Grow Potatoes at Home: If you’ve been thinking about growing your own potatoes, now is the time. But before you start, 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. Throughout the growing season, the pros and cons of each have become fairly transparent.
Take a look at the different planting methods you can consider, including those that have worked best and those that have yielded less than stellar results.
Cheaper: sloping rows
Dig straight, shallow trenches, 2 to 3 feet apart, in the prepared soil. Plant the seed potatoes 12 inches apart and cover with about 3 inches of soil. When the shoots reach 10 to 12 inches tall, use a hoe or shovel to dig the soil between the rows and bump it against the plants, burying the stems halfway. Repeat as necessary during the growing season to keep the tubers covered.
Unlike container gardening, there is nothing to buy or build and no land to transport. It is a simple, inexpensive and proven method that farmers have used for millennia. It is also handy for large-scale planting.
However, the quality of the soil can limit the yield. In places where dirt is poorly compacted or poor in organic matter, an aerial technique may work better.
Here is a video that shows this method of planting potatoes:
Less digging: straw mulch
Place the seed potatoes on the surface of the prepared soil respecting the spacing specified for sloping rows and cover them with 3 to 4 inches of loose straw without seeds. Mound more straw around the stems as they grow, possibly creating a layer of a foot or deeper.
The advantage here is that thick mulch retains soil moisture and smothers weeds. Harvesting is effortless and without digging, and this method is suggested as a way to thwart the Colorado potato beetle. However, this produced a lower yield than the rows and field mice used to eat the crops under the cover of straw.
Greater efficiency: raised beds
Loosen the soil at the bottom of a half-filled raised bed. Space the seed potatoes about 12 inches apart in all directions and bury them 3 inches deep. As the potatoes grow, add more soil until the bed is full. If possible, simplify the harvest by removing the sides.
This method produced the largest crop in my trials, and the potatoes were uniformly large. Raised beds are a good choice when the garden soil is heavy and poorly drained. The downside: 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 it like 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 blade for harvesting, or simply invert it.
This is another potato growing strategy where the soil is of poor quality. He gave a similar amount to the raised bed. However, a lot of time and effort was spent building the box and I felt that the results did not justify the effort.
Ideal for wet sites: wire cylinders
Using a hardware cloth with a ¼-inch mesh, shape a cylinder about 18 inches in diameter and 24 inches tall. Put several inches of soil at the bottom, then plant three or four seed potatoes and cover them with 3 inches of soil. Continue adding soil while the potatoes are growing. To harvest, lift the cylinder and pull the soil back to expose the tubers.
In a climate with incessant rains in the spring, the wire mesh would provide excellent drainage and prevent the soil from getting waterlogged. This is another raised technique to consider when the garden soil is poor. Unfortunately, I only harvested a small number of undersized tubers from the cylinders – a lamentable representation, probably because the soil-compost mixture I used dried so quickly that the plants lacked adequate moisture. .
Simplest harvest: growing bags
Commercial culture bags are made of heavy and dense polypropylene. Put a few inches of soil-compost mixture in the bottom of a bag, then plant three or four pieces of seed potato and cover with 3 inches of soil. Continue adding soil while the plants are growing until the bag is full. To harvest, turn the bag sideways and discard the contents.
Growing bags can go to terraces or driveways or where the garden soil lacks nutrients. The bags are expected to last for several growing seasons. Their dark color captures solar heat to accelerate early growth. Harvesting is simple and the yield can be impressive considering the small space that each bag occupies. However, this can be an expensive technique. The bag brand I used costs $ 12.95.
Better to jump: Garbage bags
Fill a large plastic garbage bag in the same way as a grow bag, punching a few holes in the plastic for drainage. Roll the top edge of the bag to help it stay straight; otherwise, the bag will collapse and spill from the ground. To harvest, tear the bag and pour the contents.
Like grow bags, a garbage bag can be used when growing in the ground is not an option. Black bags capture solar heat to accelerate early growth. Aesthetically, however, it is the least attractive choice. Our yield was poor, perhaps because the thin plastic allowed the soil to overheat, limiting the formation of tubers.