
  3. 2,4-D resistance substances made by the gene, and/or the broken down sub-components of the drenching of the plant in 2,4-D would be residuals on the corn. The inserted gene allows the plant to break down 2,4-D. Who is to say the sub parts are any better for our health? Corn is used in a lot of American food, and these substances WILL make it into the food supply.
  4. 2,4-D volatilizes, and could affect land miles away from the sprayed crop as noted here. (web)

I encourage you to act.

The USDA is open to your feedback for a limited time. You can submit your feedback here:!submitComment;D=APHIS-2010-0103-0001


Sunday, April 22, 2012


Onions with potatoes are a wonderful fit, both in the skillet and in the garden. We have tried yellow, white and red onions, and it seems we always come back for the yellow ones. They store better than whites or reds, and storage is a big factor for us, since we cant eat hundreds of pounds of unions all at one time.

Last year we started from onion sets, which are small onion bulbs, and had over 50% make seed pods. This year I am trying onion plants in stead. The theory here is that it takes a lot of energy to make the seed pod, and if this can be avoided, you will have larger production toward the onion bulb. Another factor is that the seed stalk rising from the onion causes it to spoil faster. Since onions go to seed on the second year, if the onion set is too large, or undergoes unusual temperature extremes, it may think the planting is the second year, and go to seed. I am hoping that using plants will completely solve the issue this year.

When onions are first planted, their growth is concentrated on new roots and green leaves or tops. The onion will first form a top and then when a specific combination of daylight, darkness, and temperature is reached, bulb formation starts.

"The size of the onion bulb is dependent upon the number and size of the green leaves or tops at the time of bulb maturity. For each leaf there will be a ring of onion; the larger the leaf, the larger the ring will be. The onion will first form a top and then, depending on the onion variety and length of daylight, start to form the bulb. Onions are characterized by day length; "long-day" onion varieties will quit forming tops and begin to form bulbs when the daylength reaches 14 to 16 hours while "short-day" onions will start making bulbs much earlier in the year when there are only 10 to 12 hours of daylight. A general rule of them is that "long-day" onions do better in northern states (north of 36th parallel) while "short-day" onions do better in states south of that line." (web)

Planting suggestions

Onion plants are hardy and can withstand temperatures as low as 20 degrees F. They should be set out 4 to 6 weeks prior to the date of the last average spring freeze. Set plants out approximately one inch deep with a 4 to 6 inch spacing. We set rows in a bed, and space the rows 8 to 12 inches apart. We mark out a 4 foot bed, and have 4 rows in the bed.

Onions are not very good at supressing weed growth, and regular weeding will be needed to protect your crop yield. We have tried adding leaf compost and another year straw to the bed. These items help, but hand weeding seem a needed action on our farm. Always hand-weed any weeds close to your onions as they are easily damaged by garden tools.

Companion plants

Onions do well in companion planting, assisting nightshades and brassicas. If you are having pest pressure on the onions themselves, carrots can help confuse attacking insects. (web)

  • Onion information (web)

Thursday, April 19, 2012


Potatoes are a staple of our family. They are perhaps my favorite vegetable, and this year, we are growing a lot of them. By planting a lot of them, I am going to have to build a root cellar this fall to store all our harvest.

We have always enjoyed potatoes from the store, but when we grew our own for the first time, it was like an explosion of soft, tender flavor. "Wow" could be heard over and over around our table. Our youngest boy wondered if he had been transported to potato paradise. "These are the best potatoes ever!" I hope I have encouraged you to try growing potatoes. They are simple to grow, and don't take a lot of work to maintain till harvest. We had no pest pressure last year, and we are moving this years planting location to the other side of the garden. We hope if there was a potato beetle that we did not see, its larva will die before finding the location of the new crop.


There are many varieties of potatoes. We have only tried a few, and will branch out over time to try more. If you are new at potatoes, try what other area gardeners suggest works well in your area. I suggest you get certified virus free seed potatoes. It is possible to plant again from your own stock, but I hear that the size of the potatoes will diminish over time if you have virus buildup.

Our history for 2012

April 19, planted:

Yukon Gold       75#
Red Pontiac         7#

We have found that 7# of red potatoes took up 80 feet of row space (one row). Also planted 50# of Yukon Gold, and we ended up with 4 additional rows of 80 feet. We have yet 25# to plant.

July 17: Counted up the potato early harvest: 560 lbs. This represents 6/10 of our planted rows,15 bushels. We sorted all of the potatoes and only the firm, uncut and completely dry potatoes went into the seller for longer term storage. Our rows are 90' and 6 rows equals 540 feet, yielding just over a pound of potatoes per foot of planted row.

When harvesting potatoes, we found some of the seed potatoes still intact, but soft or spoiling. We took care to sort these out of our harvest, to not spoil the new harvest.

August 2: Attempted a fall planting, by planting 1/2 bu of sprouting potatoes. We will see how this goes.

November 4: The second planting survived the early October frosts with just some slight leaf burn, but were dead by the end of October. We harvested perhaps 4 bu from the second planting. They were fine potatoes, but since the plants did not die down on their own, I think an earlier planting date would have been helpful to the yield.


It is suggested that you plant your potatoes about 2 weeks before your last frost. Potatoes can withstand some cooler temps, but not prolonged or hard freezing.

Potatoes can be planted in hills or rows. Last year we tried hills, and we did not have as dense or complete production as we would have had with a row. So, after testing it out, rows is our planting format of choice from now on. You set the seed potatoes 18 to 24" apart within the row, and set the rows from 3 to 5 feet apart.

We have a 3 point implement called a "middle buster" for setting a planting furrow. It will also work perfectly for digging the potatoes in the fall. We have seen this tool demonstrated by a friend last fall. We started with a straight track in the field, and then returned for the next pass and drove the wheel down in the previous track. This resulted in the furrows being just over 3 foot apart, which is perfect for potatoes.

Prior to planting, you can chit the seed potatoes by setting them in a warmer location, out of direct sun light. this will encourage the eyes to sprout, and speed up the early growth process. If you have sprouts, point the sprouts upwards. These will be stems for the plant. If you have large potatoes with several developing eyes, you can slice the potato into sections around each eye. Then each section can be planted on its own. If you do slice the seed potatoes, allow them to sit out for several days for the cut surface to harden a scab. This will help prevent rot that may happen if the cut potato was immediately planted.


Virus blight and insects are potato crop killers. Crop rotation will help in both cases.

Companion plants

Beans, cabbage, corn, and horseradish are excellent companion plants. Some even claim these make the potatoes taste better.

Tansy, nasturtium, coriander, and catnip planted nearby repel Colorado potato beetle.

Interplant potatoes with lettuce, scallions, radishes, and spinach. All of these crops mature fast and will be harvested long before the potatoes are ready to harvest.

What not to plant with potatoes

Avoid planting potatoes with tomatoes, sunflowers, raspberries, pumpkins, squash, and cucumbers. These plants may encourage blight.

Don't plant potatoes in an area that has been planted with any other Solanaceous crops in the last three+ years. This includes tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant.

Family story

Family history has passed down this true story: My great grandfather was Irish and a potato farmer in Iowa. At harvest, he had a wagon piled high of good sized potatoes, and with his horse team he pulled the load into town. Stopping by the grocery, he inquired as to how many potatoes he could sell.

The grocer came out to the street and said, "I won't buy any of your potatoes, not a one! These large Irish potatoes have a holes in them. My customers do not like the hollow space in their potatoes, and I will buy none from you!" My great grand father as convincingly replied, "Not a one of my potatoes has a hole!"  He picked a large potato from the pile, and taking his knife, sliced the potato in half. There to his dismay was a very large void -- a hole in his potato.

The story goes that he said nothing more, but got on the wagon and drove to another grocery. I would guess he limited his claims from then on.


Thursday, April 12, 2012


Strawberries are a great food for your garden. Not only are they easy to grow but they don't require a lot of space. And the strawberries are oh so tasty. I suggest you plant varieties that work well for other area farmers, as some varieties will not grow well in all areas.

Soil requirements and planting

Strawberries love a soil pH in the range of 5.5 to 6.5. Work the planting bed into a fine fluff, and mark out the plant placement.

For a matted row bed, set the plants 18 - 24 inches apart along the row. Space the rows 3 1/2 to 4 feet apart. We leave a 2 foot walking path which we keep clear of spreading strawberry plants with a rototiller.

Plant care

Strawberries have shallow roots, and they should not be allowed to dry out. They need 1-2 inches of water a week, especially when fruit is setting.

Mulching is often placed in the spring and again in the fall after the first freeze to prevent heaving of the plants out of the soil.

Varieties we have chosen to plant in 2012

Ozark Beauty   50 plants
Honeoye          50 plants
Earliglow          50 plants