First, if you haven’t read Part One of this blog series, head on over and check it out. It’s good stuff.
Allow me to premise this post by talking about the changes we are experiencing in our climate. California is currently experiencing the worst drought we’ve ever seen. The US Drought Monitor announced this week that 100% of the entire state is now in drought, something that hasn’t happened for fifteen years. While much of the country suffered ice storms and raging floods this winter and spring, California simply had one long, dry, didn’t-feel-like-winter season. The normal 35 to 40 inches I’ve come to expect each rainy season just never arrived. Not even close.
See all that red in Northern California? That’s where I am, in what’s called D3, or “Extreme Drought.” Drought conditions range from D0 to D4: the least being “Abnormally Dry,” and the most extreme being “Exceptional Drought” (which is that frightening burgundy blotch covering central California).
“So what’s this got to do with potatoes, Jennie?”
As Carol Deppe, gardener extraordinaire, would put it: Resilience. This is one of those times when a gardener, such as myself, must adapt to her conditions. Otherwise–
“–Just go to the grocery store?”
Yes, well, you and I could do that, but that’s not the point. Should I call it quits with my garden this year simply because the rain never came?–No! This is an opportunity for me to learn about dry gardening techniques while I grow food to feed myself and my family.
We’ve had a smattering of precipitation this spring, but according to NOAA’s monthly totals for my region of California, we’re only 54% of what we should have been for this water year (a water year is measured from October to September). I’ve taken advantage of those drops through mulching, spacing, and bed preparation in my garden. I have 270 square feet of potatoes planted, and I haven’t given them a single drop of water. And I don’t plan to.
In theory, at the end of the season I’ll have a nice harvest of potatoes coming to me. I’ve spaced them 15 inches apart from each other in an offset pattern to lessen their competition for resources and moisture. I’ve also mulched them with last year’s leaves and old straw from my duck coop; I will continue to hill up the potatoes with straw as the plants grow.
And they are indeed growing.
This year’s bed is sown with 30 pounds of seed potatoes, which yielded 208 chits.
The varieties I’m growing:
I dug my fingers into the old straw mulch today and it was literally goo shy with moisture and incredibly warm. The field spiders scattered at my presence–they’re hopefully munching up some of the potato pests that like to chew on the tender green shoots. Here are some common bugs and critters that can damage your crop.
- Colorado Potato Beetle
- Potato Leafhopper
- Blister Beetles
- Flea Beetles
- Alfalfa Looper (and other Moth larvae)
- White Grubs
- Root Knot Nematodes
Now, I’m not sure what my little ducks are hunting so vigorously for when I see them out rooting in the yard, but hopefully they are doing their part to organically reduce the pest populations (except the deer, of course). My girls are especially diligent in their foraging expeditions. Other organic methods to protect potatoes from pests include the use of floating row covers; in my case, I’m going to double up with chicken wire now that the foliage has emerged–those deer just can’t get enough of my greens! Mulch is also a natural way of reducing pest populations, as it creates a habitat that invites some of the pests natural predators to take up residence: ladybugs, lacewings, and spiders, to name a few. I’ve also spotted alligator lizards sunning themselves in my garden. They are quite welcome here.
The Essence of Resilience: take a bad situation and use it to learn, adapt, & grow.
If you’re interested in growing your own potatoes, the Seed Savers Exchange sells organic seed potatoes and they are running a sale now while supplies last.
Have you had to change your gardening methods because of changes in the weather? I’d love to hear from you, so drop me a line in the comments section below.