Urban Gardener: Not Pot but Potatoes
Saturday, February 01, 2014
Winter is when gardeners of every stripe dream. Our walks through the garden are visionary. Winter is working the soil for us. Despite the cold and sometimes layers of snow the garden is a hotbed of activity. An aura emanates from the mulches and we muse “the butterfly bush has grown way too large.” The fruit trees are never so evident. Branches are distinct. Forms are easily described. Grape vines reveal their true length. Secrets kept so well during the growing seasons are common knowledge.
The sugary crunchy snow under foot has no force against the sun’s longer hesitation on the horizon. With every fiber in our being spirit digs into the past, pauses in the present and launches onward into the future. I star gaze at night and Venus is high in the east. Her lovely brilliance guides me around the garden and I muster ideas for the growing season.
Dreaming of Asparagus
Each year I maintain loyalty to certain evident truths. Color, scent and form are important. Fragrance rules supreme. Taste comes first. Successions are important. Old classics come to mind: early Black seeded Simpson, Cos, Boston Ruffled, Endive, radishes and Japanese turnips in fun blocks of stunning color. Kale, last year’s vegetable star. Then as days lengthen the sugar snap peas are mandatory to fertilize the grounds with nitrogen fixing bacterial synergistic roots to be cleared away for a thick planting of tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and other hot weather champions. This abundance in one region dictated by day length and temperature is an answered prayer. Snow may crunch under foot but the aura emerges even during starlight.
The urban gardener is always challenged to make the most of their often limited spaces. I decided early on to cultivate crops of any sort that have a high price value beyond their aesthetic. My nature is to pamper and spoil the asparagus bed. I relish asparagus and know a dozen simple ways to prepare it. Never pay high prices again if you manage to dedicate a bed to this reliable perennial vegetable. Their delicate fronds are soothing to the eye, the foliage is a lovely shade of green that is very sensitive to sunshine, requiring as much as possible. A dozen roots can fill your kitchen with weeks of harvest and for fun, can be grown in both green and purple stalks. I could never pay retail for my asparagus appetite.
Novelty for own sake is tintinualbum. A pompa of different colors dancing in procession amongst specimen plants soon loses its diversion. It is however a rigid heart that resists growing a plant just because it is this year’s favored color. For a long while I was too snooty to grow potatoes. My Celtic roots rebelled.
The Joy of (Blue) Potatoes
“Potatoes are for children” is a truism. This was one of the first garden plants entrusted to me, eyes cut out of the endless bags of potatoes my family consumed, peeled in the kitchen sink and taken directly out into the garden for planting. The Kennebecs always did well despite coming all the way from the Aroostook Valley in Maine. Why grow something so abundant and cheap on expensive urban land? Surely children can nurture plants with freedom in the city. Maybe this isn’t so common in a paved zone.
My technique addresses all of these concerns and is elegance itself. Novelty? Go ahead and order blue potatoes, “just like the Incas”. Actually the potato family is a large one, including tomatoes, and these Native American plants offer colored spuds in a huge range of shapes, sizes, colors, tastes, and growing seasons. Don’t stop with blue. Go for it!
Red potatoes, golden yellow, orange, and pearly white are all offered from seed companies or may be bought directly from the produce section of the market. The foliage is the same from variety to variety. Potatoes love rich soil. They must have good sunlight. They are vigorous and must be to defend themselves from a succession of predatory insects.
The constant mulch in my garden is ideal for growing potatoes. I planted blue potatoes in mid spring of ’13 with a minimum of tillage. Rather, I scratched a bit of the wintered mulch aside and lay the eyes and small “seed” potatoes right on the surface with a dusting of bone meal. Then I covered all with the old mulch. Keep an eye on the planting and as the mulch yields to spring and summer, renew the cover. Don’t fuss too much about this. If you’re introducing children to the joys of gardening here is a winning plant that is large enough to be seen and handled roughly as a seed yet doesn’t require dedicated care when the beach is surely more attractive.
Try to break up the potato plantings into parcels with the same soil, water and available sunshine but apart. I like to grow in prime numbers of plants. The Fabrinacci number series is ideal for visual appeal. The division of the potatoes, let’s say by color, baffles the occasional potato bug and discourages the infestation of an entire crop. Bio diversity strengthens plantings. With protective moats of other more distasteful plants those insects that infest any particular crop must journey through a hazardous territory full of their predators.
Anticipating the Harvest
I also plant among the potatoes. Zinnias will shoot skyward over old potato plants and a place once covered with sprawling potato plants is a sea of vivid pastel shades. There is such abundance within this gardening scheme and it lasts over time. Fresh new potatoes can be coaxed from the mulch, the roots delved deep into the soil feed the spud kept dark under the permanent cover. A glance at the spuds during the growing season will argue for more mulch or not, any greening of the potato tuber indicates too much sunshine and requests a blanket of summer mulch.
The potato harvest is a long one. No need to dig them all up at once. They can be left in the garden under mulch. I pull aside the now much older mulches and find champion robust spuds. As winter gales blow and sugary snow crunches underfoot we sense the life that endures within the garden. Breath deep and watch Venus make her tour of the eastern skies. Orion is brilliant. Ponder the future garden. The kids are probably a little bigger now and it’s fun to find good food to eat in the garden. Snow and frost prevail on the surface of the mulch. Beneath, the ground is alive with sluggish earthworms and sleepy salamanders. And yes, the potatoes, in glorious blue, ready for a Mulligan stew and ready to answer every query, novelty is the spice of life. Come on, gardeners, young and old, live a little. “Pass the potatoes, please."
Leonard Moorehead is a life-long gardener. He practices organic-bio/dynamic gardening techniques in a side lot surrounded by city neighborhoods in Providence RI. His adventures in composting, wood chips, manure, seaweed, hay and enormous amounts of leaves are minor distractions to the joy of cultivating the soil with flowers, herbs, vegetables, berries, and dwarf fruit trees.
Great for Worcester families, Ski Ward is the perfect destination for everything snow. On any given day, there are over 200 tubes, up to 8 snow tubing lanes in operation, and 2 lifts to bring you back up for another slide down Ward Hill! This year, Ski Ward is celebrating their 75th anniversary, and it’s no secret what has kept them open so long. For a deal, head over on Tuesdays—on the 1st Tuesday of the month tickets are only $7.50 (for their 75th anniversary), and all other Tuesdays tickets will be $19.39 (that’s the year they opened their doors!).
1000 Main Street, Shrewsbury, MA. (508) 842-6346.
Photo: James Emery/Flickr
Another New England ski area that is celebrating an anniversary this year is RI's Yawgoo Valley Ski Area and Sports Park—they turn 50! Visit Rhode Island’s only ski area to help them celebrate. For only $12, enjoy a 50-minute session of tubing fun! After tubing, head to the snow tubing park’s concession stand to grab a hot chocolate and thaw out!
160 Yawgoo Valley Road, Exeter, RI. (401) 294-3802.
Photo: Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism/Flickr
Also turning 50 this year is Nashoba Valley Ski Area in Westford, MA. Open seven days and seven nights all season long, this is the perfect place to get your snow fix. Fly down up to eighteen groomed lanes, serviced by four lifts to minimize wait time. If you need a break to fuel up, visit the onsite snow tubing park lodge, featuring a full bar, TVs, and a warm place to relax.
79 Powers Road, Westford, MA. (978) 692-3033.
Photo: Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism/Flickr
The Berkshire region of Massachusetts is ideal for a winter getaway. At about an hour and a half drive from Worcester and a two-hour drive from Providence, it is close enough to make a day trip out of it, but the area’s beauty will make you forget you’re so close to home. In the Berkshire town of Great Barrington, you will find Ski Butternut on East Mountain. The price is right for a great tubing experience—only $20 for two hours. This park features 8 tubing lanes, 7 chutes, 200 tubes, an old fashioned handle lift, and 100% snowmaking coverage.
380 State Road, Rte. 23, Great Barrington, MA. (413) 528-2000.
Photo: Alon Banks/Flickr
Amesbury Sports Park
When many people think of northeastern Massachusetts, they think of the beaches and dunes. Well, the town of Amesbury boasts something a little different: Amesbury Sports Park. During the winter, they are 100% dedicated to snow tubing fun on their lanes—the hill is the steepest tubing hill in the state.
12 S Hunt Road, Amesbury, MA. (978) 388-5788.
Photo: Ines Hegedus-Garcia/Flickr
Vermont is known for their pristine 4-season scenery, their mountains, their maple syrup, and so much more. One winter thrill that is a Vermont do-not-miss is snow tubing! Check out the park at Mount Snow in West Dover. The hill is one of the largest available for snow tubing in the state, and is always covered with plenty of snow, even when there is none in your back yard.
39 Mount Snow Road, West Dover, VT. (802) 245-SNOW.
Photo: John Benson/Flickr
Woodbury Ski Area
Woodbury Ski Area in Woodbury, CT is the largest snow tubing park in all of New England. This place is huge—you get to race down their 20 tubing lanes located in 3 different tubing parks serviced by 4 different lifts. Each park is very different, from terrain to speed and more. If you’re going tubing with a group, ask about their family size tubes!
785 Washington Road, Woodbury, CT. (203) 263-2203.
Photo: Aine D/Flickr
Killington Tubing Park
Killington is another Vermont favorite. Take a cruise down one of the tubing lanes at Killington’s snow tubing park, found right at the heart of this Green Mountain resort. Once you're all snow tubed out, get some R&R at The Clubhouse, where you can grab warm snacks, drinks, pub food, hand-tossed pizza, and more!
4763 Killington Road, Killington, VT. (802) 422-6201.
Photo: Mt. Hood Territory/Flickr
Every weekend or school break, Pats Peak in Henniker, NH opens up its snow tubing park for business! In order to ride the tubes down the mountain, riders are required to lie on their stomachs, making for a thrilling experience! If you want to try a bit of everything, visit Pats Peak on Saturday night or Martin Luther King Day. For just $48, enjoy skiing, snowboarding, snow tubing, and lesson tips!
686 Flanders Road, Henniker, NH. (603) 428-3245.
Berkshire East in Charlemont is another Berkshire gem. Enjoy 2 hours of tubing for only $20 on 3 separate 450-foot long tubing lanes. There is an old fashioned handle lift to bring you back up to the top once your cruise down the mountain is done!
66 Thunder Mountain Road, Charlemont, MA. (413) 339-6617.
Photo: David Shankbone
Head to Loon Mountain and let gravity take you for a cruise. Take in the beautiful mountain views while you tube down the mountain, and grab a snack and hot chocolate afterwards at the Slopeside Deli. Tubing at Loon is super convenient for families with little ones; they have a special tot tubing area for kids under 7.
60 Loon Mountain Road, Lincoln, NH. (603) 745-8111.
Head to Magic Mountain in Londonderry, VT for a fun-filled day of snow. Ride down one of the several tubing lanes and breathe in some fresh mountain air. After your day of tubing, head to the Black Line Tavern afterwards for a delicious family dinner.
495 Magic Mountain Acc., Londonderry, VT. (802) 824-5645.
Photo: Randy Bennett
One of the best values for tubing in Massachusetts is to be had at Bousequet Mountain in Pittsfield, located in the cultural district of the Berkshires. There are plenty of open tubing lanes and chutes for people over 5 years old—and the price is only $15 for 2 hours on the mountain.
101 Dan Fox Drive, Pittsfield, MA. (413) 442-8316.
Photo: Randy Bennett
Although there is only one snow tubing lane at Grafton Ponds Outdoor Center, it will be worth the wait to take the ride down the hill. The lane is 600 feet long, one of the longest in New England. Their special snowmaking process ensures perfect conditions all winter long.
783 Townshand Road, Grafton, VT. (802) 843-2400.
Photo: David Shankbone