Posts tagged potatoes

Warning of the Three Frozen Kings

    When it was sunny and 80 degrees for a brief day or two in April,  I heard from several people asking if they should go ahead and plant their gardens. In Iowa, that’s fine for many vegetables, such as cabbage, peas and potatoes, but I warned them to hold off on the tomatoes, cucumbers, squash and other tender plants. Those plants might actually have been OK during the past couple weeks, as it’s stayed fairly warm, so gardeners who took a gamble will be ahead of the game. But old-school gardeners often heed the warning of the Three Kings.     

   This is something that I ran last year on this blog,  but as it’s often asked, here’s what I’ve been told about the legend of the Three Kings:

    The Three Kings, or Three Frozen Kings, is a Czech legend that serves as a warning to protect tender plants against a possible late frost.  In one of various forms, the story says the three kings or saints (Pankrac on May 12, Servac on May 13 and Bonifac on May 14) were frozen when the temperature dropped while they were fishing at sea.

    On May 15, St. Zofie came along with a kettle of hot water to thaw out the three frozen kings.

    Since Czech immigrants found Iowa similar to their home country, those traditions carried over, and, whether or not the story makes sense,  it  seems sensible in many years to heed the Three Kings warning.

     Knowing the last average frost date for your area can also help. That date can vary, however, depending on the source. I’ve seen that in northeast Iowa, the last average frost date is May 10. East-central Iowa is April 30, and southeast Iowa is April 20. Those might seem early in some years, but look accurate for 2009.

    A U.S. Climatography report placed northern Iowa, around Decorah, with a last average frost date of May 26; central Iowa, around the Cedar Rapids area, at May 13 and southern Iowa, around Ottumwa, at May 3.

    Climatologists say the average can vary,  even within the same county. The last frost date might be a week later in low-lying areas or a week earlier on hilltops.  Because the frost date is only an average, your safest bet might be to heed the Three Kings warning and wait until May 15 to set out those tender plants.

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City gardens ready for potato planting on Good Friday

imga00711Good news for gardeners who lease plots from the city and want to get their potatoes planted on Good Friday… 

Despite some weather setbacks, Cedar Rapids parks staff finished tilling and marking all three of the city garden sites this week. Cedar Rapids leases out 150 plots at Ellis Park; 102 at Squaw Creek Park and 60 at the Tuma Soccer Complex. As of today, only 97  plots were rented at  the Ellis garden, which was flooded out for the season last June. Soil tests for benzene, arsenic and other chemicals have come back at safe levels, but some of the people who gardened at Ellis may have also been flooded out of their homes and won’t be back to garden.  

I spoke to E.B. Kunkle of Cedar Rapids today, who appeared to be the first gardener back at the Ellis site.

E.B. Kunkle

E.B. Kunkle

E.B. was planting onion sets. Last year, he was able to harvest green onions, spinach and radishes before the floods wiped out everything. Gardeners were advised against returning last year due to possible contaminants. Today’s weather was in the 50s and the soil was dry enough to get started, at least on onions. E.B. has tried growing potatoes in the past, but they were overcome by (my nemesis) the potato beetle.

Gardening lore calls for potatoes to be planted on Good Friday, which is tomorrow (April 10, 2009.) I doubt that I’ll get mine in that day, but as usual, turned to my uncle, Craig Musel, for advice. Uncle Craig gardens near Chelsea, Iowa, and always manages to win at least a few blue ribbons for his potatoes at the famous and fabulous Iowa State Fair. I talked to him Monday, and he said he started planting his potatoes about three weeks earlier, which would be mid-March. His tip? “I plant them whenever I can get them in the ground,” he said and keeps planting “until I’m done.”  Those blue ribbon winners – never want to reveal their secrets.

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March Madness and will this snow kill my plants?

   Sunday’s Homegrown Highlights column in the Gazette shows that a) the only thing predictable about March weather is that it’s unpredictable and b) our columns for Sunday’s newspaper are written in advance.  Hopefully, no one dug under several inches of snow to begin “waking the garden.”

    In fact, the snow acts as insulation for plants from the cold. Ones that have already bloomed might be done for the season after being buried under snow, but those that were just emerging – tulips, daffodils (at least those here in Cedar Rapids that have not blossomed yet) and others should be fine.

     I’ve been able to resist the temptation to begin yard work even on those beautiful, sunny and 70-degree days of March, and I will at least for the first couple weeks in April. Until the ground is fairly dry – much less soggy than what it’s been recently –  it’s really best to stay off the lawns and out of flower beds. I know a few vegetable gardeners who already planted potatoes and onions before this weekend’s snow. Some vegetables are more tolerant of the cold and can survive even in weather like this. Just remember, there’s no reason to jump the gun on yard work. Enjoy each season as it unfolds. There will be plenty of time for outdoor work in the months to come.  

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New feature: Your Questions

Every so often, I see comments posted that ask gardening questions that I’m sure many of our readers would be able to help answer. With that in mind, a new category, “Your questions” has been added, so readers can ask and answer gardening questions. I’ll also try to find expert answers if no one else can help.

 

Click on the arrow next to the categories box, at the right, to find this feature.

 

 The first questions come from Pam who asks the following:

 

 I have started a flower garden in the front of my home which is facing east but does get some south sun on part of the garden area. I love flowering plants but I have not done a good job with finding appropriate plants. Does anyone have ideas of various plants that are perennials to put here?

 

Pam (who lives in Marion, Iowa) also asked:

How soon should you start trimming the fruit trees: apple and pear? What other tips should I know to get the trees ready for spring? I have heard a lot about spraying the trees so what should I use?

Leora left the following question:

 We have heard of growing potatoes in tires, but need to know the procedure. We have two big tractor tires to work with. Please help us.

Does anyone have advice for Pam or Leora? Please add your suggestions in a comment below.

 

If you have any questions of your own, you can post it in a comment here, or send an email to: cindy.hadish@gazcomm.com

Please include your location – Northern Iowa, Central Iowa, etc., – as that will help tailor the responses.

 

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Not so good Friday?

Good Friday, by tradition, is the day to get your potato crop planted, but with snow still on the ground, and an earlier than usual Easter, what do the experts say?

I’m not a potato farmer, but fortunately, my uncle, Craig Musel, grows some of the best potatoes around and is a State Fair  blue ribbon champ:) He also has a biting sense of humor, so when I ran the question past him, I wasn’t sure what to expect.

“I plant whatever I get in the ground,” was his first reply.  Ok. But really, Craig, are you going to get your potatoes in the ground tomorrow or not?

Maybe it’s a trade secret, because his answer was somewhat vague. Not only does tradition have people planting potatoes on Good Friday, but anything that goes underground, like potatoes, should be planted under a “dark moon,” while above-ground crops, such as watermelon, go in under a full moon. Since Good Friday is always a full moon, the alignment doesn’t make good planting sense, Craig said. Still, he has planted potatoes around this time in years past, and they grew beautifully. Northland and Cobbler are two early varieties he recommends. 

So, if Craig can get the snow off his garden in rural Chelsea, he’ll be out planting at least some of his potatoes on Good Friday. The cold shouldn’t be a problem, as long as the potatoes don’t freeze. He doesn’t think they will. But the snowstorm predicted for tomorrow might be a deterrent.

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