Thursday, October 31, 2019

Not much news, but getting closer to harvest.

Sorry, there is still a bit of a lack of news in the potato plot so not much to talk about.

I am relieved that I have not had a repeat of last years terrible aphid attack and part of the reason could be that I had lady bugs descend on the potatoes early this year, and stay.

obviously there must still be enough to keep them fed but there has been no build up in numbers like the ones that nearly destroyed a lot of the plants last season.

I am guessing that I have a month till the first plants are ready to harvest. Looking forward to it.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Flowering is exciting no matter how many years you have been growing

Most of my varieties are starting to flower now, though some that were almost completely thrashed by RLEM have still not recovered and are still just stems with a couple of leaves on top. This never gets old. I am getting excited about my first harvest this season.

 Most of my potatoes are early ones so I will be able to harvest four weeks after they start flowering, not long to go now.

There are a few late ones, like 'Number 13' that has a long dormancy period and is hard to snap out of it that is going to be very late compared to the others. It is worth waiting for though.

Remember my crowded grow bags? They are really filling up now. I will have to water in some fertiliser tomorrow if I am to have any hope of even small tubers. It won't be long before some start putting up flower buds.
This pic was taken a week ago and the plants are powering away.

A few of the bags didn't have tubers that survived the winter so that saves me from selecting them out for being hard to store. I'm not unhappy about that, lol.

Why you should buy your seed potatoes each year
When you grow potatoes it is really tempting to either save some of your crop for replanting, or to just get some cheap spuds from the supermarket to start your crop in spring. Sure, you can do that, but, there is a really good reason why you shouldn't.
It isn't a ruse by nurseries and potato industry to make you buy new seed spuds every year for their own pockets. Potatoes are really prone to a number of really bad diseases, most of which stay in the soil for years and also infest tomatoes. If you get one of these diseases you may not be able to plant solanaceous crops for years, and you risk these diseases spreading to your neighbours who will not appreciate it if they are avid vegetable growers.
If serious potato diseases start spreading via home gardeners there may come a time where the government will step in to ban growing spuds at your home. The potato industry is big business and they have a lot of clout, and will move to protect their industry if they need to.
Supermarket potatoes are allowed to have a much higher build up of disease than certified seed potatoes and since you won't know where they come from planting them is a lottery.
Is it really worth the risk to save a few dollars?
If you think it is worth the risk there are a number of things you can do to protect your vegetable garden. Doing at least one of these tips and constantly checking for disease will help a lot:
* Only replant the largest tubers of your crop -this helps you to see if there is becoming a buildup of viral disease in your potatoes. If you grow the same varieties and in the same way each year and you find that the tubers are getting smaller every year then that is a sign that they are infected with a virus. Keeping the largest helps you see any difference.
* Move your potato crop every year and don't plant in the same spot for at least 3 years. This helps to keep any disease load down
* Plant your potatoes in pots with fresh potting mix each year.
* Don't share potato tubers (for growing) between your neighbours or friends
Keep in mind that there are a couple of diseases that you may find that are unrelated to tubers. Things like scab and hollow heart. Scab is a disease that is naturally found in most soils but in certain conditions, like having alkaline soil it can build up in number to affect your potatoes. It is not dangerous to eat, just doesn't look great. Hollow heart is also related to growing and soil conditions, like alkaline soil and hot weather.
Some varieties are resistant to both of these problems.
Garden Larder potatoes
If you want to buy my new varieties there are a couple of things to keep in mind. Being an independent breeder I am locked out of the certified seed program because it is privatised, but I do get my soil tested for potato diseases each year. My tubers are clean of disease but you should still let me know if you suspect any disease on tubers you have purchased off me.
Because my varieties can't be inspected like certified ones, I have to be very vigilant and keep my biosecurity procedures in place, and that means that I can't show people around my potato patches, sorry.
One last thing, there are videos on Youtube with gardeners comparing their crops of certified vs their own kept seed potatoes. Nearly always they have gotten a noticably bigger crop with the certified seed. This is because of virus build up that you can't see until you measure the harvests. This alone might make it worth buying new seed tubers each year.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Experimenting with different growing techniques

I promised myself that I would do some experiments with different growing techniques this season but I forgot, until I discovered some small sprouted tubers that I forgot to plant a couple of months ago.

These were forgotten in a paper bag in the garage until I accidently kicked it with my foot and they fell out.

I aim to conduct two experiments this year. This first one is growing with three popular methods.

First method is cutting the tuber into pieces with at least one eye in each piece
Unfortunately these were only small tubers, too small for cutting into pieces so I just cut one of the eyes out with a piece of tuber for nourishment.

The second method is to just pick off each of the growing sprouts and pop it into a pot

This can be a fast method of building up stock plants if you only have a few well sprouted tubers but you have to be careful in case the sprout rots.

The third method is the one I do because I can be lazy, it is just to plant the tubers whole.

I popped them in pots to be planted out into the ground when they are growing well and healthy.

The second experiment

The second experiment will be done in a month when I harvest my fist spuds as I don't have any spare now.

I will measure the production of one variety in a number of different types of grow bags, in different spacings (such as one tuber in a grow bag compared to three in the same size and type of bag, and compare them with a plants grown in the ground.

I will also try to make a video of harvesting them to make it easier for you to see how each method works.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Trying to find this pest

Still waiting on the new seedlings to get big enough to get their first transplant, but that is a couple of weeks away yet, so there is not a lot to do at the moment except a bit of weeding.

 Most of the varieties are now getting little flower buds on them now.
Since I have not given them much fertiliser and the soil here is pretty poor the plants are not as big as I would like them to be but I am experimenting to see how they go with little inputs to make it easier to select the best varieties to keep.

Last week I was complaining about an insect that is skeletonising most of my potato plants.

I have tried many things but I can't catch the buggers so I still don't know what they are.

I can't see them on the leaves at any time of the day, I have put down a number of traps (rolled up cardboard and some oil/soy, and honey/soy), and I have spread some snail bait in case it is snails. I haven't caught anything but a couple of baby earwigs, nothing to show me what could be causing such damage.

Many of the plants are so affected that they are stunted and I don't have much faith that they will produce much in the way of tubers.

I haven't had this problem before and if the next crop also gets affected I will have to spray to protect the plants.

At least I have found a few varieties that seem to be resistant to this pest and are growing normally.

Sorry about the short length of this post, there isn't a lot more to talk about at the moment.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Waiting, waiting

This is one of the slow times between work. The tubers are in, the plants are growing, the new seedlings are just germinating and none of these need any care for now.

 Every year my flower colour chart is wrecked by the end of the season but this year I decided to search out my laminator and laminate it. I know it is not something that is hard to do, but I just never get around to it.

The new chart should last a bit longer now, lol.

The colour charts are just another thing for my records - everything to do with each variety, including the flower colour, is recorded on its variety spec sheet. this helps to make sure that similar varieties in the future are not named the same, and people know exactly what they are getting, and how it will grow, planning for harvest times, etc.

I can't see a time when any of my varieties will catch interest from commercial potato growers but there might be a time when one of my varieties gets mixed up with another. This may help sort that out.

My TPS is starting to germinate, a little slower than I expected but no big deal.
I didn't put in many seeds this year due to lack of space but I really love to find new and interesting varieties so I can't help but plant some seed every year.

The seed was also getting a bit old and I didn't want to waste it.

I am hoping to get a lot more seed for sale this year as I had a bad year for seed set last time for no reason I can fathom.

I am going to start keep a lot more varieties from now on, even those I would not normally keep. This is because I have decided to horde genetic diversity for other breeders in the future to use. It is hard to find genetically diverse TPS or tubers in Australia so I will help with that.

Please let me know if you have any questions or comments, especially from those of you who bought TPS from me last year. I see that your seedlings are germinating too and I am happy to help with any problems you might run into.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Too many plants for the space

This morning my trays of TPS started germinating. I was starting to get a bit worried and was thinking that I would have to resow them. I suppose that they are a bit tardy because the nights are still a bit chilly.
Although I won't have room for all the seedlings I still get excited when I think about what I might end up with at the end of the season. I will post a pic of the new seedlings in the trays on Monday.

Last post I mentioned how I just can't keep everything but it is just so hard to throw plants away.
I had a heap of left tubers from plants that I was humming and hahing about whether they were good enough to keep so I temporarily stored the tubers in grow bags till I made up my mind.

I bought these bags back and didn't have the heart to throw them out.

They are now sprouting in the bags and are very crowded as I put all the tubers from each plant in a bag, where I would normally only plant a single tuber in each bag.
I hate growing in grow bags as they dry out so easily and never produce well for me.

The problem now is that I will not know whether they are good enough to keep when they are harvested because they are so crowded that I will only get mini tubers which I cannot evaluate.

Well.. after these pics were taken I tipped up the bags with potting soil and will see. I can't dig around and take out all the plants except one as it is too late now and would just hasten maturation and not produce good tubers anyway.

Here are a couple of pics of my quarter acre yard that I am growing in until I can get a bigger bit of land.
I have planted last seasons tubers on about half of the block and will fill up the rest with the new seedlings when they are big enough.

It will be pretty crowded later when the plants are growing strongly.

 One good thing is that although the soil is still very sandy, it is a better than the soil on the farm.

What else is happening?

After trying a few small business ideas and failing miserably to get even the slightest interest I have decided to start growing plants in pots and selling at local markets. It is something I know I can do and money is fast running out. I have to make a living.

I have some room in my back yard and I like growing plants and selling at markets, but I was hoping to be able to find a small business idea that isn't so physically demanding as I am well aware that I am not as strong as I was years ago.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Dealing with pests

With having such a small area to grow in I can't really afford to just keep everything (though you might not believe me when you read my next post on Friday, lol). Thinking on this I have decided not to do any pest control at all this year, allowing me to see how different varieties cope with the two main pests that I have on potatoes.

Red legged Earth Mite

 RLEM is my worst potato pest. It is an introduced mite with no natural enemies here, or natural control methods. It is usually controlled by harsh pesticides because the life cycle doesn't gel with preditory mites that you can buy to help with other nasty mites in the garden. RLEM are very hard to see as they are so small but they are black with red legs.

RLEM can destroy a  bed of vegetable seedlings in a couple of days and only goes dormant in summer and winter. It is really bad on sandy soils.

These mites swarm young plants and suck out all their juices, leaving silvery patches on the leaves, or, in the case of potato shoots, destroying the new leaves altogether like this shoot on the left.
As the weather warms up and gets hotter they disappear and the plants can grow normally.

The plant on the right is a bit older and you can see the silvery patches on the leaves. If you look carefully you can also see the teeny tiny black mites.

RLEM are hammering my sprouting potatoes at the moment but I can already see a couple of varieties that are able to grow quickly enough to outgrow the feeding, and a couple that show very little mite feeding at all. I will note them on their variety spec sheets.

The silvery patches may look a little like spider mite damage to those who are inexperienced but it isn't close after you have see damage by both. And spider mites look and behave much differently too.

Skeletonising pest

The next pest is one that skeletonises the leaves of young plants. I don't know what this pest is as it doesn't seem to come out during the day.

I have never bothered with it much over the years as the plants outgrow it, but it does cause them to grow slower at first.
Tonight I will go out and put down some rolled up paper and see if I catch anything to identify in the morning.
Some varieties have less problems with this than others.

I think that it is more likely that the varieties that are less bothered with these pests are ones that outgrow them quickly rather than having much in the way of resistance. It is more of a better tolerance than resistance, but I will work on whether this guess is accurate over the next year or two.

For now I will be deselecting varieties that show too much damage from these pests to make way for better ones, unless that variety has another particularly good trait that is worth keeping it for.

Other things happening in the garden

The asparagus is sprouting away. I always love it when the 'Argenteuille' is sprouting as it has such huge and tender spears. each one is a meal in itself.

I managed to keep a couple of young purple asparagus crowns as well which I planted among the Argenteuille so the bed will look colourful later on.

 I couldn't give up on the oca altogether so I plants 4 plants of 8 varieties in these two covered beds. Four of these are new seedlings from last year, and four are older selected ones.

Hopefully they will make it through the forecast scorching summer to come. No biggie if they don't as I know the summers are not way too hot for them.

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Great start to 2019 potato season

Hi Everyone.

As many of my friends know, up until a few months ago I had a farm growing to produce vegetable seed for Australian seed companies. I also did some breeding on the side, mostly melons, oca, and potatoes. I live in Southern Victoria in Australia.

The land I was leasing was sold so I had to leave and after a couple of really terrible years coping with heatwaves and cockatoos eating all my crops I didn't have the money or heart to try again. I was a bit of a relief to be honest.

Anyway I love breeding potatoes so I am continuing that though it has been a bit difficult moving from a few acres in area to a back yard. I won't be able to make a living from it with this small space but it is a good hobby and I really enjoy it.
I will have to find some more space next spring as I have filled this space up and have no clean ground for replanting.

I hope you enjoy reading about my potato breeding program and I will endeavour to keep it updated a couple of times a week, at least through the growing season.

With such a small area to use I planted last seasons varieties that I selected into 2m beds holding 10 plants each. This should give me enough plants to do a basic assessment of them to see if they are good enough to keep another year.

I planted all last seasons tubers a month early, at the end of August because they were sprouting strongly in storage and I didn't want to hold them too long. I have been surprised to see that our spring frosts have not bothered the young plants at all. I will plant that early each year from now on.

 The TPS (True Potato Seed) has just been planted in trays. I have one tray of diploids and one of tetraploids. It will end up being too many seedlings for my space but I will plant as many as I can find room for.
I expect them to start popping up any day now.

 My main breeding goal is to product good spuds that will cope with global warming - longer, dryer, hotter growing season.
I will be selecting for plants that grow and tuberise well in the heat and with less water, as well, as with this one already flowering, ones that grow and tuberise quickly in early spring so the first harvest can be done before the need for irrigation.

One problem I had last year was some plants producing yellow mottled leaves. I always pulled them out as soon as I saw it in case it was a disease. It didn't look like a disease I was familiar with but I didn't want to take that chance.

A conversation among other small potato breeders showed that this is actually a physiological problem, not a pest so I will keep them this year and see if I can fix it with various growing and fertilising changes.

Other things happening in the garden

My carnivorous plants are starting to wake up from their winter nap now, and even starting to flower. You can see a little flower stalk where my finger is.

These are fun and easy to grow, especially the pitcher plants. I want some much bigger plants so will repot some into bigger pots and get a couple of larger water trays when I get to town. All my plants are getting too crowded in the three trays that I already have

I grew some banana yuccas (A US plant that has some edible and other useful parts) from seed about 7-8 years ago and they never grew well. I was going to take out the last three plants that I have still surviving, then I noticed that one has its first flower. Can't pull them now, lol

Now I will have to look up whether they are self fertile before I bother hand pollinating the flowers.