When I first started growing vegetables, I planted potatoes the common way: digging a hole or trench, laying the spud in, and covering with soil. As the plant grew, I put more soil around, “hilling up” the plant with soil so that no light would get to the tubers and make them green.
Then it came time to harvest and trying to find the tubers in all that dirt.
I started with a shovel. When more potatoes were found cut in half than not, I moved to a garden fork. Then I had holes in the potatoes. Finally, I just dug around with my hands and a trowel. It was not fun (well, after the initial “I grew potatoes!” feeling faded). And boy, were those potatoes dirty.
Then I read in The Oregonian that potatoes could be “hilled up” with straw, making for a clean and easy harvest. Intrigued, I tried it the next season and not only did it work, harvest was fun and the kids LOVED helping because it was so easy to find the potatoes.
So here is my version of “straw-planting” potatoes. I am not an expert, but have planted this way for about 4 years now, and I have had great success. I’ll never go back to the other way.
This is the bed I’m going to plant this year- it’s about 9’x 20′. I rotate my beds (if you garden organically, it is one of the ways to keep pests and diseases down). Last year this grew corn, the year before, beans.
You can just see the bed in the top of the picture that I grew potatoes in last year. Another benefit of growing with straw is keeping the weeds down, and I just leave the straw after harvesting until I need to plant the bed the next spring.
I used black plastic on the weeds (like I described here) for about 2 months, then raked up the debris and pulled any remaining weeds a couple weeks ago. Then it rained, hailed, and snowed for a couple weeks, pretty much putting me off the idea of planting potatoes. Finally today we have beautiful weather and the potatoes, they will be planted!
Here’s what my remaining stored potatoes look like. We ate the last of the good ones April 4 and I left these in the cooler until I was ready to plant. They are OK like this, and some people actually plan to “presprout” their spuds to get them off to a better start, but mine are just naturally like this after 7 months storage.
I have 3 different varieties: Yukon Gold, an early potato; Red Norland, early to mid-season; and a late season russet-type that I can’t remember the name of. Update: Planting leftover potatoes was an experiment and I didn’t have a good crop. I’m wondering if it was because they weren’t “certified disease free” seed potatoes? I’m back to buying the seed potatoes- anyone have experience with this?
The first thing I do is take my shovel and mark where I want the spuds planted by digging about a 4 inch hole in the soil. Then I take some compost and dump a shovel-full on each area. This is the forth year for this bed, and I’ve layered soil and compost on the whole bed every year, so this year the soil is nice and I’m just putting compost in the areas I’m planting, plus some bone meal to fertilize.
I think this may be too close together (1-1/2′ to 2′), but I’m always trying to fit as many vegetables in as I can. AND with this method, I find I can plant closer together than typical. I’ve had good production doing it this way, so I’m OK with things this close.
I mix the soil and compost together, and place a spud in the hole I’ve dug. I usually use whole potatoes to lessen the possibility of rotting (it’s known to get damp here…), and they’re the smaller ones from my harvest, anyway. But I’ve used pieces as well with good results.
I lay them all out before covering them up, so I can see where they are and don’t inadvertently step on one- not that I’ve ever done anything like that.
Then I cover up the tuber with the soil, making a little mound. If there are long sprouts, I don’t bother to cover them, they will be covered by the straw later. Just be careful with them and try not to break any of the sprouts. It’s pretty rare that I have sprouts this long- I guess I should’ve planted sooner.
After covering all the potatoes, I put a mound of straw on each little dirt mound. It’s important to use straw, not hay, as hay will have many more seeds that will sprout into weeds…not something we’re after here.
The straw flakes off in “leaves” and these can be pretty dense, but it really should be light and relatively fluffy so the stems of the potatoes can grow through.
So I separate the leaves and any dense parts of the straw as I drop it over each potato mound. This is easiest with dry straw so if you get the straw a while before planting, keep it covered to keep it dry.
Keep going until all the potatoes are covered in a straw mound. I also lightly cover the dirt between the mounds to aid in keeping weeds down. If it’s not going to rain for a few days, I water the mounds either by hand or with a sprinkler. It also helps to keep the straw in place if it’s particularly windy.