How to Putter in the Garden for Maximum Results

putter in the garden outfit

Proper putter prep: the outfit must be particular defines “putter” as: 

  1. to busy or occupy oneself in a leisurely, casual, or ineffective manner: to putter in the garden.
  2. to move or go in a specified manner with ineffective action or little energy or purpose: to putter about the houseon a rainy day.
  3. to move or go slowly or aimlessly; loiter.

Some of us don’t have time to putter in the complete sense of the word – too much to do! In order to get all our puttering done in time to get to work, we have to charge at the task with all the energy of a 4AM call from a drill sergeant.

A typical morning putter goes something like this:

  • 6:45 AM – grab gear and first water source, a gallon milk jug with fertilizer
  • 6:45 AM – grab coffee cup; juggle cane, jug, coffee cup, set down coffee cup and immediately forget where
  • 6:46 AM – open patio door soundlessly so as not to wake husband or cats (who would escape) (cats, not husband)
  • 6:46 AM – water topsy turvy tomato; look for tomatoes (hah!); glare at bunny bait soon to be compost
  • 6:47 AM – close patio doors quietly; water starting mason jar potatoes and garlics; spray tops and sumac
Roma tomato plant

More tomatoes on the label than on the plant – still

  • 6:48 AM – grab second water source, one quart juice bottles, make mental note to throw out bottle with broken handle
  • 6:48 AM – water bonsai in kitchen, bonsai on nook table, last remaining indoor tomato seedlings now bigger than cat
  • 6:50 AM – grab third water source, one quart juice bottle with Miracle Gro
  • 6:51 AM – check water in fireplace room plants; water sparingly
Ginger root has sprouted in the dark dank garage humidity

Ginger root has several sprouts and what might be a spider

  • 6:52 AM – open small garage door; wince at high pitched squeal
  • 6:52 AM – water starter pot of ginger plant; kick spiders out door while not screaming. Oh wait, that’s a beetle.
  • 6:53 AM – grab fourth water source, two big DeliCat cat food jugs
  • 6:54 AM – check on lone stray squash plant in Bunny Buffet Field; water if it still has more than two leaves
  • 6:55 AM – water tomato, tomato, cauliflower, potato on front porch
Echeveria shaviana about to bloom

Puttering past Cousin Bob; wave happily

  • 6:55 AM – wave ‘hi’ to Echevieria Shaviana and Cousin Bob
  • 6:56 AM – refill DeliCat jugs in garage sink; drench left leg, swear under breath
  • 6:57 AM – walk down and water two rose bushes; consider inventing thornless rose or thorn-proof housecoat
  • 6:58 AM – refill DeliCat jugs and place on front porch; make mental note to throw out leaky DeliCat jug and invest in -decent- watering cans
  • 7:00 AM – grab fifth and final water source(s), three juice jugs and spray bottle

(the following steps are performed under the careful supervision of two cats)

  • 7:01 AM – water yellow squash – one full quart. It will have drunk all the water from last night and produced two more leaves the size of your old VW bug.
  • 7:03 AM – stare at cardboard palm peat pots; wonder yet again why they haven’t sprouted
  • 7:03 AM – water tamarind #1, water tamarind #2
  • 7:04 AM – water spinach, spinach, jalapeno and green onions, putter around for 30 seconds while wondering where the other green onion pot is
yellow squash

every morning yellow squash is out of water

  • 7:06 AM – consider watering orange mint if you could see the pot but with all that mint, who knows where it is
  • 7:08 AM – carefully remove wilted squash blossoms, broken leaves; swear at nearest cat (who is blameless)
  • 7:10 AM – try to find coffee cup

And that, dear reader, is how you putter in the garden at break-neck speed for maximum results.

Just think how relaxing it’ll be when we finally add on the space to the north of the shed at the bottom of the hill…

The Edible Exodus Part 2: The Great Potato Migration of 2012

Enough vine action to hide a careful cat!

The potato vine formerly known as dead is now quite alive. What I’d previously thought was dearly departed seems to have revived itself to the point that its vines have taken over about 15% of the dining room.

However, said potato vine has helped highlight one of the downsides of indoor gardening: Indoor bugs.

Last week I mentioned having to exile a rather large flat of starter seeds and seedlings nestled in cardboard rolls due to a cloud of little gnats. Well, multiply that by a few gazillion (ok, dozen) and you’ll see the effect of this potato plant on our indoor peace of mind.

At least these gnats are small and not very energetic. They work up enough power to buzz around feebly before sitting down to rest for a few minutes. They can’t get far. I sympathize – that’s about how I feel most days.

But that minor buzzing-around (and the fact that two of them landed too close to my coffee cup this morning) is enough to exile them to the outer realms of gardenville. So this morning, the newly energetic potato plant got introduced to the Front Porch.

Last I looked, near dusk, the newly exiled still energetic potato vine was winding its limbs around the pots containing the Evecheria and Cousin Bob, having a grand old time trading tall tales about amateur gardeners, and waiting for the rabbits to show up for dinner.

How not to grow potatoes at home

If I could get these spuds to stand up, would it be a Food Pyramid?

Here is how old wives’ tales get started, often stretching back a few centuries to a time before modern technology like air conditioning, in-home refrigeration, and GPS navigation.

One time, back in the 1100s, a potato crop probably failed to take hold  – and the failure was blamed on heresy, witchcraft, or sorcery. Nowadays, a similar failure is blamed on growth inhibitors, soil imbalances, or terminator genes.

Were my best intentions foiled?

After pinning my sprouted fingerling (the “rescue spud”) onto toothpicks, carefully transplanting its fragile form into successively larger pots, attempting to nurse it back to health after the move from the kitchen to the sunny dining room nearly slaughtered it…

NOW I hear that it may not be wise, recommended, or even “possible” to grow potatoes out of the potatoes found in the grocery store.

Source vs Source: Both Wrong?

According to some sources over at Yahoo,  “growth inhibitor” is applied to commercially available potatoes to keep them from sprouting in storage.

According to some OTHER sources found at the Homesteading Today forum, this whole “growth inhibitor” tale is a load of compost – and a potato that has sprouting eyes is going to grow.

One or the other is probably wrong. One is misguided and doesn’t believe in growth inhibitors. One is misguided and doesn’t believe that store-bought taters will grow more taters.

Nothing Planted, Nothing Gained

Here’s one thing I know for a fact: If I don’t plant potatoes, no potatoes will grow.

If I do plant potatoes and they don’t grow, the reason is very likely not growth inhibitors, terminator genes, heresy, witchcraft, or sorcery. The odds are more likely in favor of overwatering.

The Potato How-To

Not a happy potato camper

It’s not a no-planting day, but given the changes in the potato plant (and my curiosity), it feels like a good day to perform a how-to study on the potato.

It’s in terrible shape, my potato plant – or is that potato vine? Granted, I stuck it in a jar to start, then stuck it into a small pot, then stuck that into a big pot, with no ceremony or research on how to actually grow the thing. So, like the runt of the litter, it didn’t really get a fighting chance to start out.

Here’s what happened:

Two inches, approximately 1.25 ounces

Phase 1 – Original Potato Selection:

Potato is picked for size and number of eyes. Too big and it won’t fit in the top of the jar, which leaves out russets and decent size baking potatoes. A red potato, on the other hand, might work.

Here, the role of Original Potato (aka rescue spud) is being played by a similar sized fingerling from a gourmet fingerling package.

The date of the original incident is March 15th – indeed, the Ides of March. Et tu, Tuberius?

The potato measures approximately 2″, weighs slightly more than 1.25 ounces, has five eyes from which grow three purplish leafy appendages, dark tan to light brown complexion.

At this point, the potato is known as a Sprouting Tuber, in what is considered to be the first of six stages to its life cycle. This is also known as Growth Stage 1. The full six stages are:

  • Sprouting Tuber – Growth Stage 1
  • Vegetative – Growth Stage 2
  • Tuber Initiation – Growth Stage 3
  • Developing Tuber – Growth Stage 4
  • Mature Tuber – Growth Stage 5 (harvest)
  • Dormant Tuber – not a growth stage


“Toothpick suspension” phase

Phase 2 – Toothpick Suspension:

In order to encourage survival, Original Potato was placed in a glass jar, suspended by three average size toothpicks. Nothing much happened until water was added, in Phase 2a – Water Addition Phase.

According to scientific sources, the potato hasn’t left Sprouting Tuber Growth Stage 1 yet. At this point, nothing is going to happen growth-wise except for the knocking off of several bits of eye growth. If too many of those get knocked off, you’re better off picking another spud.

Water Addition Phase

Phase 2a – Water Addition:

Water is added up to the neck of the jar, which immerses the lower quarter of the potato. For now, that’s it. For Original Potato, I squirted four drops of Miracle Gro into a pint of warm water, and used that water to top off the jar water as needed over the course of a few weeks.

Windowsill next to ceramic cat

 Phase 3 – Permanent Residence:

The most auspicious potato-growing windowsill in the house is the one that I previously thought is facing north. It’s actually east-northeast or something, so that it’s getting some very nice morning sunlight. I placed the spud stand-in near the ceramic Mexican cat to demonstrate location for this reconstruction. It’s still March 15th.

Transplant victim

 Phase 4 – To The Dirt Phase:

April 13th – After nearly a month on the windowsill partially immersed in increasingly-murky water + Miracle Gro, a few roots had appeared and what could conceivably eventually become a potato showed up. At this point, Original Potato got stuck into a 5″ self-watering pot, buried up to its nose in potting soil. This made it VERY happy.

Happy happy Original Potato

 Phase 5 – More Dirt:

April 27th – So happy, in fact, that 14 days later, it outgrew its 5″ pot and desperately needed room to grow. So it got put into a bigger pot. And grew like mad s’more.

According to the experts, this is Vegetative – Growth Stage 2. Plenty of stems, leaves, branches, roots. This stage should last from 30 to 70 days depending on soil temperature, planting date, age of the original tuber.

Unhappy or just catching its next stage?

 Phase 6 – Precursor to the Great Potato Famine

OK, maybe not that severe. However, the plant is not doing “well” when compared to other plants of its age.

At first I thought I had done something wrong, like burned its roots with fertilizer or overwatered or underwatered. But then I found this explanation of the growth stages of the potato from tuber to harvest, and I believe Original Potato is entering its Growth Stage 3 – Tuber Initiation.

In order to determine exactly what stage Original Potato (aka rescue spud) is in, I’d have to dig it up to see what’s beneath the surface of the dirt. Unfortunately, whatever stage it’s at would be its last stage, since I don’t know how to put it back in its pot with potatoes already growing.

Instead, I’m bookmarking this highly detailed site by which demonstrates the morphology of the potato plant – look near the bottom in the Appendix, for “Morphological and molecular characterization of a spontaneously tuberizing potato mutant; an insight into the regulatory mechanisms of tuber induction.” (Fischer L, Lipavska H, Hausman JF, Opatrny Z.)


I’ll be the first to admit I don’t understand 1/10th of what they’re saying. But better to watch their pictures than dig up my one and only Original Potato plant to see how it’s doing!