Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Potato Growth

I started hilling up my potatoes about a week ago. Despite the bin that they are growing in, I started the potatoes in trenches. Once the trenches were filled up, I started filling the bin. I dug up some earth from my woods to put on, bringing it over in five gallon buckets. I calculated that it would take about a cubic yard of soil to fill the bin to the top, though I don't have to get all the way up if I get tired of hauling dirt. I calculated that it would take about 40 full buckets to fill up my bin all the way.

I figured that would be two buckets a day for 20 days, which wouldn't be a lot of work any one day. The potatoes had other ideas though. They are growing faster than 2 buckets of dirt a day. Today I broke down and just took a couple of wheelbarrrow filled with compost over to the bin and carefully put that in. Potatoes love to grow in compost, but the massive amounts of organic matter can cause scab. Scab doesn't like acid conditions (which is why this is the only section of the garden that didn't get limed this year), but then potatoes don't like growing in acid conditions either. I could make the soil more acidic, but I think I won't. What I'm going to try to do is keep the potatoes watered well. Supposedly well watered potatoes don't get scab as much as the drier potatoes since the bacteria in the soil can out compete the scab fungus.

Not all of my potatoes are very vigorous. I have two that are smaller than the others. I hope they can keep up with the rest of them and avoid getting buried in the compost.

I didn't plant the potatoes very closely. I have 10 seed potatoes for 16 sqft. That is a lot more space than Jeavons says to give them. I'm really hoping for large potoates since they are easier to peel. Sometimes ease of use is better than a bigger harvest.


  1. I think I need to hill up mine now but have heard that straw is better than compost or soil. Did you hear a nything about this? I don't have a source for straw, but I need to find one or use something else before it's too late. Those buggers grow fast! Yours look great, but that's a lot of dirt=hauling, so I agree a smaller yield vs. too much work is a good trade off.

  2. My slow growers (Yukon Gold) caught up with and then surpassed the ones that came up first. I'll be curious to see your yields from adding the soil/compost to such a depth. I'm sticking to the traditional hilling, having read that anything over 9" actually reduces yields (don't ask me to cite my source, I have CRS, but I remember it pertained to commercial fields in my state). Many are gung-ho over the potato towers, but it seems only a few are lucky to get good yields from them. I'm going for small sized new potatoes, anyway. I get really good large ones (cheap) freshly dug and sold at a nearby farm stand. I do have about 5# of store bought russets that are sprouting like mad out in my garage....I need to find a place to plant them!

  3. we did ours in straight compost. i hope they dont get scab. thanks for the info.

  4. Good grief, Daphne! My post today over at Poor Richard's Almanac was also about the progress of my potato bin experiment. Talk about great minds thinking alike! (Or at least potatoes growing so vigorously they demanded our attention.) As you know, I'm alternating straw and soil and am waiting with great curiosity to see what the harvest looks like. And I too have heard that consistent irrigation is the key; luckily, we've had so much rain that I've only had to water the bin once so far! Excelsior!

  5. So I'm back from dropping off my daughter for the summer. I seem to always talk about potatoes when I'm gone. I don't try to. It just happens.

    Karen, I've heard that straw is easier than soil, but have never heard that it makes better potatoes. Mostly what I hear is that mice might take a bite out of the potatoes in straw. So if you have a lot of mice or voles in the garden, don't use it.

    Annie's Granny, I really wish now that I had put half the potatoes in the bin and half out of the bin, using just the traditional hilling method. Then I could see if it was a better technique. BTW some potatoes don't do better in bins. The early varieties supposedly don't increase their yields at all. I'm using a mid-late season potato so hopefully it will work.

    Josie, potatoes do love to grow in compost bins. I figured the plants would love it.

    our friend Ben, I actually wrote it on Monday. When it posted on Tuesday I was in your neck of the woods. Well at least I was in Bethlehem, PA dropping off my daughter for her summer job at Lehigh. I don't know if you live anywhere near Bethlehem or not. It seemed a little like nowhere's ville PA, but I'm guessing to really be there you have to be farther west in the state. And I did get a chance to experience your prolific rain. We explored the town as it rained on us all day long. Yuck. Now if only I'd get some real rain here in Boston.

  6. Daphne, I always figured it would be worth a try to put the late variety in the bottom of the tower and let them grow (and add soil) until the tower was halfway filled, then plant a layer of early potatoes in between the other foliage and continue the process. I'd bet you could get a pretty good yield from both varieties that way.

  7. That would be an interesting way to do it. If you could get the timing right you could do it.