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The Resilience Hub & Portland Maine Permaculture Message Board › potato harvest '08

potato harvest '08

user 6954726
Sullivan, ME
Post #: 58
just wanted to share what i learned this year about planting potatoes into new mulch.

early this spring i mulched a rocky, poor soil plot (mostly hawkweed, lowbush bluberries, lots of bare spots) with cardboard, seaweed, and straw. in late april or early may i planted my potatoes by cutting a hole through the cardboard, plopping in a handful of commercial compost, and settling the seed potatoes into the hole. then i mulched the holes with the surrounding straw. in probably late june or so, i hilled the plants with last year's leaves. that was the only time i hilled them. i never watered during our dry spell, and obviously mother nature took care of that for the rest of the summer! i planted 5 varieties, all purchased from fedco: all blue, french fingerling, onaway, red cloud, and purple viking.

today i harvested. the majority of the plants had totally died back. a few had one or 2 stems w/ some green growth, and maybe 1/3 of the french fingerlings were still pale yellowy green. i decided to harvest today instead of waiting til all the growth was dead because part of the patch had flooded w/ kyle's rains and the forecast is calling for more rain. i don't feel that it's good to keep them in such wet conditions.

the amount of worm and other insect life in/under the mulch was astounding!!!! at least 2 different species of worms, spiders, slugs, those little roly bugs, other many-legged critters...... totally thrilling to me.

notes on the varieties that may be of interest:

all blue.... seemed the most susceptible to what i believe must be "scab" many of them had raised scabby looking bumps on them. however nice yields and some large, long tubers. color is absolutely stunning.

onaway..... averaged 4-5 HUGE potatoes per plant. the tubers seemed to grow mostly right below the main stems. most looked really healthy

red cloud.... similar to onaway, some HONKERS, looked healthy, clustered near the stems

purple viking.... had a few really big ones, most were medium sized, and thus probably 7 potatoes average/plant. again most looked healthy, tho i noticed at one end of the row several plants each had one potato that had some sort of rot, which had created a perfectly round and smooth crater in the tuber.

french fingerling..... takes the cake for unbelievable yields!!!! EVERY plant was just loaded w/ tubers. not sure if this is typical of fingerlings or what, but it sure was exciting to harvest them. and there were some very large tubers in there, 4-6" long and up to 3" wide. these guys seem to send out long runners (?), ie they weren't neatly clustered right below the plants' stems. i had to search a much wider area to find all the tubers, many were in the valleys between the hilled rows. i'm not really sure what usual potato spacing is ( i probably did about 1 to 1 1/2 feet btw plants) but i would recommend giving these fingerlings extra room so its' easier to harvest w/o upsetting the rows on either side.

the only con i can see in this setup is that it takes a while to harvest, bc you can't really "dig" the potatoes. while some were growing nicely within the mulch layer, many were well-lodged into the dead sod, which is definitely hard packed. i feel i would have damaged many tubers if i had used a fork to try to work through the rows, jabbing into the sod layer. next spring i may try planting right onto the mulch itself w/o cutting a hole in the cardboard. that would probably yield cleaner tubers and be easier to harvest.

i think i am going to experiment w/ "overwintering" some potatoes in the ground this fall. i will take some of the really small potatoes and just poke them into the already mulched patch i have prepared for next year's crop. we'll see if they survive or rot. i have definitely had potatoes sprout this year in various areas of the garden and in last year's patch.... either from small chunks or the potato "seeds" i'm not sure.

David S.
Washington, ME
Post #: 268
I did crazy experimenting with potatoes this year. I laid cardboard along my back yard woods edge an covered it with a thin layer of prepared dirt then covered it with hay in the fall. In the spring/summer I planted potatoes in the dirt and hay on top of the cardboard and then covered it with more hay. They grew on top of unprepared woodland soil. The roots went through the cardboard. I didn't plant many but they grew well and I got small very clean red potatoes and a few golds. The soil underneath looks real good now so I covered my patches with more hay. I love those small potatoes but admittedly yields were not unbelievable. Ultra good though. I had almost no bug problems other than slugs.

I created a pile of dead wood next to my shed that was 8 ft. wide, 20 feet long and 5 feet tall 5 years ago when I moved here. I hated looking at it so I covered it with hay to make it look like a hay pile. I liked this and covered my other nasty wood piles too. I threw a bit of compost dirt, mushrooms and other organic crap on it. I was hoping some animals may inhabit these piles. Hoping for rabbits actually. Got chipmunks and probably mice and voles. They are fertilizing under there.

Anyway, the hay was enhancing decomposition, and holding up the snow causing the pile to sink down dramatically. Each year I have chucked the dirt and other organics on and hayed it a couple of times. I also walked/jumped on top of it a number of times. It has dropped at least 3 feet so this year I chucked some of my brother's last year's junky free potatoes on top and covered it with hay. They grew pretty well. I'm betting that woodpile will get better each year and that the ultra small ones I missed or left will come in the spring. We'll see. The voles may get them. I have been replanting the plants after collecting the potatoes and they have not died. I may throw some peelings on in the spring since any peeling with an eye can potentially grow and cover with hay.

I will be planting some of my other rotting wood piles next year. I'm betting tomatillos will go crazy in them. I'm chucking a few on this fall. Maybe some tomatoes too.

I've found that voles can be a problem with fall planting in my raised bed BTW but they haven't gotten into the window boxes much.

I'm starting a similar experiment with brush piles. This has already been done in Scandinavia. I've never heard of anyone else doing woodpiles though.
user 6954726
Sullivan, ME
Post #: 59
this is fascinating dave, thanks for sharing.

how have you found the quality of the potatoes from the replanted plants? do they tend to be smaller, more disease/bug susceptible, or less tasty as the years go by?

i may replant some of the plants in my new mulched patch to experiment w/ also.

re: the brush piles, sounds like an excellent idea. i keep looking at all the brush piles we have lying around, and thinking how they could be breaking down into something a lot more available for us. covering them w/ hay is a great idea; i bet leaves would work well too.

while i have had vole trouble in coldframes during the winter, and some vole/mouse/rat troubles occasionally during the growing season, i haven't had them in the potatoes (yet). but a friend of mine this year had some severe consumption of potatoes due to voles (we won't even talk about the carrot situation!) she has tried using one of those sonic noisemakers that supposedly scare them off, but no luck. my best luck has been w/ keeping a few baited mouse traps in the rows that they are bothering. unfortunately the chickens won't eat the dead rodents (but boy do they love live baby mice!)
David S.
Washington, ME
Post #: 269
The replanted plants are this years plants so not much has happened. Since they still had a hunk of potato at the base I figured what the hell and put them back. I was hoping any baby potatoes still attached would develop and maybe sprout next spring. We'll see what happens. If you are referring to the last years leftover free potatoes, they grew pretty well even though some looked pretty rough with bug holes and rot spots. It was a free experiment. My favorite kind.

Truth is growing potatoes is relatively new to me. I am a compulsive experimenter though so I try all kinds of crazy things. Often, rather than following directions I may think "What if I did it this way". Some times things fail. I'm used to it. One cool thing about this experiment is you can uncover the potatoes and look at them and replace the hay.

I did get motivated yesterday after writing and threw some tomatillos and junky tomatoes on my other funky wood piles and mulched them with hay. I finished up on a couple of new cardboard gardens and refilled my window boxes for some planting.
A former member
Post #: 209
Years ago when I kept a large garden I grew everything but corn, peas, and potatoes. We were surrounded by fields of Green Giant corn and peas, and potatoes were so cheap that I bought a few bushels for winter use. But I always tucked a few potatoes in the mulch because it's so much fun and I enjoyed being able to lift the mulch and pick a few new baby potatoes. My yields were always tremendous, not surprising since I was working with wonderful prairie loam and several years of permaculture enriched soil.

I put nine plants in this year. I had long run out of garden space and so I spread aged cow manure about 4 inches thick and covered that with cardboard and about a foot of hay. I was afraid to cut even little holes in the cardboard because I was planting right over unplowed, matted quack (witch) grass, so I just set them on top of the cardboard hoping that the roots would grow through it.

They seemed to take forever to come up, I suppose not damp enough. Finally I had nice looking plants, but small. I had no pests at all. About 2 wees ago the plants had all died back and I pulled the hay aside and was disappointed to find very little. Nice looking potatoes, but all in all, I used to find that many potatoes on just one plant--my entire harvest only filled a little bathroom trash container. I would guess that they were unable to push roots through the cardboard till at least midsummer, too late to provide enough nutrition to grow big plants.
A former member
Post #: 210
BTW, I have a couple of questions. I have heard the term "hill the potatoes" - does this mean to pull the dirt up around them, and is it done so that none are exposed that would turn green? Also, I have never bought seed potatoes, but have just used small shriveled potatoes that are beginning to sprout or cut-up potatoes that have a couple of eyes. Is there any reason that seed potatoes are better?
user 6954726
Sullivan, ME
Post #: 63
hi mary, yes "hilling" the potatoes means to bring soil or mulch up high around the plants so none of the tubers are exposed to the light. the new potatoes that grow from the plant will grow above the planted potato piece, thus the need to hill them.

i wonder about the seed potato question, too. i mean, one reason to buy certified seed potato is that it is disease free, and you can get organically grown seed if you desire. but i am always striving towards saving more and more of my own seed, and this includes potatoes. i have a friend who has been saving potatoes for seed for a few years and she has noticed that over the years the quality of the potatoes and their disease resistance has lowered. i wonder why this is, and for some reason it's made me hesitant to save my own. but this year i plant to set aside some of the smallest ones, and if there are any left in the spring from this years harvest, i'll plant those too and compare with purchased seed.

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