"Bayou Bill" Scifres
Dedicated to the conservation and enjoyment of Indiana's natural resources
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Copyright © 2008 by Bill Scifres

THE GARDEN GOURMET-- December 2008

It may be a spell before we start turning big clods into little ones, but as my back porch thermometer rocks on 20 degrees there are a few things to be done to make the plot more “grow-prone” when the sun turns northward.

That, incidentally, will be a reality a few winks before Christmas Day. And, thereafter, things go downhill until the seeds like radishes, peas, early tomato plants are in the soil and ready to do their thing.

 And don’t forget the Irish potatoes, which traditionally should be in the ground by Good Friday. That is April 10 this year.

Actually, I can’t remember ever getting my potato seeds in the ground in March, but if a calendar quirk placed the Holy days that early, my dad, who grew up to 20 bushels per year was a stickler on this belief. More over, most of the dyed-n-the-wool gardeners of Southern Indiana were firm believers in this bit of old wives’ tales.

In reality, the common old spud that played such an important role in family dramas of the early days, is pretty reliable and an easy thing to grow. . If you can’t make the deadline, don’t fret . . . plant . . . plant when you can.

In some parts of the country -- especially those with moderate winters -- spuds are planted in the fall (or even winter) for spring crops. This, incidentally, accounts for those tasty little marbles we find in markets and grocery stores well before anyone is sunburned.

Potatoes are one of the few cultivars on the American garden scene that is not planted from seed or plants. Instead, they are seeded by potatoes (what else?) themselves, sliced into eyelets, which grow as plants. My dad used to render at least a bushel of seed potatoes into seeds for several plants. Each eye was the seed for a productive plant.

I placed the seeds (eye up) about a foot apart, and I must confess the last pail of seeds was a welcome sight. We planted the seeds about four inches deep, placed each seed . . . not a drop. They were hilled up when they were six inches out of the earth . . . or smaller.

At late summer harvest time, my dad would split the take into two equal groups. Half went under the house for use until the arrival of the New Year. The other half was buried below the frost line for storage. When the first half became exhausted, the second half would grace our table until depleted.

It was no wonder that the garden has ruled supreme in family life of poor folks.

IMPROVE SOIL -- The winter (cold) months (right now) are the to apply fertilizers . . . if you are going to take that route to (hopefully) great veggies come the growing season.

Frankly, I am not a great advocate of fertilizing, but a dose of horse or cow manure can do wonders for the quality of veggies . . . especially the root types.

I have asked several farmers and gardeners about preferences -- cow or horse manure?  The nod seems to go to that of the equine, but bovine is good, I am told, and either works wonders.

I tried cow manure between rows of established plants a couple of years ago and the results (while totally unscientific) were remarkable in both the fertilized plants and the fruits they produced. The manure was worked into the soil about six inches from the plants and about one inch deep.

I have concluded that to use either horse or cow droppings it is well to apply it in fall or winter and to at least disc-mix it into the soil in late winter or early spring. I think the  disc puts the manure in the soil at a better depth than plowing.

If I have by druthers between horse, cow or chickens, I will opt for the cackle every time. I base my preference on a situation my dad had with a chicken coop.

When he opted to turn a chicken area into a garden plot he looked forward to planting the coop because it had been subjected to chicken droppings for several years. To make a long and successful story short, my dad found a rich, black, loamy soil that produced veggies like no tomorrow.

In the absence of chicken coops in this modern day of gardening, if one goes without testing the soil to determine needs, there are a number of all-purpose fertilizers in garden shops, and most produce well . . . or make you think they do. A lot of 12-12-12 is sold and used.

One facet of fertilization of any plant revolves around the theory that fertilizer has been suspected of growing tremendous plants that produce only fair crops. The theory goes that the fertilizer is used for plant growth at the expense of the final product. Beats me, but I observed a similar scenario with wild strawberries a few years back.

I knew of a great patch of good berries so I fertilized it when the season was over (early summer). Next year the plants were big and healthy -- a decided improvement. But the berries seemed smaller, though sweet and juicy as before.

PUMPKIN CREAM PIE -- Through trial and error, I have learned that the procedure for substituting paw-paw pulp for pumpkin in a cream pie is every bit as good as the pumpkin pie I tried earlier. Next up will be persimmon, then applesauce then some hybrids. There may be minor changes in seasonings and spices.

The recipe will be found under heading of “wild recipes” on www.bayoubill.com.

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All columns are copyrighted by Bill Scifres and may not be reproduced in any form without prior permission from the author.  For reproduction permission and media usage fees, contact: Bill Scifres, 6420 East 116th Street, Fishers, IN 46038, E-mail: billscifres@aol.com

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