St. Patrick's Day may be synonymous with a mug of ale or a shamrock for many people, but there are also many traditions that you can take back to your beloved garden. Whether you choose to grow some lush potato plants to fill your traditional Irish dishes, or participate in an old St. Patrick's Day tradition for new growth, you'll be celebrating St. Patty's in style with your gardening gloves on and soil between your fingers.
Planting Potatoes: Celebrating Irish Heritage
Potatoes form the core of tasty, savory dish in Irish culture known as colcannon. As an individual dish it's made with mashed potatoes and cabbage, or it can serve as one layer of the popular and rustic Shepherd's Pie. To get your own, homegrown potatoes, you simply have to pick one of the hearty and tasty varieties that exist. Not only will you get a bumper crop, but the leaves of the plants also tend to be a deep green that looks great in your beds or containers. Once the plants die down, you can leave most varieties in the ground for a week or two, and then you get to investigate how many tubers you've grown. Unearthing the roots gently is a great moment in the harvest process. For a fun departure from the typical varieties, look for red or purple types that are sold as seed potatoes in your local nursery or garden center.
Growing from seed potatoes can be a new experience for you and your family this St. Patrick's Day. Basically, not how many eyes, or small sprouts, are on each potato. For large potatoes, you can cut pieces off that contain at least two eyes and plant them as separate seed starts, but for the smallest potatoes or those with only one or two eyes, you'll want to plant them whole. Before planting, cut pieces need a couple of days to 'heal over' before they can be planted. Once you do plant, give them plenty of space, plant in rows, and ensure that the soil is full of compost or other nutrient-rich amendments. Many people enjoy making potato barrels or potato towers, vertical planters that allow you to plant various levels of potatoes in a deep vertical planter. If you want to get really adventurous, consider planting your potatoes in straw bales, since this can be a way to overcome some bad quality soil due to the slow decomposition of the straw.
Mulch your plants throughout the season. Some people prefer a meal of new potatoes, the ones with less tough skins which need to be eaten quickly and are harvested early. They are certainly delicious, but if you wait until a couple of weeks after the plants wilt and fall over, you'll find potatoes that are able to last through the winter, being eaten as you need them. If you ration them, you might even have a spud or two ready for a big bowl of colcannon next St. Patrick's Day!
Planting Peas: Participating in Traditions
An old American tradition, ironically, the received wisdom is to start your pea plants on St. Patrick's Day. That may mean starting them outdoors in well-composted soil if you live in one of the southern hardiness zones, but in places where St. Patrick's Day dawns with snow, you can still plant! One of the secrets to great pea germination is to start them the night before you want to plant by soaking them in water. By planting this first early crop on a day marked by luck, you can be sure that you will have some tasty crops come harvest time. Experiment with different kinds of peas: snow peas, sugar snap peas, and garden peas all grow prolifically and some come in heirloom varieties full of flavor and bright green and blue pods.
Sprouting indoors is a great idea if your last frost date is long after St. Patrick's Day, but many varieties of peas can handle a light frost. If you think the temperatures will dip after your peas are outdoors, make sure to cover them with a sheet of black plastic or garden cloth to catch some of the water crystals and avoid having the pea sprouts damaged. Multiple days in a row of frigid temperatures may be unlucky for your peas, so talk to a local expert at your garden center or nursery to get a more precise time to start your particular variety if you are at the edge of a particular hardiness zone.
Yes, you can certainly make some green cupcakes or raise a glass of Guinness for St. Patrick's Day this year, but consider how you can incorporate a great lucky tradition of planting something as part of your celebration. Both sweet peas and savory potatoes will make for great, healthy dishes later this year, and if you love a good green shamrock, you will like these green vines and leaves even more!