Monday, April 18, 2011

Growing Potatoes The Easy Way....

As some of you have seen over the past few months, we have set up potato crates and sweet potato crates at the farm.  From our experience last year with potatoes, our white clay presented many challenges at harvest time which made us come up with better growing options for the next planting season.

Method #1

Potatoes to the right and left of the trellis.
The first option was creating raised rows and elevating the potatoes out of the clay with a high row of compost.  This was done by painstakingly filling wheel barrows full of compost and dropping them down each aisle to get the hill about 16” high.  We then open up the top of the hill with the handle of a hoe going about 6” deep and drop in our potatoes about 12” apart.  We pat down the rows into a uniform shape and add our drip irrigation.   In about two weeks after the potatoes plants have grow out of the ground, we will hill up the potatoes again to encourage more root growth around the stem.  We do this about every two weeks thereafter.  Root growth = more potatoes!

These sweet potato slips were planted this morning.   Even though they look wilted, sweet potatoes are vigorous and will bounce back after a few days.
 We used this same option for sweet potatoes, although we raised the rows to about 18” and 6” wider than the potato rows. Again, after mounding up the hills, we dropped in the sweet potato slips at about 30” apart.  Drip irrigation was already there on these rows so we simply watered the slips with a modified version of the 180 plant dip (added Humic Acid since it was just a ground watering) and covered them up.  Sweet potatoes thrive in compost and we are expecting a wonderful harvest in the fall.

Camron holding a white yam and a Beauregard sweet potato after harvest.
Method #2

Potato crates after a few weeks of growth. 
 The second option was re-using crates that were to be thrown away and making them of some value. (If you go this route, make sure the crate has no pressure treated wood on it.) We prepped the area with mulch and set the crates in place. We then filled the crates about half way with compost and dropped in our potatoes at 6” deep and 12” apart.  Unfortunately, these will need to be hand watered, which would be the only down side of using the crates.

Potatoes prior to hilling.
 The potatoes seemed to like the crates because their performance was 2 fold over the potatoes in the raised rows. That’s pretty remarkable!

The "hilling" process.
 As I had mentioned before, we filled the crates only half way to start.  This will allow the potatoes to grow long enough stems to be topped off at about 8”-12” with more compost.  “Hilling up” is the term used when talking about adding more dirt around potatoes.  This “hilling up” encourages the plant to grow more roots around the stem, thus growing more potatoes.  We have high expectations for these potato crates after seeing how well they have done thus far.

Other options for great results are:
  • Creating a palleted box about two feet high and four foot squared.  Add about a foot of compost and "hill up" when you start seeing potatoes peeking out of the top.  (This may require cutting the pallets in half to get desired height.)  If planting sweet potatoes, fill all the way up with compost and plant you slips.  Remember that sweet potatoes grow very well in compost, so keep your slips spaced around 30".  It will not look like much, but when harvest time rolls around you will be surprised at the results!

  • Wheat straw bales make a great organic solution to growing potatoes.  At our farm, we typically have left over straw bales to start the spring.  It is a great way to re-use something that would otherwise only be fit for the compost pile.  So using six bales (or more), make a rectangle using two bales on each side and one bale on each end.  Fill with compost about a foot high and plant your potatoes.  After about two-three weeks of growth, hill them up.  When your ready to harvest, simply remove one side and dig out your potatoes.   If planting sweet potatoes, fill all the way up with compost and plant your slips about 30" apart.  (You may want to expand your area if you have a big family to feed.) 
Side note:

Compost is very nutritious and typically has the right balance plants need.  I typically add a light fertilizer like MicroStart, which is 3-2-3, but has many trace minerals.  We also use the 180 plant dip as a foliar spray as they are growing.   

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