On Growing Potatoes

Richard Englund
Adams County Master Gardener

I donít have much space in my vegetable garden, but I do like to grow potatoes. They taste so much better coming right from the garden. I used to grow them the traditional way with deep trenches, etc. But then I read about planting them near the surface and covering them with straw. I tried this last year, and it worked wonderfully except for one minor problem that I will get to later.

The spot which I had assigned for the potatoes was about 8 feet by 16 feet in one of my raised beds. I prepared the soil as usual, adding mulch which I had composted along with some fertilizer. The seed potatoes were planted quite close together. I was able to do this since I needed no rows and would not be walking in the raised bed until time for harvest.

I planted the potatoes using as a guide a cardboard triangle which measured 12 inches on each side. I pushed the seed potatoes into the ground about two inches and then covered the whole area with about two or three inches of mulched leaves which I had saved in plastic bags the previous fall. You can skip the leaves if you donít have any available.

After laying down the mulched leaves, I covered the bed with straw to the depth of 10 to 12 inches. Actually, I used the ornamental grasses which I have growing in my yard. After cutting them down in the early spring, I set them aside until I planted the potatoes. I did cut them up a bit into two to three foot lengths.

That was all that was done to the potato bed until the time came for harvest. There was no weeding and no extra watering since the year was quite wet and the ground never really dried out. I was also fortunate to not have any potato beetles. The plants grew "like weeds," and I looked forward to a good harvest.

The time to harvest came, the straw was raked off, and there were the potatoes. They were big, beautiful potatoes, and I would have had about two bushels from my 8 by 16 foot patch except for the minor problem I alluded to above. That would be the VOLES, those plant-eating varmints that looked upon my garden as a free cafeteria. As it was though, I did harvest slightly more than a bushel. If you have a problem with voles, you may not want to try this way of growing potatoes.

But I havenít given up. This year, I plan to surround my bed with half-inch chicken wire which I will bury 6 to 8 inches around the edge with 10 to 12 inches exposed about the ground. Hopefully that will keep these varmints out. Iíve had to do it with other plants, especially hosta, and it has worked very well. Of course, I could also get a cat.

Growing potatoes in this manner may seem like quite a bit of work. Initially it probably is, but it is so much easier planting and harvesting the potatoes in such a small area that I think it is worth it.

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