December 8 , 2010
I Dig Potatoes
This afternoon as my hands searched for spuds in the deep, rich, unfrozen earth, I pondered if I was the only person in Minnesota digging potatoes in December. There's not one square inch of Minnesota that hasn't frozen in the past few weeks. Winter is here and it's cold!
So how is it possible that I could be digging potatoes in December? Its all thanks to a hoop greenhouse that I constructed earlier in the season. As with most projects, this is an experiment to see if it is possible to grow plants year-round in an unheated greenhouse.
I got the idea after reading Elliot Coleman's book, Four Season Harvest. The concept of this book describes how to garden year-round in cold climates without using any artificial heating. (For more information on this method, here's his web site.)
Eliot has been doing this for years with his method and on a much grander scale than I plan, but nonetheless the concept is the same. He plants cool-weather crops in August and September and produces all sorts of salad greens during the winter months that he sells to local suppliers.
I doubt I will be doing much "producing" during the winter months, but if I can start harvesting salad greens and carrots in March, I'll be a happy camper.
The concept is quite simple: build a hoop-style greenhouse, cover it with 6-mil plastic and then use row-cover material over the vegetable greens. Adding the row cover helps keep the plants warm (relatively speaking) on cold nights and although the plants may freeze, they are capable of surviving temperatures of 20° (F).
Of course this will only work with certain kinds of salad greens, but so far spinach, leaf lettuce and carrots have survived with outdoor temperatures close to zero (F). The real test will come later this month and into January when the coldest temperatures of the season will arrive.
So what's the story with the potatoes?
Since I built the hoop greenhouse over the garden area I was able to prolong the season and instead of digging potatoes in September, I waited until today to dig up those lovely spuds. Nothin' better than home-grown potatoes! Hmmm...that reminds me of a song.
Home grown potatoes, home grown potatoes. What would life be without home grown potatoes...(Appologies to Guy Clark.)