Potato harvestThe harvest!
We're back! Last weekend's late return from our vacation meant I didn't have time to write a post for you, but we're back on schedule now, with some fun stuff this week....

It's hard to believe it's already that time of year: stores are packed with back-to-school shoppers, the garden has that tired, bedraggled look, and you can catch the first glimpses of fall peeking through the worn garments of summer.

This time of year for gardeners is one of the most rewarding, and can also be one of the most challenging: Harvest time!!

As tomatoes and summer squash start to invade every horizontal surface in the kitchen, it can be difficult even to keep up with the daily picking if you have a large garden - let alone the ongoing watering, weeding, etc. Evenings in our kitchen are spent slicing cucumbers, grating zucchini into freezer bags, and peeling tomatoes - and the canning pot is bubbling away on the stove top more often than not.

Luckily, one thing that doesn't really need preserving is potatoes! We finally "dug" the potatoes out of our hay bale garden yesterday, and hopefully these beauties should keep for a while on their own in the cellar. As you probably know by now, this was our first attempt at hay bale gardening, and we've been quite pleased with the results so far; the potatoes are no exception.

PicturePotato plants - mid-May.
I only planted 3 bales of potatoes this year - two were planted with various varieties from our CSA, and one was a late planting of Yukon Golds, which went in much later than it should have, but it doesn't seem to have hurt the harvest too much as far as I can tell.

The plants looked absolutely beautiful all season, after a spotty start, with late frost taking some of the new plants, and a few that never came up at all. The ones that came through grew quickly and vigorously. The only pests that bothered them this year were the flea beetles, and they didn't seem too troubled by them frankly.

They started dying down about 6 weeks ago, but the tops were still green, so I left them in the bales. In hindsight, we probably should have harvested a bit sooner, as a few of them were starting to rot when we pulled them yesterday, so I will keep that in mind for next season.

I actually probably would not have harvested them just yet either, except that I noticed something was digging in one of the bales. Upon closer examination, I found several tunnels through the bale, and a quick search found chewed and nibbled Yukon Golds - the field mice had discovered the bounty! (Field mice have also discovered the ripe tomatoes - who would have thought the largest antagonist to our hay bale gardening venture would be a tiny field mouse?!)
"Digging" hay bale potatoes -
no actual digging required!
Finding potato gold!
In haste, my husband and I found a piece of plywood to dry the potatoes on, and commenced to digging through the decomposed bales in search of buried treasure. We found it alright, and apparently so did the mice, as numerous chew marks showed - though only on the Yukon Golds for some reason - apparently even mice find them the tastiest! A few were rotten, so I'm glad we didn't wait longer, and some had scabby scurvy stuff on them, but many were beautiful and perfect, and we got a fair number of good-sized ones.
Potatoes grown in hay bales are already
This year's hay bale garden = next year's
Unlike potatoes grown in dirt, they were very clean overall, and relatively easy to find. We also didn't have to worry about cutting them or stabbing them with a fork or shovel, and pawing through the decomposing hay was quite easy compared to digging them out of the ground.

Overall I would say our first try at growing potatoes in hay bales was quite successful. We planted no more than 2lbs of seed potatoes to start with, and harvested 26lbs, so overall I would say it was quite a satisfactory ROI. We would definitely do this again, and next year would like to expand to 5 or 6 bales.
Bales no more...
The haul: 26 lbs.
Another benefit to growing in hay bales is the load of beautiful compost that's left behind for next year! The bales are largely decomposed by now, and their tasty remains will go on the compost pile to finish up for next summer's garden. Although we bought a truck load of compost to start off our garden this spring, I don't think we will need to do so in the future, especially if we continue gardening in hay bales!

I will post again when the season's over, to give a final review of our first year of hay bale gardening. In the meantime, we just had the back field mowed, so we have a fresh crop of hay bales stacked up and waiting to be placed in the garden to start the process for next spring.

Our next homestead adventure is to finally install our geothermal system! We are just starting the process, and are getting estimates on the installation from two local companies. I will share pictures and updates as the project progresses.

In the meantime, enjoy your garden harvest, and remember to check out our new sustainable gardening blog site for more gardening ideas and tips: http://sustainablegardeningnews.com/




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