chickens no more coop and run*
Permies likes plants and the farmer likes potatoes are not that easy to grow permies
  Search | Permaculture Wiki | Recent Topics | Flagged Topics | Hot Topics | Zero Replies | World Domination!
Register / Login


permies » forums » growies » plants
Bookmark "potatoes are not that easy to grow" Watch "potatoes are not that easy to grow" New topic
Author

potatoes are not that easy to grow

Sergio Santoro


Joined: Mar 27, 2011
Posts: 238
Location: Nicoya, Costa Rica
Greetings from tropical Costa Rica, where all I know about gardening never applies.

I saw this video of Bill Mollison planting potatoes under newspapers and straw and he said "as simple as that"

I had two empty trenches, filled them with 6" compost, laid a potato with buds at every foot, covered with banana leaves (not too many papers or cardboard in the forest, plus that stuff is full of led-based ink and glue, who would wanna do that??) covered with squares of straw from a bale... and they rotted.
I was afraid they weren't getting enough rain as now it rains only every 3 or 4 days, but they rotted!

Any insight?

Thanks.


Writing from Madhuvan, a yoga retreat/organic farm on the West Coast of Costa Rica.
Kate Fortesque-McPeake


Joined: Jan 02, 2011
Posts: 28
Location: PA, zone 6b
I'm guessing temperature was not the issue in Costa Rica, though in case you live in someplace considerably cooler than I imagine, I'll point out that potatoes do not like to be planted in cold damp soil.  If your mulch of banana leaves was very heavy, it could cool the soil underneath considerably.  That's the drawback with mulch: most types lower the temperature for the roots/seeds. 

If low temperature's ruled out, then I'd ask about the source of both the compost and the seed potatoes.  What do you know about either of them? 

I know nothing at all about banana leaves.  Is it common to mulch with them?  There isn't some odd allelopathic property of banana leaves, is there?  Any possibility they were contaminated with fungicides or other sprays?


http://livingthefrugallife.blogspot.com/ - Homesteading on 2/3 acre in a ruralish suburb - PA, zone 6b
Leila Rich
steward

Joined: May 24, 2010
Posts: 3622
Location: Wellington, New Zealand. Temperate, coastal, sandy, windy,
    
  71
Sergio, I just want to mention that unless things are different in Costa Rica, paper  inks are soy-based these days.
Of course many people don't use paper for many different reasons, but I hope for Costa Rica's sake, that heavy metals in ink isn't one of them.
Jeff Mathias


Joined: Feb 19, 2009
Posts: 118
Location: Westport, CA Zone 8-9; Off grid on 20 acres of redwood forest and floodplain with a seasonal creek.
    
    1
Hi Sergio,

I am not sure what video you saw but I am going to make a couple of guesses here. Since it is Bill Mollison you are referring to there is a good chance he was in Australia or a similar climate. He does work everywhere of course but the majority of the videos I see him in are very dry climates, not tropical at all.

I am thinking your tropical climate is the key here. Generally speaking the newspaper and straw do two major things: 1. Suppress less desirables until the potatoes get growing and 2. retain moisture in the soil. I think that might be the problem you ran into. Potatoes use a lot of water but do not like to stay really wet. The trenches that would be of large benefit in arid conditions helped to keep even more water trapped around your potatoes I am guessing.

If you are trying again I would look at using raised beds/hugelkultur for the potatoes designed with the idea of keeping the soil moist but not wet and allowing excess water to drain away easily. This could be mounds instead. Also straw exposed to your kinds of moisture is prone to rotting, so you may need to really break it up nice and loose instead of using the compressed flakes right off the bale, you might also find you only need a very thin layer.

Good Luck,

Jeff


"Study books and observe nature. When the two don't agree, throw out the books" -William A Albrecht
"You cannot reason a man out of a position he has not reasoned himself into." - Benjamin Franklin
Sergio Santoro


Joined: Mar 27, 2011
Posts: 238
Location: Nicoya, Costa Rica
A few answers and considerations.

When I was about to take a meal in India they told me to only touch and take my food on the glossy side of the banana leaf, because the underside was bad. I don't know if they meant bitter or toxic. I know banana flower does taste bitter and has to be treated before cooking it. So, there may be a factor in my potato bed.
I doubt the temperature could drop that much; in fact all the locals told me that to grow potatoes I'd have to buy land on the next ridge over, which is taller and the air cooler.
I knew that you could get ink out of soy, but I thought it was only in alternative circles. Costa Rica has started to recycle this year for the first time. Just saying...

I admit I didn't use seed potatoes, but just potatoes from the store, just to try. Bummer, though.

The compost, I really don't know. I never once could wait for the whole mound to cool off completely, we just have so much to mulch, but the mound does get pretty darn hot. I guess not all of the compost makes it through the hot core and gets sterilized. In fact, we are having all kinds of volunteer tomatoes, cucumbers and papayas wherever we mulched.
Jordan Lowery
volunteer

Joined: Sep 26, 2009
Posts: 1528
Location: zone 7
    
  11
i think if you didn't use the banana leaves they would have grown fine. i cant see the potato sprouts growing through them unless you mulched the area with banana leaves and straw. then gave it time to decompose and then planted the potatoes.


The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings. - Masanobu Fukuoka
Kate Fortesque-McPeake


Joined: Jan 02, 2011
Posts: 28
Location: PA, zone 6b
Potatoes from the store were probably treated with a growth inhibitor to keep them from sprouting.  They will often sprout nonetheless, but if the ones you used got an especially strong dose of the stuff, then that could account for them failing to grow.

If you don't want to pay for seed potatoes, which are certainly more expensive than just potatoes from the store, then try to find some from an organic grower near you.  That will probably give you potatoes which weren't treated with the inhibitor, and also probably give you a variety suited to your location.  The drawback there is that you have a possible increased risk of bringing in disease on those potatoes.  Tubers sold as seed potatoes are (at least in the US) usually certified seed potatoes, which means the incidence of disease is very low, though not zero.
Sergio Santoro


Joined: Mar 27, 2011
Posts: 238
Location: Nicoya, Costa Rica
BTW, I placed each potato at the joint of each square of banana leaf covered by a square of straw. The potatoes have all the room to grow out inbetween.

I guess I just tried my luck with store-bought potatoes. I'll try again with a neighbor's.
Sergio Santoro


Joined: Mar 27, 2011
Posts: 238
Location: Nicoya, Costa Rica
I didn't slice them. Just small potatoes that I left in the light a couple of weeks to make buds.
I didn't realize the trench was such an issue.
I guess I'll try again on a slopy area.
                    


Joined: Oct 23, 2011
Posts: 0
SergioSantoro wrote:
I didn't slice them. Just small potatoes that I left in the light a couple of weeks to make buds.
I didn't realize the trench was such an issue.
I guess I'll try again on a slopy area.


to clarify mine are in a trench but the trench is sloping, as it is on a slight hill
Kathleen Sanderson


Joined: Feb 28, 2009
Posts: 969
Location: Near Klamath Falls, Oregon
    
    1
Ideal climates where potatoes are grown commercially tend to be dry in the summer, and cool at night -- the potato farmers here plant in April, usually, and it's still freezing at night most of the time through May.  My dad and grandfather grew potatoes commercially in the Interior of Alaska, and they did very well there. 

I would suggest planting your next try at potatoes in a shallow trench (probably in a raised bed if you are getting that much rain), and then gradually, as they sprout, adding the straw or other mulch.  Don't cover the leaves of each plant, just build up the root area.  If it gets too hot, you may need to provide some light shade, too.

Kathleen
Jack Shawburn


Joined: Jan 18, 2011
Posts: 230
When you plant potatoes in mulch, just make sure
they have a little hole to get through or else they may rot.
I planted under cardboard , through slits cut in it  once the were through
I just mulched the cardboard with compost. They grew well. very clean.
Jordan Lowery
volunteer

Joined: Sep 26, 2009
Posts: 1528
Location: zone 7
    
  11
i find the growth inhibitor to be completely a myth. every bag of potatoes that i have gotten from the store and did not eat fast enough have sprouted. every good potato i have bought and tried to grow grew into good food if i gave it the right conditions. which sometimes i didn't and they didn't grow. 
Sergio Santoro


Joined: Mar 27, 2011
Posts: 238
Location: Nicoya, Costa Rica
Hmmm... some hope is dawning.
John Polk
steward

Joined: Feb 20, 2011
Posts: 6453
Location: Moving to: NE Washington USDA zone 5 Western steppes to the Rockies
    
133
The sprouting inhibitor is just that: an inhibitor, not a 'preventer'.  The distributors do not want the potatoes sprouting in the supermarket (or before they get there).  They are not concerned with what happens several weeks later in your pantry.  In fact, they probably want them to sprout in your pantry to encourage you to eat them faster!
                              


Joined: May 13, 2011
Posts: 9
Sweet potatos or yams may be more suitable to the climate.
                    


Joined: Oct 23, 2011
Posts: 0
i'm hilling all my potatoes individually. the plants are getting fairly tall but there is often a leaf near the base. when i hill the potato should i cover this leaf or two?
Sergio Santoro


Joined: Mar 27, 2011
Posts: 238
Location: Nicoya, Costa Rica
Yes, we did a better crop with yams or whatever they are. The locals call them camote, which is what Mexicans call that wonderful orange tuber with a purple skin. However these have a pale yellow pulp and a weaker taste. Sigh.
We are trying to eat only what we grow and it's tough enough to go without wheat flour. I was hoping at least for potatoes.
But not giving up just yet.
Kate Fortesque-McPeake


Joined: Jan 02, 2011
Posts: 28
Location: PA, zone 6b
You'll get the hang of it.  But yeah, the early failures are really disappointing.  While it's always good to question what is possible, it's also invaluable to pay attention to what has worked for the locals for a long time.  So try potatoes and other stuff, but do it alongside what is tried and tested in your area.
Sergio Santoro


Joined: Mar 27, 2011
Posts: 238
Location: Nicoya, Costa Rica
For sure. Yucca and plantains are a pretty good substitute for potatoes, but still a long shot.
Wheat is really the tragedy. There is no rice, corn or amaranth that can replace it. They do grow wheat in Nicaragua, maybe not durum wheat with which in my father's village in South Italy they make this wonderful loaf of sourdough bread stays fresh for a weak, but at least it's got gluten. My kingdom for a muffin! Or forget muffins, for a pizza or lasagna!
Maybe with fukuoka's method I might be able to pump the most wheat out of the least amount of land.
John Polk
steward

Joined: Feb 20, 2011
Posts: 6453
Location: Moving to: NE Washington USDA zone 5 Western steppes to the Rockies
    
133
Absolutely!  Other than throwing a dead animal on a bonfire, breads probably represent the oldest form of cooking in mankind's history.
                              


Joined: May 13, 2011
Posts: 9
If you are set on taters then I'd suggest growing them on a platform of some sort so they can drain well between watering.
T. Pierce


Joined: Mar 13, 2011
Posts: 254
Location: Virginia
here, i planted them in raised beds.  where my garden is,  can hold water and we are getting drowned so far this spring.

i planted whole potatoes.  my mother in law saw something on TV that said slicing potatoes will allow disease and cause rot.  so i sprouted whole potatoes from the store then burried them in the beds. after sprouts came through the soil surface i layed a single layer of newspaper and then mulched with straw.  the plants are 18"high and beautiful.  we' will see how they produce.  they were planted late too.  i was  almost a month behind planting them.  yet the plants look bigger and healthier than a friend of mines who planted earlier, sliced them, and with no mulch. 
              


Joined: Aug 14, 2010
Posts: 52
Location: Australia
Planting potatoes in an actively composting material is a no-no, they will rot as you found out. I'll pop up a guide to growing potatoes similar to the raspberry post if I get time next time.

Cheers,
PeterD
John Polk
steward

Joined: Feb 20, 2011
Posts: 6453
Location: Moving to: NE Washington USDA zone 5 Western steppes to the Rockies
    
133
Aren't potatoes one of those crops that do NOT like a Nitrogen rich environment?
rose macaskie


Joined: May 09, 2009
Posts: 2134
       Jon polk, i was listeing to a video on potatoes and they said that too much nitrogen meant  a lot of leaf growth on potatoes and not much tuber growth as you say they said to much nitrogen was bad for potatoes.

        The thread makes me laugh, without experience it is so hard growing things, the potatoes i planted rotted but then i just decided to plant them in autumn and they were vegetable shop potatoes and before planting them, badly treated by me. I will learn in the end.

         I looked up potatoe sellers this spring and found a lot of them in Scotland.
         It seems that seed potatoes can be full of disease and so in some countries you are only allowed to buy potatoe plants, England i think it was.
         There is a man called Allan Roman, it is possible to find him with the words Allan Roman potatoes, in google, who sells seed potatoes and a lot of interersting varieteies of them at that, like blue poatoes full of anti oxidants and he has cleaned them up prior to commercialising them.  He sent old fashoined types of potatoes off to scotland to a special place, maybe a university, to be cleaned, where they take out all the dIseases that the potatoes have accumulated over the years, so he can sell them clean. I wonder how you take the dIseases out of potatoes?
 
      Another comment i remember reading was of harvesting them when they are young, before the diseases in them take a hold in a big way.
       In one video sepp holzer is digging them out of his huggle culture raised beds. agri rose macaskie.
   

   
T. Pierce


Joined: Mar 13, 2011
Posts: 254
Location: Virginia
well i may be in trouble then.  my bed was half full of green horse manure.  and topped off with topsoil.  it was a new bed this spring.    and with such beautiful plants. after reading the past two posts,  thats all i may have good lookin plants and a  few, poor spuds.  im sure there is alot of nitrogen in that bed.
Jordan Lowery
volunteer

Joined: Sep 26, 2009
Posts: 1528
Location: zone 7
    
  11
ive never had good experience with horse manure and potatoes. every time, even if im told its 8 years old and looks composted. it may not burn the plants with N. but the amount of N locked up in the horse manure compost gives far too much leaf growth and little in the way of tubers. resulting in me going hungry when it comes to potatoes, or buying them. i get far better results with just regular old garden compost made from garden materials mixed with native soil( a bit on the clay side).

Tyler Ludens
pollinator

Joined: Jun 25, 2010
Posts: 5326
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
    
  20
I put hay and manure over my potatoes and most of them rotted.  I think 2 survived and are growing.  Guess I won't try that again! 


Idle dreamer

rose macaskie


Joined: May 09, 2009
Posts: 2134
  I whatched the  video, an allotments in england type video, of a girl who prepares the beds for vegetables and also  potatoes, if i remember right, she dug the beds in autumn and puts a lot of manure on them, then and leaves them for the winter for the worms to work on and in spring the soil has been mixed with the manure she put on and is all ready for planting.
     If potatoes dont like manure this too may be a bit rich for them. It is i imagine and old fashoined method not a premaculture one the manure in bill mollisons garden is what you get from keeping hens or ducks according to the videos and that gets deposited where the ducks choose to deposite it.

  Leaving the ground bare all winter is a crime, we need the plants that fix carbondioxide growing on the ground at all times. stil one might put manure on in the winter though it be on top of vegetation for the ground to process it ready for spring planting. I have read that if you put manure on the ground in autumn fruit trees take up what they need and store it for spring flowering. agri rose macaskie.
              


Joined: Aug 14, 2010
Posts: 52
Location: Australia
PeterD wrote:
Planting potatoes in an actively composting material is a no-no, they will rot as you found out. I'll pop up a guide to growing potatoes similar to the raspberry post if I get time next time.


Done. http://www.permies.com/permaculture-forums/8354_0/organic-sustainable-practices/permaculture-petes-potato-guide . Nice!

Cheers,
PeterD
Jason Matthew


Joined: May 22, 2011
Posts: 64
I've had good luck with potatoes from the start. I dig a trench and fill it with thoroughly composted material and mulch with pine bark. My soil is a sandy clay, high acidity, and fairly poor in nutrients.

This year I have laid down straw and covered it with compost. The plants look good and healthy right now, not as much leaf growth as I would have thought.

I've had no luck at all with most other vegetables.

                    


Joined: Aug 24, 2009
Posts: 106
when I was a kid we lived on potatoes and milk.  I remember pulling out plants (my job) and it seems a dozen tubers would be hanging from the roots. Not to mention those still in the ground.  Fantastic, wonderful tasting potatoes.  We did not know they were organic. The only fertilizer we had available was manure, animal and humanure.  That had been used on the fields  for hundreds of years.  I take it after all those years the ground worms had done a good job of balancing the soil.  My soil here looks like perfect 'potato soil' but I have yet to have a harvest. Three spuds to a hill is nothing to write home about, or maybe it is.  Beets and carrots also did terrble. I added  CalPhos to the soil and the beets are now acceptable. A few decades of modern agriculture seem to wreck any soil.  I am glad to see that I now have worms in my soil. 
To me, potatoes are an absolutely essential crop.  Over the years I have heard of all kinds of methods of growing them.  I have tried two barrels last year and it was a flop. 

Sergio Santoro


Joined: Mar 27, 2011
Posts: 238
Location: Nicoya, Costa Rica
Wow, everybody seems so happy when they spot a worm or a frog. There was a third thing... anyway, where I live we have tons of them, literally, we have great weather, tons of water, and yet it's so hard to get a pepper plant to survive, the peppers rot before turning ret, the plants just up and wilt; same with tomatoes.
I know, I know, go local; after all the local plants have been living with the local microbes for centuries. But how is it that other permaculture guys I've seen in videos always grow all kinds of plants from all over the world successfully and they even create microclimates to accomodate that?
I'd love to sure, take advantage of the local mangos, avocados, guanabanas, bananas, plantains, coconuts, etc, but what would I do to have blackberries, apples, pears, strawberries. I know I can do that. Plus I see that stuff in the stores. I don't know if they come from greenhouses or the South of Costa Rica is cooler and hillier.
                    


Joined: Apr 21, 2011
Posts: 18
I think the 6" of compost was a mistake.  We've had success growing potatoes in fairly poor, sandy soil.  We mix just a tiny bit of composted manure in before we plant (I'm talking just a five gallon bucket full over 150 square feet or so).  Otherwise, it's mostly sand with little organic matter.  It's has worked well for us. 

Also, since we're in Idaho we are able to take advantage of the trace volcanic ash from the Yellowstone hot spot a few hundred thousand years ago.  I wonder if your potatoes would like you to add just the tiniest bit of ash to their soil?  It's worth a try.

Sergio Santoro


Joined: Mar 27, 2011
Posts: 238
Location: Nicoya, Costa Rica
Well, we have plenty of volcanos (and earthquakes...) here, but wherever we are planting it was all cleared with a back hoe, so good bye topsoil.
Funny how one has success with pine mulch (acidic) and the other with ash (alkaline), then again, the Veganic Permaculture goddess (sorry, forgot name) said pine needles are not acidic.
Sometimes I think I should just  do gardening from the guts. And I don't mean humanure.
Sergio Santoro


Joined: Mar 27, 2011
Posts: 238
Location: Nicoya, Costa Rica
Leila wrote:
Sergio, I just want to mention that unless things are different in Costa Rica, paper  inks are soy-based these days.
Of course many people don't use paper for many different reasons, but I hope for Costa Rica's sake, that heavy metals in ink isn't one of them.


Wow, I thought that soy ink was cutting edge and you say it is mainstream? I don't know, this country surely is something else. At any rate, paper and cardboard are made with glue. Personally not my first choice if I try to do everything natural.
At any rate, two potatoes did sprout. Not bad, considering they weren't seed potatoes. I have sweet potatoes, too. Now, I have a question for the experts: what does it really mean keep the potatoes under mulch and have only the top two leaves sticking out at any time? Those plants grow quite fast. Is it a daily thing? Or should I do it every once in a while to encourage root growth? Wouldn't the leaves of the buried part rot while still on the plant? Can't be good.

Or in general, how do you grow potatoes/sweet potatoes again?

God, I sound like a psycho when I write on this forum...
                      


Joined: Jan 16, 2011
Posts: 26
Location: Burbank , Washington (south central)
To grow Potatoes you can save some of this years to use as seed.  Use some that are tennis ball sized that are uninjured ( no nicks or bruises) and have 3 or 4 eyes.

Here is a link to a blog/video that shows how to raise the slips to grow sweet potatoes.

http://engineeredgarden.blogspot.com/2011/06/growing-your-own-sweet-potato-slips.html

Covering with mulch is for potatoes only not sweets.   What you are doing with the mulch is the same as hilling the potato plants.  Most late potato varieties will grow potatoes from the stem as the plant is buried.

David Wise, DaBearded1   


David Wise, DaBearded1.  Doing Permaculture on .5 acre in a suburban setting, in a arid shrub steppe climate.
Travis Philp
volunteer

Joined: Dec 28, 2009
Posts: 951
Location: ZONE 5a Lindsay Ontario Canada
    
    8
Leila wrote:
paper  inks are soy-based these days.


I've called several companies that print newspapers and some still use petroleum based inks, and they couldn't say that their inks were non-toxic. One of the biggest newspapers in my province still uses petroleum based ink


Sergio... Were the banana leaves still green when you mulched the potatoes? I've killed healthy potato plants with too much fresh green mulch before.


http://www.greenshireecofarms.com
Zone 5a in Central Ontario, Canada
Sergio Santoro


Joined: Mar 27, 2011
Posts: 238
Location: Nicoya, Costa Rica
Yes, the squares of banana leaves were green, but placed only between potatoes as a weed suppressor. The potatoes were sitting on aged manure. On top of all, just straw.
 
 
subject: potatoes are not that easy to grow
 
Similar Threads
Paul Wheaton's hugelkultur article thread
Planting into straw or hay bales
Earthing Up Potatoes
Building Planterbox, Need Advice
problems growing Potatoes
cast iron skillet 49er

more from paul wheaton's glorious empire of web junk: cast iron skillet diatomaceous earth sepp holzer raised garden beds raising chickens lawn care flea control missoula electric heaters permaculture videos permaculture books