Answers – Anniversary Questions – Part 2

I got so many great questions from readers for my one-year anniversary — not to mention all the sweet comments. Thank YOU all for reading and making this blog so much fun. Your being here helps motivate me to keep on keepin’ on — even though things feel a little dark at times.

Here is the second group of questions and answers. Sorry they are late! My day job and houseguests have kept me hopping this week. See the first answers, posted last Friday.

How do you grow potatoes?

Potatoes are easy! REALLY easy. Check out these photos:

Potatoes on May 22:
potatoes 1

Potatoes on June 2:
potatoes 2

To give some perspective, that container is about 15″ tall and 15″ across. In the 12 days between those photos, the plants grew up about 16 inches. (In fact, today — June 12 — we added another similar-sized tube on top because the plants have grown to about 15″ above the top of the container.) And we’ve done approximately nothing, just water a bit. So far so good!

The pot looks shallower in the second photo because I had shoveled more light dirt in over the vines. In a nutshell, grow potatoes this way:

  1. General tips: Plant sproutable potatoes. This means seed potatoes bought at a garden store. Of course, I am violating this rule — Mr. Cheap bought a bag of organic fingerlings. They started to sprout, so we knew they wouldn’t NOT sprout and we tried them. Small potatoes can be planted whole. Bigger ones should be cut into two- or three-eyed pieces. Let them “rest” a day after cutting, before planting. Normal soil works fine. Don’t use fresh manure.
  2. In the ground: I’ve heard they can take over. I don’t have that much room so have never tried to grow big batches.
  3. In a container: Plant the potatoes in the bottom of a container with just a little soil. Add soil (or straw) as the plants grow. The vines will grow potatoes in the soil/straw. (Straw reportedly returns smaller potatoes and smaller crops.) This site recommends garbage cans (wish I’d tried that! Bigger crop … we grew them once a few years ago, and I’d forgotten how fast they grow). They also suggest growing them in stacks of tires, which sounds scary toxic to me.
  4. Harvest: If you want new potatoes, harvest when the plant flowers. If you want full-size potatoes, stop adding dirt when the plant flowers. Let the flowers and vines die back. Then (gently) dig in and voila! Potatoes.
  5. Storage: Cure potatoes in the shade for two weeks. Do NOT wash them. Keep them in the dark, with temperatures around 40 degrees. Cover them with straw or burlap, NOT plastic. Don’t keep them near apples.

Or just eat them.

How easy is it to grow a Meyer lemon here in these zone five parts, or is that something that Mr. Cheap is carefully babying along?

In our case, at least, it is not easy. The lemon plant goes outside all summer and thrives. Then in the winter it comes inside. It blossoms in January or so and smells wonderful. We pollinate the blossoms by hand with a cotton swab. Then it religiously gets spider mites, which Mr. Cheap battles. (Taking it outside and spraying it on a nice day, dusting the leaves, etc.) Then it goes bald, losing nearly all of its leaves. Around this time of year, it is a mostly bald plant with bare branches sticking out and a couple of green lemons growing on it.

However, sometime in the summer or fall, the leaves have all grown back and we have one to three fantastically lemon-y, not-sour lemons to enjoy. We slice them thinly and put them on pizza, fish or focaccia; we put a little juice into something; we preserve them in the freezer with sugar and salt and add them to couscous later, and basically get as much enjoyment as we can out of our fleeting fruit.

Then we bring the plant inside for the winter, thinking “This year it looks great!” But by spring it will be bald again. We have done this for at least four or five years. It’s kind of sad, or persistent, or loyal.

Speaking of Mr. Cheap and indirectly of Little Cheap: has it been a challenge to convince them to go along with your various eco-frugal ideas (meaning that you’re plugging along doing what you have to do and they participate or not) or do they tend to fall in line behind your charismatic and charming leadership? 🙂

Aw, you flatter. I think Mr. Cheap would call it my “neurotic and tenacious leadership.”

Mr. Cheap has nothing to do with toilet wipes and he is not always a diligent recycler. He is our household’s primary nose-blower, and a majority of the time he uses his flannel handkerchiefs, and even unfolds them for me before I do the laundry. He does a lot of garden work, although he plans most of the landscape/beauty work and I plan most of the produce work. (But he digs! Yeah!) And he mostly manages the compost. However: He does not experience grief when we throw away Styrofoam.

Little Cheap likes to recycle and buy things used, and she offers her friends a reusable flannel handkerchief if they need to blow their nose while visiting. Because of her love of orangutans, she is in favor of avoiding palm oil (it destroys their habitat). She flirted with vegetarianism last Monday. (So far, it was a quick summer fling; the love affair died when she learned it would mean no bacon.) However: She is deeply horrified by cloth menstrual pads.

Most of the green work is mine, for sure. But they are generally good natured about it. You know the saying … “if mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy” — and as long as I’m doing most of it, I don’t think they want to cross me.

I will have one more set of Q&A coming up in the next couple of days – stay tuned!

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4 thoughts on “Answers – Anniversary Questions – Part 2

  1. plozano76 says:

    Huh… I had been wondering how to grow potatoes on our balcony. Thanks for the great tips! Any ideas on how to grow tomatoes in containers?

  2. cheaplikeme says:

    Hi plozano – A key element for growing tomatoes in containers is to know your tomato. There are two classes of tomatoes – determinate and indeterminate. Indeterminate could continue growing bigger all year round if they didn’t freeze (like in a tropical climate).

    Determinate tomatoes grow to a certain size and stop growing, then produce tomatoes. They are best for containers. You’ll need as big a pot as you can give them. Provide good soil and lots of moisture (some gardeners put a few layers of newspapers in the bottom of a big pot to help hold moisture in the pot and disperse it slowly). They will probably do better with some fertilizing — “side dressing” with compost or manure (adding some beside the plant and watering it in) works well, as does watering with fish emulsion (look for it at a garden store). Add a stake or cage if the plant is medium size.

    Cherry tomatoes, grape tomatoes or Roma, San Marzano or other paste tomatoes (all preferably indeterminate) work best in a container. Good luck!

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