October is a buy time in the garden. So today I want to cover two topics: harvesting potatoes and overwintering potted plants.
First, potatoes. Fall is the time when people start harvesting their potatoes in earnest. Kids of all ages love this treasure hunt. As potatoes are lifted up from the soil, questions pop up, too. The most common one goes something like ths: “What are these ugly blotches on my potatoes?” And then, “Are they safe to eat?”
The short answers: ‘scab,’ and ‘yes.’
Common potato scab is a tuber disease that occurs wherever spuds are grown. It’s caused by the microorganism called S. scabies, which is present in nearly all soils from Kodiak to Kenya. In a nutshell, S. scabies flares up when the soil pH climbs above 5.0, which is slightly acidic. In other words, if you grow potatoes in soil that is loaded with manure and compost —which balances soil to a neutral pH of 7.0 in which most garden plants thrive —then you run the risk of scabby potatoes.
So it’s not the fault of the potato per se; it’s all about the soil and growing conditions. I’ll cover that in a moment.
The warty scab lesions develop on the skin of the potato, not the inside. While they may be unsightly, they don’t affect the flavor. However--and this is a big however — scabby spuds do not store well.
HOW TO PREVENT SCAB
Thing is, rotating crops and soil preparation doesn’t guarantee scab-free spuds, as many sources would have you believe. Several years ago, while harvesting potatoes, I discovered scab in one end of a raised bed but not the other. Frustrated, I contacted potato experts in Palmer. “Using resistant varieties is an effective tool for management of scab,” they told me. Now when I buy seed potatoes, I purchase only varieties that are resistant to scab.
Another issue that affects potato-growing in Kodiak is our damp summers. Okay, so this summer was surprisingly warm and dry, but that’s not to say you didn’t overwater. This can also cause scabby spuds because soil moisture — as in too dry or too wet during tuber formation — has a dramatic effect on common scab infection.
“There are few ‘free lunches’ in the ecosystem,” one agriculture specialist told me. “All the variables are just some of the decisions that the gardener has to make.” True enough.
HOW TO OVERWINTER POTTED PLANTS
Over the next few columns, I’ll be sharing some tips on bringing fuchsia, begonias and geraniums inside for the winter. Start by pulling them out of rain’s way so they begin to dry out. Then, there is one overriding caution to observe for all plants you plan to bring indoors: Double-check for pests.
Aphids are bad enough, but one of the worst pests to introduce to your interior space is the spider mite. Spider mites end up in your home or office by piggy-backing on plants. Have you ever been gifted a plant from the grocery store? Be careful. Many times these plants (that once lived among thousands of others), often harbor pests such as fungus gnats, aphids and spider mites.
Before you see the mites, you’re most likely to see the damage: curled or distorted young leaves. Grab a magnifying glass. Look for fine, white webs and tiny spiders. If your suspicions turn up positive for spider mites, quarantine your plant immediately so other plants don’t become infested.
Then, dip or spray the plant with insecticidal soap. Misting your plants on a regular basis will help prevent mites, since they thrive in a warm and dry conditions. If that doesn’t work, you may need to send the plant to the great compost pile in the sky.
GARDEN JOB JAR
Clean out containers and hanging baskets. Save used potting soil in covered totes or incorporate it into the compost pile or raised beds.
Have tarps, sheets, spruce branches and other frost covers handy.
Plant flowering bulbs for a beautiful display next spring.
While the season is still fresh in your mind, jot down notes to build your wish list for next year. If you have favorite varieties you’d rather not do without or if you plan to sow early crops of spinach, turnips, and greens in February, March and April consider ordering seeds early.
Make jam, bird feeders, sauerkraut, pickles.
Be bear aware. Don’t leave smokers (fish, not humans) outside. Place all wet and potentially “fragrant” garbage in plastic bags (and tie them off) before setting them in roll carts or dumpsters.