Planting Potatoes My Way

A friend was wishing she could grow potatoes, but couldn’t dig and hill them. I explained about planting potatoes my way.

Years ago, when I started teaching full time, I spent a weekend planting potatoes the old way. Dig a trench. Put in the potatoes. Cover them. Come back to pull more dirt over the new plants. Eventually dirt is hilled up around the plants.

planting potatoes my way requires lots of mulch
This year I have lots of loose mulch thanks to my picky goats. Other years I have purchased straw or had old, moldy hay. These bales split into flakes. I lay these out and plant along the joints between flakes. Loose mulch is harder to plant through.

My potatoes had their trench. They got covered. And I didn’t have time to come back. I had lesson plans and papers from six different science classes to take care of.

The giant ragweed moved in towering eight feet over those poor potato plants. When I tried to harvest the nubbins of potatoes, I used a saw to cut the ragweed down.

Phooey.

trench burrowed through mulch for planting potatoes my way
I used two methods to deal with the loose mulch. First I created a trench down to the dirt to put the potatoes in. The second method was to set the potatoes out on top of the mulch to arrange them. Then I burrowed down a hole to the dirt and put the potato in. The second method was much faster and easier.

The next year I made shallow trenches, maybe half an inch deep as otherwise the potatoes would meander over the plot. Each seed potato was set out at intervals along the trenches. Mulch hay was piled up over the potatoes with tiny wells above each one.

The potatoes grew. The giant ragweed didn’t. Well, a couple tried and were pulled up.

arranging the potatoes
I tend to plant a bit close together with rows far apart. I also just set them out without measuring, only what looks right. To date the potato plants haven’t complained. They seem to find the garden soil rich enough to ignore my inept arranging.

Harvest time came. I shifted off the last of the mulch and picked up the potatoes.

From then on, over twenty years now, planting potatoes my way has seen some adjustments. The basics remain the same.

1) Set up the rows.

2) Set out the seed potatoes.

3) Cover the potatoes with mulch.

4) Add more mulch as needed to keep it six inches deep.

5) Pull the few weeds that insist on growing.

6) Roll back the mulch and pick up the potatoes at harvest.

Planting potatoes my way does mean smaller potatoes. Of course Yukon gold potatoes are smaller anyway. Mine are a medium size which is fine for us.

planting potatoes my way works for me
The thing about mulch hay is its tendency to tangle up into almost impenetrable mats. Potatoes sprouts can force their way up, but leaving a channel makes life much easier. Besides, I can spread the mulch apart and check on the sprouts when impatience gets too insistent.

Mulch has advantages. Fewer weeds. No digging. Enriches the soil. Holds in moisture during dry spells. Keeps the ground cooler during hot spells.

Mulch does have problems. It usually comes with a seed load. It must be added to as it sinks over the season. It keeps the ground cold in the early spring. It can get water logged.

Planting potatoes my way works well for me here in the Ozarks. It isn’t perfect, but nothing about gardening is.