Guest post by Penny Pincher
The earlier you can start your taters the better. Last year I bought seed potatoes, started some indoors, and started some outdoors later, then transplanted the first ones – and the ones that had a month on the other ones produced twice as much. This year I have a couple potatoes from the store with eyes all over them, and I’m going to start chunks of them indoors now and see what happens.
I tried planting tomato seeds inside in December one year and concluded that it really has to be January or February, unless you want to keep re-potting to bigger pots and keep them under strong grow lights. Maybe it was something about going around a solstice, too. My plants got really leggy and then they died when I transplanted them.
Later I learned how to properly transplant: You have to “heel in” the plants. After you put them in the ground, push on the ground close to them all around with your heel. This gets any air pockets out. If you have air pockets in the roots, the roots won’t get water. The depression around the plant also acts as a funnel for water. You want the water to go downhill a little towards the plant.
A couple years ago I tried cutting up a sweet potato from the store and planting chunks of it just as is. Only one out of 20 chunks actually grew, but I got a giant tater off it that was about 5 lbs. and oddly enough looked a little like a piglet, and a couple regular size taters. Not bad for starting with one half-pound store tater, but I kept a row open for the sweet taters and only got one plant, so I wasted land.
I also tried growing sweet potatoes in a 5 gallon bucket, and they didn’t do too well. I’m not sure what went wrong. At first they had good foliage but then they died. Maybe the bucket was too small. Maybe they didn’t have enough light. I tried keeping the roots that were trying to pass as sweet taters over the winter to use as slips, but they dried out. Last year I missed the boat for planting sweet potatoes. It kept raining too much and then it was too late to get slips.
This winter I’m going to get some sweet taters and keep them out hoping they’ll get eyes/slips and then I’ll baby them along in water, some in rooting hormone, some not to see if there’s a difference, before planting them. Maybe they’ll do ok for a few months before I put them out. Sometimes a sweet tater will get slips, sometimes it will just rot. If I were you, I’d get a few different brands from different stores just in case they’re irradiating them or spraying them with growth retardant, you might find that taters from one store grow better than taters from a different one.
I planted some second generation bell pepper seeds 2 summers ago and got these pepper plants that were really big, but the fruits on them were tiny and not very numerous. I don’t know if the plants mutated to some not-very-productive variety or if it was the growing conditions. This was the summer with almost no rain where I had to water twice a day.
If you let some your basil go to seed and just grab the seeds off the plant and throw them on the ground in the late fall, you will have a veritable forest of volunteer basil next year. There is no need to separate the seeds from the little remains of the flowers that they ride in. You can do the same thing with lettuce, but it may be more productive to take the seedy top and put it in a paper bag to dry. You can also do the same thing with oregano and cilantro, but you may also enjoy coriander which is the seeds of cilantro.
Cherry tomatoes like to overwinter and make volunteers, more than the larger kind, but one year I got some kind of beefsteak in my front yard, from a store tomato I’d chucked there.
Another fun thing to plant is mustard seeds. You’ll get a big tall plant, you can eat the greens, you can put the flowers in salads, and of course you can process the seeds into mustard, although that is very time consuming. The long roots soften up the soil and at the end of the year when you pull the plant up it’s a nice bunch of biomass. I found that the seeds don’t volunteer next year if they overwinter, but your mileage may vary.
It may not be too late to plant garlic cloves. Get out there and plant you some garlic. Put it about every 4 to 6 inches.