24 September 2010

September in the gardens

by Amy Belkora, Gardening Program Director and Parent

What a relief to have the students back to their regular garden routines to help me propagate fall and winter seedlings, rake the fallen leaves, and pull the pesky weeds that are threatening to take over the gravel path in the pollinator garden.
I’d like to thank the Kinney family (Sam, Gr 5: Liza, Gr 4) for their generous hosting of our bee hive these last 18 months. At the end of August Rinat Abastado, our biodyanmic beekeeper, and I relocated all but one of the 50,000+ honeybees to Laguna Honda due to the Kinney’s impending remodel. Our bees are now happily settled in the Betty Sutro Meadow at Laguna Honda. We look forward to introducing a new colony at the Kinney’s in 2011. In the meantime, that one bee that got away has become the beloved subject of a story I tell the kindergarten and first grade children at the garden. Driving across San Francisco with a hive full of 30,000 bees puts an exclamation point on the need to drive safely!

On the topic of bees, there is a new movie debuting in Marin this October called Queen of the Sun, by Taggart Siegel, the director of The Real Dirt on Farmer John. Queen of the Sun takes as its starting point Rudolf Steiner’s 1923 prediction that in 80-100 years honeybee colonies would collapse. The movie chronicles farmers, scientists, and philosophers, and biodynamic beekeepers as they struggle to help the honeybee survive today’s colony collapse threat. One of the beekeepers featured, Michael Thiele, oversees the Melissa Garden in Healdsburg. This bee sanctuary is my inspiration for our pollinator garden at St. Anne’s. The movie will show Tuesday, Oct. 12 at 6pm at Cine Arts in Mill Valley and Wednesday, Oct. 13 at 7pm at the Christopher B Smith Rafael Film Center in San Rafael.

This summer Kacie Smith, Dexter Brightman, and I ran a week long summer camp at St. Anne’s. The children washed, carded and felted wool to make a felted goat’s milk soap. Dexter led the children in a cold frame building project so that we can experiment with cool weather seed propagation. On the last day of camp, Kacie brought her chickens!

During summer camp we dug into the potato towers where we’d been conducting the experiment on increasing yield. We took measurements regarding where we found potatoes relative to the ground and the top of the soil. My suspicions were confirmed as we found potatoes only down at the level of the first stem growth, just above where the seed potato had been planted, NOT higher up in the tower where we’d mounded dirt along the maturing stem. This disappointing result led me to plant the spring potatoes using a trench method at Laguna Honda. This was much more successful in creating a higher yield of tubers. The trench method makes it very easy to keep the stem underground where stolon growth occurs. The tubers form along the stolons, so, the more stolons the more potatoes.

To use the trench method, dig very deep holes, one foot minimum, and place a seed potato at the bottom. Barely cover the potato, leaving a visible crater above it. When the first stem and leaf growth appears, quickly cover that with dirt, again leaving a visible crater. Continue to do this until your crater disappears and the stem comes out of the flat ground. At this point, if you are quick to spot the emerging stem you can continue mounding, but I just leave the plants to grow at this point as there is enough potato growth under the soil already.

This trench method is a much easier way to ensure that the stems are kept growing underground and therefore will continue to produce the key stolons which in turn form the tubers. It is much quicker and easier to push dirt into a hole than to cart it over to shovel into to a tower. You want to make it as easy as possible to keep the growing stem underground. I’d love to hear any other potato growing strategies you might have!

Kale and Potato Stir-fry
  • Melt coconut oil in a large pot
  • Add chopped potatoes
  • Stir until just cooked through
  • Add chopped kale, salt and a little pepper and stir briefly until kale just wilts
  • Serve and enjoy!