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Covid-19 & The Great Potato Famine of 2020

It all started with Covid-19. Maybe you remember back those long years months ago… back to mid-March? I mean it had to be at least an eternity ago… Right? Back to that time when I naively thought I would exercise each day, cook meals, write content for the website, and film homesteading videos… Back before we knew we would be homeschooling four elementary school kids while working full time… Yeah, that time. Per the usual, I was behind on ordering garden things, and due to Covid panic there wasn’t a seed potato to be found.

DISCLAIMER: Oh, and if you haven’t guessed by now, this isn’t our usual tutorial! I used to write personal posts, then I stopped and went solely to tutorials. Adam has always been straight business when he writes :). While tutorials been great for readers it has made me lose some of my passion for writing content. This is my long winded way of saying, if you want to read my growing potato fiasco it has some salient points about growing potatoes, but most of this going to get drastically off topic. Basically, I’m putting the FUN in Fiasco. A FUNiasco! If you are looking for just tutorials (or don’t like foul language) skip this and hit up my next post.

Potatoes and Covid Continued

So seed potatoes… Yeah, it was impossible to find them in March. With St. Patrick’s being the traditional potato plant day in Western North Carolina I was shit out of luck. At least I had gotten my arse in gear and ordered my seeds early. Panic buying upset the gardening world in a big way! (I’m still wondering what folks did with all those dang seeds.) Anywho, I was still in the early Covid days of actually cooking nice meals and had a really fancy mix of fingerling potatoes on hand. I took a couple of each type and sliced them into seed potatoes planning on sharing my absolute ‘garden brilliance’ with everyone at a later date.

I even made a video :(

Garden brilliance in the form of potatoes never materialized. I went from congratulating myself on a smart experiment to being thankful I didn’t post my plans on social media. Not a. single. potato. poked its leafed head above ground. Weather was warm, plenty of rain, and excellent conditions for potato making. It may have been perfect weather for potatoes but was not the time for excellence in personal growth. We scrambled, as a family, to find a new normal with homeschooling, coparenting, and working full time from home. We got work handled, the gardens planted, school done, tree work scheduled, and a host of other things. But all the other stuff? Yeah… Lets say the quarantine 15 is a real thing and we are still not Youtube famous. Despite that, those damn potatoes should have sprouted.

Was it Easy?

If I make all the above sound easy… IT FUCKING WASN’T. The mind has a way of glossing over stress, and both Adam and I have a habit of just slogging on through things and dealing with the fallout when shit isn’t hitting the fan. Which is why I like to think hardly anyone checked on is during this chaos. People just have the expectation that we have our shit together. Much like, THE BEAR, we just keep going but it doesn’t mean that chaos wasn’t all around:

The Bear aka THE BEAR

Speaking of THE BEAR: I could have done without the goddamn bear that got trapped in the chicken coop. News flash: A bear proof chicken coop becomes a bear trap when you leave the door open. Also, they absolutely will kill and eat a chicken (or three) if it is early spring and nothing else is available. I do not give a single shit what Google says on the matter. And THE BEAR is quite vexing. I live in the city, so dealing with a full grown bear knocking over fences, eating crops, and generally being a giant, furry death machine just shouldn’t be on the docket.

Other problems came along; kids, work, worry. We both had excellent employers that got our butts home in a rapid manner and shifted to remote work in the span of days. At least we didn’t have the hell of trying to figure out how to pay bills during the rest of it.

To be clear our children are absolutely resilient! I am amazed at how they actually did school work while I attended meetings, how they figured out video calls with teachers (even the kindergartener), and are slowly learning how to be bored and deal with that. But if you think for one second they were perfect with it… Throw in night terrors, missing friends, having to explain to teachers the differences in school work and split households, and just a general sense of anxiety. Shared custody is difficult in the best of times and really hard on everyone in the worst of times. All I can say is I hope my children one day read this and realize how PROUD I am of them for getting their ‘kid shit’ done! Cause you are fooling yourself if you don’t think your children have full lives. But as good as they were I always felt like someone… work, husband, kids, or farm was getting short changed.

And let us not even begin to mention I got a promotion during this insanity. If you are already feeling a tiny bit stressed about making sure to be a good employee when working from home, trying to do that while living up to a new title with 10,000 distractions. It will make sure to put work anxiety into HIGH gear.

Oh yeah, and I accidently let half our quail run away. Good times. Good times.

But We Keep Plodding Away

So without potatoes growing and half a million other problems, I moved on to planting the bazillion squash (And other) starts I had under my grow lights. I repurposed the space where the potatoes had been planted and never sprouted. I mean it was mid-May FFS. Time to let it go and move on. Of course right after planting all those squash we had to spend a week dealing with freezing temps that required buckets and plastic on, buckets and plastic off, rinse and repeat while in huge windstorms and pelting rains. I may have gotten in a fight with Adam and cried in the shower after the stress of likely losing all the vegetable starts I had been coddling for three months. We shall suffice to say: Why we lash out at the ones we love the most when stressed, I’ll never know, but at this point in my life I just know it is fact.

Fast forward to the first week in June.


Nope, fuck that, lets rewind. Because when they put the entire city under curfew and I watched (via live stream) while hearing (in real time) my neighbors being tear gassed. Yeah, I just couldn’t handle it.

The divisiveness when we should come together. The mask versus no mask. The black versus white. The casual cruelty. The fact that I wrote a friend in Canada about the rioting a mile from our home with casual ease. As if these things were okay. Trust me, she called my ass to attention on that matter and asked me what the hell was wrong with me? Why wasn’t I more upset and scared and enraged.

A simple answer: you reach a saturation point.

Also, I think a lot of homesteaders are practical. Our gardens die, our livestock get sick, hours of canning can be ruined by a busted glass jar… Like everything else in life I just tackled it head on. We talked with the kids about covid, racism, economic status, and a host of the world’s ills. Then we set the expectation that we will do better and not worry what others are doing. We will wear our masks and be polite to those that don’t. We will support melanated voices and business with our money and celebrate everyone’s effort toward a just cause instead of judging the efforts of others.

We will plant our goddamn squash over the graveyard of our failed potatoes.

And With That We Find June.

First, most of the plants made it. I still have two really stunted tomatoes and one squash that is tiny from the frost. I lost a few things here and there, but overall the garden seems to be hitting its stride. Despite my warm shower tears in early spring our losses weren’t great. Everything gardenwise is going well except for the flea beetles on the eggplant, and the curl leaf aphids on the apple, and all the usual host of bullshit we deal with on a yearly basis. At least the bear isn’t eating my swiss chard at the moment… And yes, this is a thing.

And our own potato famine? Well it appears to be over because the fun in fiasco is that I now have potatoes in my squash.

That folks is how you make seed potatoes from grocery store potatoes. So now you can finally bask in my garden brilliance all these months later.

Goddamn Gardening Brilliance Right Here

The. Fucking. End. (And summer gardening beginning).

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How to Read a Seed Packet

How to read a seed packet
The back of a seed packet can seem intimidating.  It seems silly but if no one has every taught you how to read a seed packet then you could be missing a lot of good information.  A lot of people prefer to buy transplants because seed starting seems difficult. But the truth of the matter is seed starting is easy, offers a cheap way to get lots of plants, and has more variety.  The best part?  The seed packet has all the essential information you need to get going!  Below I outline all the seed packet lingo you will need to interpret to grow your own healthy plants.  As a general note the cheaper seed you purchase at big box stores will have more information, while, specialty seed packets will often include less as it is expected you will know quite a bit about gardening.  In eaither case learning how to read a seed packet will make the whole seed starting process go smoother.

Seed Packet 101


How to read a seed packet or Seed Packet 101

A. Name/ Variety– Usually a common name of the plant and sometimes the Latin version is included. Seems straightforward no? But in reality the variety can be essential to make certain your plant sprouts and thrives.  For example: Oriental Poppies are perennial but California Poppies are annuals.  You would be very disappointed when your California poppies did not show back up the next year if you did not know the variety.

B. Zone Planting – When to plant your seeds.  Ugh, this is the one thing I would always say ignore on your package.  You really have to know your area!  Or google what your actual zone is, as the maps on seed packets are just too vague to know when you should plant.

C. How to Plant –  Most importantly you will need to discern if these seeds can these be planted inside (make your own transplants) or if it needs to be planted directly outside.  Not all vegetables like to be moved so while the packet may not explicitly say you can start them inside it will most often clearly define if it needs to be planted on site.

D. Germination – When your plant should sprout. If you don’t see your seeds coming up fairly soon after the last day of the range you may have an issue.  Make sure you have read the whole seed packet on how to start them (some need soaking overnight etc).  If you think the seeds are just duds you can try googling a germination test.  Most reputable/expensive seed companies will refund or replace bum seed.  Just note, in all my years of growing I have only had the really cheap seeds not germinate and only one incident of the wrong seeds in a packet.

E. Depth to Sow– How deep to plant your seeds. If you aren’t getting germination it may be because you put your seeds to deep or not deep enough.  Some seeds need a little light, some need to be deeply buried.  This measurement does not have to be perfect but aim for a similar depth as suggested

F. Seed Spacing – How far apart to space your seed in a row.  This is NOT the final spacing for the plants that grow from seed.  This number is usually optimized to give you a good germination rate over a row of crops that will be thinned.  Honestly, I use this as a vague guide so I don’t have to thin very much.  I rarely plant in straight rows anyway…  If I have cheap seed I might sow them more thickly.  If I am starting them inside I might ignore this guide completely and just put 2-3 per pot

Diagram on how to read a seed packetHow to Read a Seed Packet: Details

G. Row Spacing –  How far apart to place rows of seeds. If you are planting in rows then this is how far apart the rows should be from each other.  I’m not going to go into why I believe row planting is probably one of the least useful ways to plant a home garden but you can read about the best way to space plants here.  If you are just starting out rows can be great and this gives you the information you need so the plants are not to crowded.

H. Thinning – How many tiny seedlings to cut or pull out.  Seed packets want you to plant extra seed and remove tiny sprouts later.  This is a really good idea for a novice gardener and the seed company!  I’d rather have 5 seeds sprout than none at all.  Once you get familiar with seeds you can cut down the thinning and use less seed. Remember that thinned plants from lettuce, radishes, and beets can be eaten as microgreens if you do not want all those seedlings to go to waste.
I. Days to Harvest –  The most awesome number on the packet!  This is when you can expect to get fruit, vegetables, or flowers.  If your growing conditions aren’t optimal (drought, overly wet, bad soil) expect this to be longer than listed
J. Sell By Date –  Whoa what?  Yep, seeds expire!  Many seeds can be kept for a few years but you want to check the packet and make sure you have fresh seed if you are recently purchasing.  I have seen old seed packets accidentally moved in with new stock.  I always check to make sure they are the freshest I can find.

K.  Extra Info – Details, tips and tricks.  Somewhere you are going to see some tips and tricks about the plant.  It may give you further tips to creating happy and healthy plants or information about harvest and saving seeds.

I personally prefer the more expensive seed (with less info on the packet) because I generally have better germination and healthier seed.  If you want really primo seed and still a good amount of information on the packet here is my affiliate link to my favorite seed store: Sow True Seed.  I also can always find special varieties more suited to my garden and have had wonderful germination rates with these seeds. Plus they will go over how to read their seed packets with you if you are lucky enough to be able to go to their store in Asheville, NC.  However, I started with the packets you can pick up at any big box store.  Nothing wrong with them and great for beginners.  Just make sure to read the whole seed packet and you will have enough information to come out with some good plants.
 Seed Packet 101