Potatoes - new in straw mulch.JPG

Potatoes beneath straw are easy pickings.

What is a garden? “Now that is a silly question” you may be thinking … or shouting.

Well, a garden can be many things. It can be a beautiful display of perennial and/or annual herbaceous plants. It can be an island of shrubs in the middle of the lawn or along the foundation of your house. It can be a source of food for the homestead. It can be a meadow, mowed annually in late fall. However, it can also be a laboratory, a place to experiment.

Frankly, I believe that committed gardeners are always experimenting. It may simply be trying a new variety of plant. It could also be a different approach to growing a vegetable. As an example of the latter, I tried a different method of growing potatoes, or rather, some of my potatoes. Most of my potatoes were grown in the classic manner. That is, I made a deep furrow in which the seed potatoes were set. As the shoots grew, soil was hilled up and around the plants. In the experimental approach, the seed potatoes were set in a shallow one-inch deep furrow and then covered with a little soil. As the shoots developed, they were mounded with straw rather than soil. The idea is to make it easier to gather the spuds, especially when seeking some “new” potatoes; no prodding deeply into soil. Rather, all I have to do is push aside some straw and pick a few of the potatoes.

Admittedly, this is not a new concept for growing potatoes. I got the idea from several websites. However, it is a new method for me. As with any experiment, you do not know what the outcome will be. In this case, the results were a bit mixed. Yes, I got potatoes, including some very large ones, but I also had considerable problems with voles gnawing on the tubers, far more than they do on those grown via the traditional method.

Will I continue to grow potatoes using the straw method? Yes! But I will also grow using my past approach.


Compost bin - fence & pipe.JPG

A fabricated compost bin made from a section of fence. A drain pipe with holes drilled into the sides provides air and moisture to the center of the pile, aiding the decomposition of organic matter.

Another experiment is one dealing with composting. There are so many ways to compost kitchen and yard wastes from simply piling up the materials in an out-of-the-way spot or by spending lots of money on elaborate compost bins. I’ve tried them all and always come back to the “pile”. Last fall, I contained the pile which consisted mostly of shredded leaves by creating several cylinders of 1-by-2-inch fencing and dumping the waste materials into them. These were set up in the vegetable garden. The organic materials quickly compressed and, as a result, were slow to decompose. Nevertheless, by spring they were broken down enough to be incorporated into the soil but I had to wait a bit before feeling comfortable enough to plant crops in those areas. If the organic wastes were not fully decomposed they would essentially divert nitrogen and other nutrients away from plant growth.

This year, I have built a similar fence cylinder but have put a section of drain pipe in the middle of it. The pipe has numerous ½ inch holes drilled into its sides. The idea is to allow air and water into the pile and speed up decomposition. The results remain to be seen.


There will be no waiting to see the results of these gardening tasks:

  • Harvest onions and shallots once the tops have flopped and turned brown. Cut off the tops leaving about an inch or two of stem. If the tops are still a bit green but have flopped, they may still be pulled up but wait to cut them until they have browned.
  • Don’t dally when it comes to harvesting vegetable crops. Most are ripening fast and with the arrival of high temperatures, they can become overripe very quickly. That’s another way of saying they can rot quickly. This is especially true of tomatoes which have cracks.
  • Sow seeds of radishes, kohlrabi, spinach, and romaine lettuce for harvest in late September or early October. With successive sowings, harvest may continue well into fall.
  • Apply fertilizer to strawberry beds now. Applying fertilizer in spring will promote much leafy growth at the expense of fruit development.
  • Prune out raspberry canes which produced fruit this summer. This will make room for development of new canes for next year’s crop. Also, remove any canes which are very thin.
  • Dig, divide, and replant daylilies which have become crowded, as indicated by a decline in flower production. Do this after they have completed their flowering. The best location for daylilies is in full sun or part shade, and in well-drained soil. Since their roots like it cool, apply a mulch of pine needles, buckwheat hulls, or partially decomposed wood chips.
  • Make frequent inspections of house plants which have been placed outdoors for the summer. It is not unusual for pests to find a home on these plants. Start controlling pests and diseases on these plants now in preparation for moving them back indoors at the end of this month.

Garden Journal columnist Ron Kujawski began gardening at an early age on his family's onion farm in upstate New York. Although now retired, he spent most of his career teaching at the UMass Extension Service.