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Posts Tagged ‘Straw’

“Just don’t turn your back on the turkey,” my friend and co-worker, Audra Harders, said when offering to let me pick up some of the extra straw bales they have at their farm. I’ve taken it into my head to try and grow potatoes in straw, and she had plenty of it stacked neatly in the drive, left there by strangers last fall after decorations at Thanksgiving gave way to bright lights and tinsel.

These offerings come regularly to Audra and her husband, Gary, because people know they and their children have been raising animals as 4-H projects for years, so they drop off bales for use on the farm. But the kids have grown and gone off to college, and now the couple scaled back their livestock to a few chickens, three dogs, and one very big turkey.

“You have to keep your eye on him, because he’ll stand back and watch you for a few minutes, then fly up and get you with his spurs,” she said, holding up both hands with two fingers and a thumb in the claw position. Along with clawed toes, male turkeys grow sharp, bony spurs on their lower legs. “It’s actually pretty handy when sales people come calling.”

My desire for straw is strong, and I’ve dealt with peckish poultry before – our son raised ducks for years, and one male was predisposed to nipping heels. So, enlisting my husband for help, we discussed strategy.

“Let’s see,” he mused, “what can we use to shield ourselves from it? I can lift those bales into the truck pretty quickly if you can just keep the bird off of me while I do it.” Plywood shields and blankets came to mind, but we settled on a simple broom, and drove bravely to the farm.  Spotting the straw stack but not the bird, I felt confident that we could get through this without bloodshed.

It waited until we’d hopped out of the truck, and shut the doors.  

Then, rising from it’s lair near the front steps, a huge turkey appeared, a male in spectacular plumage. Blue-and-red headed, dark feathers giving way to buff and grey penciling, he rose in full glory, puffing feathers and fanning his tail until he looked as large as a Buick.

“There he is,” my spouse whispered as the bird slowly stalked toward us. “OhmygoshOhmygoshOhmygosh,” I blurbled, unable to form words in my near panic. The beast let out a bellowing gobble-gobble as it approached, every step gliding it closer to us, its prey.

Just then our savior arrived, as Audra opened the door and started down the steps. Though I was relieved at her appearance, it was Katie, dancing quickly down the stairs, that made me the happiest. At a foot tall (counting her ears), the black and tan Welsh Corgie trotted between us and the puffy creature, bringing it to a halt in its tracks.

“Katie’ll protect you,” said Audra, and we vigorously greeted the dog as if she were our own. Safely tucked behind the Corgie, my spouse and I felt brave, carelessly laughing and discussing the bird, which was now pacing slowly toward the front of the truck.

Strutting, putting in alarm and occasionally gobbling, the beast walked its new path around the truck to us. “It’s spring, and he’s a little feisty. Had you been here in summer, fall or winter it wouldn’t be a problem, but right now it’s spring and he’s wooing you,” my friend joked.

Or did she? If anyone knows anything about love, it’s Audra, a romance novelist and author of Rocky Mountain Hero (Steeple Hill Books). And that bird began drumming, making a deep, percussive noise in its chest that’s usually used to attract hens.

I called up to Gary, standing on the upper deck of the house with Hank, his hound. “Is that true?” I asked and he laughed. “It’s spring!” he said, tossing his hands up in a shrug, “knowing that bird, yeah, probably.”

Wonderful – now I had something new to worry about, as the turkey relentlessly, albeit slowly, moved toward me. “Dummmmmmmm,” uttered the Tom, his red snood – that fleshy protuberance dangling across his beak – waving in a suggestive manner, “dummmmmmm.”

But keeping the truck between Katie and itself didn’t work out for the turkey; the Corgie could see under the four-wheel drive vehicle. And when the bird get close enough, Katie herded it away. “Good girl! That’s a VERY good girl!” I screamed in relief, and Don loaded up the truck. Katie kept it at bay until we were done.

Quickly climbing into the cab, I managed to shut the door on the treacherous bird. Thwarted in its attack, it let out a piercing gobble at the steel of the door as we thanked the Harders for the straw, and slowly rolled away.

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Around 200 varieties of Peruvian potatoes were...

Image via Wikipedia

Reader Leslie asked a great question, hoping for tips on how to grow potatoes in straw.  Digging into the subject has gotten me fired up to try it, because I’m such a brute with the shovel I always end up nicking the spuds.

But growing potatoes in straw is an easy way to get perfect spuds without the hassle of shoveling.  Known as ‘Straw Potatoes,’ you’ll have better size, shape, and color of the tubers than those grown in soil.  Straw has the added benefit of reducing weeds, keeping roots cool, and conserving water. 

Choose an early to mid-season variety, purchasing certified disease-free seed potatoes at garden centers or on-line – DON’T use potatoes from the grocers. That’s not safe gardening ; those potatoes might carry disease into your garden.

Plant seed potatoes (small, whole potatoes) or potatoes cut into 2 ounce pieces. If cutting up potatoes for seed pieces, be sure to leave at least one good eye per piece and let them wait a few days to allow the cut side heal over before planting. 

Plant potatoes soon;  four-to-six weeks before the last frost.  Choose a flat, sunny location out of the wind for your straw patch.  If there is no place in your yard without wind (please stop laughing), encircle the area for planting with a chicken wire cage that can be easily opened for harvesting.  This will keep your straw from flying to Kansas.

Place seed pieces on the soil with the cut side down and eyes up, spacing the spuds 12 inches apart.

Cover the potatoes with six inches of clean, weed-free straw.  The potato will send up a stem, and as it pokes up out of the straw, add another six inch layer.  Repeat a third time. This ensures that you’ll have a long, underground stem from which the tubers will grow. 

During the summer, if the straw compacts down or starts to decompose, add more, tucking it in around the plant.  Check the straw frequently to make sure it’s covering the tubers – if hit with sunlight they turn green and become bitter.

Pay close attention to watering the potatoes over the summer; they should not be allowed to dry out, nor should they become soggy. A soaker hose laid across the surface of the soil will help you irrigate the potatoes evenly.  Pull any weed that makes itself at home in the straw.

Go lightly with fertilizer – you want the potatoes to form tubers, not a lot of foliage.  Give them a shot of balanced liquid fertilizer about six weeks after the first sprout has topped the straw (even if you continue to add layers of straw, mark the date the vine first poked up).

In August, harvest new potatoes – young tubers not fully sized – by carefully pulling back the straw to reveal them.  Pluck out a few new potatoes, then tuck the straw back around the plant, and it will continue to produce for you.  Or wait until the plant dies back to harvest the fully-sized crop.

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