In this newsletter, you’ll find tips to grow potatoes and some disturbing information about pesticides. I encourage you to go small when growing your favourite leafy greens and herbs with sprouts and microgreens, share planting tips for this month, the most nutritious lettuce varieties plus some inspiring news about the health benefits of gardening. I hope you pick up some new practical tips to apply this month!

July 2019 Newsletter | The Micro Gardener


Can you Grow Potatoes from Potatoes?

The short answer is yes! If you’ve never seen a packet of potato seeds, that’s for good reason. To grow your favourite potato variety, you need to start with a tuber. An actual potato called a ‘seed potato.’ It’s a funny name because potatoes don’t have seeds!

‘Seed potatoes’ have ‘eyes’ or dormant sprouts, also known as ‘buds.’ Each eye will sprout and develop either a stem with leaves or form roots. Once the plant is big enough, small potatoes will form and then grow.

Organic chitted potatoes ready for planting

Organic chitted potatoes ready for planting

Are all potatoes safe to grow?

Ideally, grow from organically certified seed potato varieties. Why? You want to start with disease-free, safe spuds. Unfortunately, potatoes were included in the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) 2019 ‘Dirty Dozen’ list that ranks the most pesticide-contaminated fruits and vegetables. It’s not surprising potatoes made the top 12 because studies show root vegetables are particularly vulnerable to absorbing chemicals in the soil.

There’s another important reason to choose certified organic potatoes. You want to avoid the risk of planting GMO spuds as they absorb more toxins. See: Are GMO Potatoes Safe? A Former Monsanto Bioengineer Tells The Truth.

How do you get potatoes to grow shoots?

You can encourage your potatoes to ‘chit’ or get the ‘eyes’ to sprout. Simply put them in a cool spot and expose them to indirect light. This forces them to develop shoots and speeds up the process for early planting. I sit my potatoes in an egg carton with the eyes facing upwards. It’s the perfect size and shape for chitting potatoes.

Are whole or cut potatoes better for planting?

That depends! The size of your potato doesn’t make as much difference as the number of eyes it has.

You have two options:

  1. You can plant a whole potato with one or more ‘eyes.’
  2. Cut a potato into pieces, with at least one or two eyes per piece. You can even plant a potato peeling with an eye on it!

It may seem more economical to cut your ‘seed potato’ into several pieces because you end up with more plant material and potentially, more potatoes. However, there are pros and cons for doing so!

If you want to harvest large potatoes, you may be better off planting a whole potato with one or two eyes. i.e. Invest in more potatoes to start with, to get a bigger harvest.

Whole chitted potatoes sprouting from eyes ready for planting

Whole chitted potatoes sprouting from eyes ready for planting.

If you want to stretch your budget to get as many potatoes as possible by cutting them up to plant, they will be smaller in size. Trust me, don’t be tempted to be too mean! If you cut your potatoes up too small, you may get a miserable harvest. Remember each piece stores nutrients and energy the future plant needs to grow.

You’ll also need to take an extra step if you cut your spuds up. Each piece will need to dry out for at least a day, so it doesn’t rot when planted. If you are planting in a humid climate though, this still may happen. So, consider whether you want to opt for the whole potato option instead to minimise the risk of rotting.

So, in short:

  • More eyes per piece equals more, but smaller potatoes.
  • One or two eyes per piece means fewer potatoes, but they will be larger.

Remember to plant your potatoes on a root crop day after the full moon to accelerate growth of roots and shoots. Learn more about timing your planting here.

Happy potato planting!


Grow Sprouts and Microgreens Year Round

If you find it too warm or cold outdoors to grow some of your favourite vegetables and herbs, why not grow them as sprouts or microgreens indoors? These baby leaves are digestive enzyme rich, nutrient and flavour packed, healthy ‘fast food.’ Better still, you can grow both in good light with minimal time, money, water or effort.

These are some resources to help you get started making your own seed raising mix and growing these healthy greens.


Gardening may Help you Thrive as you Age

Australian researchers following men and women in their 60’s found that those who regularly gardened had a 36% lower risk of dementia than their non-gardening counterparts. Dr Willcox from the Uni of Hawaii (studying Japanese people who live to 100+) discovered many maintained small personal gardens well into old age. He said “When you eat vegetables that you’ve grown yourself, it changes everything – they taste more delicious, and it really makes a difference in the health qualities (vitamins, minerals, phytoactive compounds etc.) of the food itself.”

It’s not just about health improvements. Gardening with others, sharing food and conversations socially, can also increase longevity. Sharing a healthy common interest can improve social connections and decrease the risk of depression and anxiety.

Gardening can help older people live a healthier longer life

Gardening can help people live a healthier longer life

Researcher Dan Buettner studied five locations where people are known to live longest: Okinawa in Japan, Nicoya in Costa Rica, Icaria in Greece, Loma Linda in California and Sardinia in Italy. Interestingly, these people had four things in common:

  1. A plant-based diet (Buettner recommends a diet of “90% plants, especially greens and beans.”)
  2. Social support networks.
  3. Daily exercise habits (gardening is ideal for low-intensity physical activity).
  4. They gardened well into their old age (80s, 90s and older) and had less stress!

One Harvard University study showed that people who were surrounded by lush greenery lived longer, with a lower chance of developing cancer or respiratory illnesses. All healthy reasons to grow your own food and spend time in a garden! Read more.


Planting in July

In the southern hemisphere, cooler temps mean it’s ideal for winter crops and in warmer climates, sow sun-loving vegetables and herbs. During cool weather, it’s an ideal time to prune dormant fruit trees to shape for spring growth and next season’s fruit. If you miss this vital task now, you’ll likely regret it in the year ahead. I also sow annual flowers prior to spring, so when all those insects hatch out, I have plenty of flowers rich in pollen and nectar to attract my predator insects to keep pests in balance. Nasturtiums are a favourite trap crop and growing as a carpet of colour in my garden. They help disguise brassica crops like my kale, broccoli, rocket and mustard from cabbage butterflies. They are an incredibly useful flowering herb with wonderful medicinal properties.

This month is an ideal time to apply compost, finish garden projects, feed your soil, mulch and succession plant for a continuous supply of edibles. Divide garlic chives and arrowroot and transplant. Take cuttings, prune and feed asparagus, and cut back dead passionfruit vines to encourage new growth. Apply liquid fertiliser and keep weeds in check. Many are hosts to pests and we don’t want to encourage that!

Moon Gardening – Get your Timing Right!

It’s just after the new moon this month and the perfect time to start sowing fruits, vegetables and herbs that are harvested for their above ground growth. It doesn’t matter whether you sow seeds, seedlings, mature plants, vines or fruit! Check your climate zone for what you can plant now, like leafy greens, fruiting crops, flowers, herbs and fruit trees. Leave the root crops till later this month.

During the new to full moon phase, the moon’s gravitational pull starts drawing moisture UP into plant sap, leaves, stems, flowers, seeds and fruit. Seeds swell, cuttings hold more nutrients so strike well, and you should see prolific growth in your garden during this time.

For quick seed germination, I follow the moon calendar when sowing microgreens, vegetables and herbs

For quick seed germination, I follow the moon calendar when sowing microgreens, vegetables and herbs

As long as your soil or potting mix is moist, your plants will have their strongest growth during this phase. So, why not take advantage of nature’s timing? It’s been raining in my garden and seeds are self-sowing everywhere. This phase is also a good time to transplant.

Plan ahead to get Nature’s timing on your side by sowing the right crops in this new moon phase. You’ll benefit from faster seed germination, more robust leaf growth, pest-and-disease resistant plants, and quicker absorption of liquid fertilisers. My best harvests come from working with nature rather, than taking a ‘hit and miss’ approach. Later in July, after the full moon, there will be days ideal for sowing radish, garlic, onions and carrots.

If you’re not yet following a Moon Calendar to TIME your planting, fertilising, propagation and optimise seed raising success, then learn more about the benefits you could be enjoying.

If you’re not sure what to plant or which garden tasks to undertake during our 5 seasons in SE QLD, I have a Subtropical Planting Guide to make it easy. Our short winter continues this month and this ‘window’ provides gardeners in this climate to enjoy minimal pest/disease problems and comfortable conditions to be outdoors. If you live elsewhere, check my article on What to Plant When. It’s packed with links and tips.

Sustainable Gardening Guides

Sustainable Gardening Guides – Subtropical Gardening Guide, Moon Calendar + Potting Mix Guide


Most Nutritious Lettuce Varieties

Do you enjoy eating lettuce? Whether you grow your own or buy them fresh, it’s worth knowing not all lettuces are equally nutritious!

Many studies* have been done on the various vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and beneficial compounds in lettuce cultivars. Interestingly, the most nutrient-rich varieties are those with deeply coloured loose leaves. That makes sense. Sunlight through photosynthesis produces chlorophyll (responsible for the plant colour) and the absorption of many nutrients is dependent on light.

That’s why crisphead lettuces like iceberg that have their leaves enclosed in a tight head are naturally pale in colour. The greenest leaves are on the outside but they’re almost white on the inside. While they have a crisp texture, it’s no wonder the flavour of iceberg lettuce is watery and pretty tasteless compared to many other varieties! The crisphead lettuces also have lower nutrient content than loose leaf and romaine or cos types.

On the other hand, loose leaf open varieties (red, purple and green) tend to have darker leaves due to their exposure to sunlight. Several studies* have found that red oak leaf and lollo rosso (red) varieties are the highest in antioxidants including phenolic compounds, carotenoids, vitamins A, K, E and C. However, every lettuce variety contains different nutrient levels, so it makes good nutritional sense to eat several types!

So, next time you’re selecting seeds or reaching for a punnet of lettuce seedlings, why not mix it up a bit? Not only will your salad look and taste delicious with a variety of colours and textures, but you can also benefit from higher nutrient value.

References:

  • Llorach R, Martínez-Sánchez A, Tomás-Barberán FA, Gil MI, Ferreres F. Characterisation of polyphenols and antioxidant properties of five lettuce varieties and escarole. Food Chem. 2008 Jun 1; 108(3):1028-38.
  • Nicolle, C., Carnat, A., Fraisse, D., Lamaison, J., Rock, E., Michel, H., Amouroux, P., & Remesy, C. (2004). Characterisation and variation of antioxidant micronutrients in lettuce ( Lactuca sativa folium). Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, 84(15), 2061-2069.
  • L. Avio, C. Sbrana, M. Giovannetti and S. Frassinetti. Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi affect total phenolics content and antioxidant activity in leaves of oak leaf lettuce varieties. Scientia Horticulturae, 10.1016/j.scienta.2017.06.022, 224, (265-271), (2017).


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Queensland Garden Expo

I’m looking forward to speaking again in the Giant Kitchen Garden at this year’s QLD Garden Expo on 13th and 14th July. With over 40,000 visitors, display gardens, plant nurseries, garden clinics plus 100 talks and workshops over three days, there’s a smorgasbord of gardening goodness to dig into. Visit the website for more information and download your speaker program. I’ll be giving talks Saturday and Sunday morning and would love to meet you.

Anne speaking at the QLD Garden Expo


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I look forward to sharing more news and ways to grow good health next month.

Happy gardening!

Anne


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© Copyright Anne Gibson, The Micro Gardener 2019. https://themicrogardener.com. All rights reserved.

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July 2019 Newsletter
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