If you’ve been thinking about growing your own potatoes, now is the time to do it. Before you start, however, you need to consider the right planting approach for your garden. A few years ago I did a test: I grew German butterball potatoes using seven different planting methods. In the course of the growing season, the advantages and disadvantages of the individual became quite transparent.
Take a look at the different planting methods that you can consider, including those that worked best and that gave less than excellent results.
The cheapest: Hilled Rows
Dig straight, shallow trenches 2 to 3 feet apart in prepared soil. Plant seed potatoes 12 inches apart and cover with about 3 inches of soil. When the shoots reach 10 to 12 inches in height, use a hoe or shovel to shovel soil between rows and bump them against the plants, half burying the stems. Repeat this process as needed during the growing season to keep the tubers covered.
In contrast to container gardening, there is nothing to buy or build and no soil to transport. This is a simple, inexpensive and proven method that farmers have used for millennia. It is also practical for large-scale plantings.
However, the quality of the soil can limit the yield. Above ground technology may work better in places where the dirt is highly compressed or contains little organic matter.
Here is a video showing this potato planting method:
The least digging: straw mulch
Place seed potatoes on the surface of the prepared soil at the distance specified for the rows, and cover them with 3 to 4 inches of loose, seed-free straw. Place more straw around the stems as they grow, and finally form a layer of one foot or more in depth.
The advantage here is that the thick mulch saves the soil moisture and suffocates weeds. Harvesting is effortless without digging, and this method is recommended to thwart the Colorado beetle. However, this resulted in a lower yield than the hill row and field mice, which are known to eat the crop under the cover of the straw.
Biggest yield: raised beds
Loosen the floor on the bottom of a half-filled raised bed. Place seed potatoes at a distance of about 30 cm in all directions and bury them 3 cm deep. As the potatoes grow, add more soil until the bed is filled. If possible, simplify harvesting by removing the sides.
This method gave the largest harvest in my trials, and the potatoes were equally large. Raised beds are a good choice if the garden floor is heavy and poorly drained. The disadvantage: the floor to fill the bed has to come from somewhere – and it takes a lot.
Good for DIY enthusiasts: wooden boxes
Build or buy a bottomless square box – I used wood from discarded pallets – and plant the same thing as for a raised bed. The box is designed so that you can add additional slats and soil as the plants grow. In theory, you can temporarily remove the lower lamella for harvesting or simply tip it over.
This is another strategy for growing potatoes where the soil is of poor quality. It gave a similar amount to the raised bed. However, a lot of time and effort went into building the box, and I felt that the results did not justify the effort.
Best for wet yards: wire cylinders
Using a ¼ inch mesh hardware cloth, make a cylinder about 18 inches in diameter and 24 inches high. Place a few inches of soil in the ground, then plant three or four seed potatoes and cover them with 3 inches of soil. Add more soil as the potatoes grow. To harvest, lift the cylinder and pull back on the ground to expose the tubers.
In a climate with incessant spring rain, the wire mesh would provide excellent drainage and prevent the soil from getting wet. This is another elevated technique to take into account where the garden soil is poor. Unfortunately, I only harvested a small number of undersized bulbs from the cylinders – a darker appearance, probably because the soil-compost mixture I used had dried out so quickly that the plants lacked sufficient moisture.
Easiest harvest: let bags grow
Commercial grow bags are made from heavy, dense polypropylene. Put a few inches of a soil-compost mixture in the bottom of a bag, then plant three or four pieces of seed potato and cover them with 3 inches of soil. Add more soil as the plants grow until the bag is full. To harvest, turn the bag over and throw the contents out.
Attachment bags can be used on patios or driveways or where garden soil contains no nutrients. The bags should last for several growing seasons. Their dark color captures the heat of the sun to accelerate early growth. Harvesting is easy and the yield can be impressive considering how little space each bag takes up. However, this can be an expensive technique. The brand of the bag I used is $ 12.95.
It is best to skip: garbage bags
Fill a large plastic garbage bag like a grow bag and punch a few holes through the plastic to drain it. Roll the top edge of the bag so it stays upright. Otherwise the bag will sag and spill earth. To harvest, tear the bag and pour out the contents.
As with the breeding bags, a garbage bag can be used for which cultivation in the ground is not an option. Black pockets capture heat from the sun to accelerate early growth. Aesthetically, however, this is the least appealing choice. Our yield was low, perhaps because the thin plastic warmed the soil too much, which restricted the formation of tubers.