Accidentally Cooking

Documenting my mistakes in the garden, kitchen and pantry

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Swollen Buds

Not a real post today, just posting some pictures of the various plants that are ready to burst with springy goodness. First, some of the largest buds on my blueberries are starting to burst:


I was worried that my cherry trees were sick or dying, especially when they didn’t start budding out and blossoming with some of the other trees last week. However, the buds on my two little trees are swelling up and showing signs of life, even if it is a little later than expected:



I know transplanting (and trans-continental shipping) are stressful on plants, and I know that the soil in my yard leaves something to be desired. I’m happy to see some signs of life, even if they are moving a little slowly. I don’t expect to get any cherries from these trees this year (or very very few), so as long as they stay alive and build up some good root growth this year I’ll be happy.

Finally, the potatoes in my buckets are starting to leaf out, which has me pretty excited:




It’s a modest start, but it’s a portent of good things to come. With my tomatoes and peppers in the ground as well, we could be in for an awesome year of gardening shenanigans.


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Potatoes in Buckets

Last time I talked about the basic steps for planting sprouted potatoes. Today I’m going to go over some more details of exactly what I did (so when things don’t turn out at the end of the season, I’ll have a checklist of what not to do next year). Here are some of my sprouted potatoes, cut up and left to scab overnight:


Normally I wouldn’t be too enthusiastic about planting grocery store potatoes, but Dana insists on buying organic potatoes (other vegetables she doesn’t care as much). When these sprouted, since they were organic and tasty, I decided they were worth planting instead of buying new seed potatoes.

My house doesn’t have gutters (yet) so instead of having one large rain barrel connected to a downspout somewhere I line up a few 5 gallon buckets along the drip line of my roof. This works well for much of the spring and early summer to collect water that I can use later. And of course, it means I have a few buckets laying around to use in my evil mad scientist potato growing experiments BWAHAHAHA (insert more maniacal laughter here)!

This year, I used two 5-gallon plastic bucket, and a large clear plastic tote for my potatoes.

I used a 1 inch wood drill bit to quickly drill several large holes into the bottom and around the bottom edge of each bucket for drainage. Into each bucket I added a thin layer of straw and leaves from last autumn. This, in my mind, will help improve drainage and prevent dirt from seeping out through the holes in the bucket.

Into each bucket I then added a layer of compost, 4 chunks of potato (sprouts facing up!), a layer of a potting soil we had around (enough to cover the potatoes) and then another thin layer of straw. This top layer of straw, again in my mind, will help to retain soil moisture like any mulch, and will help to add some air pockets, improved drainage and lightness to the soil so the roots and small potatoes have somewhere to grow and room to expand.



When the potato plants start to grow taller, I’ll continue to fill in more layers to the bucket, topping off each time with a little bit more straw for this exact reason (it doesn’t hurt that I have so much excess straw laying around). The straw and leaves will also decompose over the season, adding even more nutrients to the mix.

I have two buckets and a large clear plastic tote prepared like this. Assuming we can get about 1 or 2 pounds of potatoes per 5 gallons of bucket volume, I think we’ll be in good shape come fall and winter.

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Sprouted Potatoes and Onions

The popular wisdom in regards to potatoes and onions, when they’ve sprouted in your pantry, is that they are effectively spoiled or not worth eating. Both become sort of shrunken-looking. Sometimes they start feeling a little soft. In some cases (potatoes and garlic especially) the green parts can lead to a different flavor or less flavor overall. You may be tempted to just throw them away at this point and move onto something with fewer ambitions.

Potatoes and onions (and other taproots, tubers and alliums) represent stockpiles of chemical energy and nutrients for the plants. These plants store significant portions of their sugars, starches and nutrients in these vegetables underground to hedge against winter and drought. Later when conditions are better, these are powder kegs that can quickly explode into new plant life. I planted tomatoes and peppers a few weeks ago and the tallest of them is about 5 inches on it’s tip-toes. Over the course of maybe a week, one of my onions in the pantry sprouted and sent up shoots 5 inches or more, and sent out a whole clump of them. The mass of new green growth coming out of a single onion in 1 week was significantly more than the mass of a tomato growing for several weeks.

Because potatoes, onions and other root vegetables represent storehouses of chemical energy, you can often put those right in the ground and have new plants grow from them (and grow quickly!) The plant will grow, pulling it’s initial burst of energy from the sugars and starches stored in the root. As the plant gets bigger and the leaves start photosynthesizing, excess sugars and starches will be stored in a new generation of tubers and roots for the next season. Thus continues the circle of life.

In the pantry last weekend I found that several of our “Sweet Yellow” onions and several russet potatoes had sprouted and were well past the point where we would be trying to salvage and eat them. I already had some onions planted, but a few more in the garden can’t hurt anything. I had been planning to buy some seed potatoes, but now I don’t need to. If you know how to prepare them, you can plant both these things right in your garden (now is about the time to put them outdoors, if you’re brave enough).

Preparing and Planting Onions

Every onion layer grows up into a single stalk. New layers grow in the middle, pushing up new stalks through the center of the plant. When Onions are harvested and allowed to dry, the outer layers dehydrate and turn into the papery covering we’re all used to, in order to protect the tender inner layers.

To plant a sprouted onion, here are some steps to follow:

  1. Carefully remove the papery outer layers, careful not to damage any roots that are forming (notice that some roots may have started growing under the paper or even between other layers!)
  2. Carefully make incisions and remove remove any layer of the onion which is not currently sending up a viable shoot. Again, do your best not to damage the roots.
  3. As you remove the non-growing outer layers, eventually you’ll reach the live heart of the onion, small bulbs which are each sending up shoots. You may have one in the center, you may have several clustered inside like a bulb of garlic. If many, you may carefully separate them.
  4. Carefully plant these onion cores, sprouts up and roots down, in a pot or directly in your garden, no higher than the very top of the bulb (but make sure at least a teensy little bit of bulb is still sticking up above the dirt line).
  5. Water and care for them like normal.


In this picture, the three closest pots contain my sprouted onions (I’ll bury them a little deeper when I get them into the garden in the next few days). The non-growing layers which you remove are probably perfectly edible. If they look plump and juicy to you, consider using them in food. Waste not, want not.

Preparing and Planting Potatoes

Like onions, the chemicals making up the mass of sprouts come out of the heart of the potato. The more sprouts the potato puts out, the more shrunken, shriveled, and deflated the potato will look. This has lead to a reputation, often undeserved, that potatoes which have sprouted are mushy and effectively inedible or unpalatable. This is probably not the case, but your mileage may vary. If you’re intent on eating them, snap off the sprouts, skin them, remove anything that feels mushy, and cook like normal.

If, on the other hand, you want to plant them, the process is extremely easy:

  1. Fingerling or little potatoes can be planted as-is without any kind of action taken on your part.
  2. Larger potatoes can be cut, to increase the number of plants you start with. Carefully and cleanly cut the potatoes so that each cut piece has at least 2 sprouting (or ready to sprout) eyes on it
  3. Some people suggest leaving the cut potatoes to dry out overnight or longer, to form a dry scab on the cut parts to keep diseases out. Other people say this is not necessary and the potato chunks can be planted as soon as you cut them. I left them out overnight because I didn’t have any place ready to plant them just yet.
  4. Plant the potatoes under an inch of good, fertile soil. There are many many strategies for growing potatoes in buckets, barrels, boxes, bags and other novel containers. Some of these strategies can produce significantly higher yields (in exchange for more materials needed and more effort on your part) than just planting them in the ground. I’ll leave you to do the research on those methods yourself.



All told I ended up with 4 additional plantable onions and around a dozen chunks of potato ready to be planted. I’m not quite sure where I’m going to put these things because almost all of my garden space is already spoken for with the other plants I’m preparing to grow.