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Growing potatoes -- methods and musings

 
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Every year I want to plant potato's and the time comes and goes and they don't get planted.  this year I actually planted them.  Not knowing what is the best method in my area I did it several different ways.  I put organic soil and compost in an old bin that has holes drilled in the bottom.  I will add more soil/compost as the plants grow.  I planted the rest in an area I have covered with wood chips for about 9 months.  Some potato's went into the wood chips.  Some I pulled back all the wood chips and loosened soil, put the seed potato in and covered with soil, some with compost, and some with a combination of soil & compost, soil & wood chips, and all three.  It should be interesting to see what produces best.  It is my understanding I will have to hill all the potato plants as they grow.  
I live in N. California, so the difference between my garden and the garden my mom and dad use to grow ( Western Washington state)  are night and day.  My memory may also be faulty, but I don't remember them doing anything but planting, watering and harvesting potato's.  Matter of fact one year they expanded the garden and put potato's in the expanded area.  The next year they decided it was too much and put grass back in.  We had potato's grow in that grass area for years.  We always harvested what volunteered to grow.  It makes me wonder why it has to be so complicated?  What happens if I don't hill the potato's in the ground?  It makes me wonder.
 
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Jen,

I suspect that you will get plenty of potatoes.  Potatoes are one of my favorite crops to grow as they grow easily, reliably and give good yields even with just a little effort.

Yes, you will probably need to hill the potatoes as they grow and push up the ground and if more garden soil (or straw, chips, whatever) are not brought in, the potatoes will get exposed to sunlight which can actually make them slightly poisonous.  

But keep them hilled and you should get a nice crop.

Incidentally, if you use straw or woodchips, the potatoes pull out very easily and are remarkably clean.  I am doing something similar.

Nice work, I am curious as to how it will work out.

Eric

 
Jen Fulkerson
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So exciting my potatoes are doing well.  They are about 6" tall and I understand I should mound the soil/wood chips, ect. covering all but 2" of the plant.  The question I have is do I just cover them as is, or do I remove the leave and then cover them?  
 
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Jen Fulkerson wrote:  The question I have is do I just cover them as is, or do I remove the leave and then cover them?  


No need to remove any leaves. It is easiest if you push soil from the sides and not throwing it on top of the plants. Important thing is that the leaves get not totally buried but that the tips are still getting light.
 
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I've dedicated two 4 x 8 beds to potatoes this year and will be soon making a third bed for Kennebecs.  In the past potatoes have done great in beds with a 3-4" layer of mulch on top.  The soil underneath started as a mix of the best topsoil I could find and composted cow manure.  I continue adding mulch as the plants grow to protect the potatoes from sunlight.

My new bed will be a challenge though. It's not feasible to purchase soil right now (and the soil underneath the bed was formerly part of a gravel driveway), so I plan to line the bottom of the bed with some nice spongy maple from a large limb that went down a few years ago and then add a layer of whatever soil I have on hand.  I plan to plant the potatoes in the soil and cover with a layer of shredded leaves, adding more leaves as the potatoes grow.  Will it work?  It should, but not sure how well the harvest will be this year.  I will have more seed potato than the new bed will hold so will be planting some in containers and wherever I can find a place to tuck them in.  

I look forward to seeing how your potatoes produce. I'm in zone 5b and have been covering the first planted bed just about every evening to protect from frost and the late snow that fell overnight.  
 
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Jen Fulkerson wrote:So exciting my potatoes are doing well.  They are about 6" tall and I understand I should mound the soil/wood chips, ect. covering all but 2" of the plant.  The question I have is do I just cover them as is, or do I remove the leave and then cover them?  



I've been mounding mine with a mix of wood chips and leaves, but I didn't go that high on them (maybe 4-5" on a 12" plant). I broke some of the lower leaves, on accident, when applying the mulch but, otherwise, just kind of lifted the leaves up and have them kind of resting on the mulch.
 
Jen Fulkerson
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I mounded my potato's about a week ago, and I already need to do it again.  I don't know if it's the compost/chicken manure I put down, or the warm weather, or what, but they are growing so fast.  What a fun veggie to grow.  I wish I would have done this with my kids when they were young.
 
Jen Fulkerson
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How do I know when to stop mounding my potatoes? I have done it twice.  They are mounded about 12" to 14" now.  
 
Michelle Heath
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I would probably hold off on mounding for a while and let them grow for a bit.  There are some potato varieties that are indeterminate and will produce potatoes all along the mounded stem, but I think the majority are determinate.  Unfortunately trying to find info on which varieties are which doesn’t seem to be readily available (or maybe I just haven’t found it yet).

The main reason for mounding is to keep the tubers from coming into contact with the sun.  Some years I get eager and gently explore the area around the plant to see how they are producing and whether or not I need to mound them more.  Other years I just add a few inches of mulch every couple of weeks.  Of course my climate is totally different from yours too.
 
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I have always heard the reason to mound was to increase the yield. When the plant gets buried it starts to put down a new group of tubers. Not sure if this is actually true but it is what I have always heard (and thought).
 
Michelle Heath
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Chris, that is what I’ve always heard too, but in recent years there’s has been much discussion about which potatoes actually produce all along the stem.  I know German Butterball and Russet Burbank potatoes are indeterminate, while Kennebec, Yukon Gold and Red Pontiac are not.  I would love to find a comprehensive list of which varieties are which.

It is still necessary to mound or hill any variety of potatoes as they grow to protect them from sunlight.  
 
Jen Fulkerson
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I have been happy with the growth of my potatoes.  I have one hiccup just after I hilled the potatoes for the first time.  One the leaves wilted and looked like it desperately needed water, or had been severely over-watered.  The potato next to it looked fine.  The soil was a bit dry, so I watered, which didn't change a thing.  It was a bummer, but everything else looked very healthy, so I just continued my journey.  This potato did kind of come back, it is smaller then the rest, and not totally healthy looking, but tons better then before.  Last week another one did the same thing.  Weeks between the two incidents, and as far from the other plant as you can get in the potato patch.  Again the plants near it look healthy.  The soil was moist, but not dry, no pests that I can see, it's very strange.  Any ideas?  Gophers?  I will show a couple of pictures so you can see what I'm talking about.
IMG_20200511_145859808.jpg
This is today's picture of the first potato to wilt.
This is today's picture of the first potato to wilt.
IMG_20200511_145841163.jpg
This is the new wilting potato.
This is the new wilting potato.
 
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There is no need to hill higher than six inches with any variety.

Wilts in potato are difficult to diagnose from pictures of the aerial plant.  That could be underground damage to the plant, either from a critter or hilling damage, or it could be a bacterial or fungal wilt.  If it is a result of physical damage, the plant will probably slowly recover.  If it is disease, it will continue to die back.
 
Jen Fulkerson
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Thank you William, it is hard to know what to do to grow potato's.  If you talk to 10  different people you get 10 methods.  I was under the understanding I needed to hill 3 times.  The other one recovered, so maybe this one will too.
 
Michelle Heath
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Jen, its really hard to tell but the potato leaves in your first picture look like they've been burnt. I know your climate is warmer than mine so is there a possibility that the leaves were wet and also exposed to intense sun?  Of course that theory doesn't really make much sense when the damage is just on one side of the plant.  

The second picture looked as if the plant was lacking water or the stems have broken.  You said the soil was moist, so I would probably pull back the mulch and see if the stems are damaged.  I know there are some fungal issues with potatoes that I'm not familiar with, but the only major issues we have here are the potato beetles.

Welcome to the world of gardening where you're sure to find a dozen different methods of growing every crop.  The best advice I can offer is feel free to experiment and take plenty of notes.  I've been growing potatoes in some form or another since I can remember and I'm far from an expert.
 
Jen Fulkerson
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My potato plants are starting to flower.  I don't remember exactly what variety I planted. I just remember red seed potato's.  If I'm understanding correctly I can start harvesting them soon.  Larger potato's like russet you wait until the plant die back to harvest.  Is this correct?
 
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Jen Fulkerson wrote:My potato plants are starting to flower.  I don't remember exactly what variety I planted. I just remember red seed potato's.  If I'm understanding correctly I can start harvesting them soon.  Larger potato's like russet you wait until the plant die back to harvest.  Is this correct?



You can harvest them whenever you like.  You just get more and bigger potatoes if you wait for the plants to die.
 
William Whitson
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They start to form tubers at about the same time that they start to flower.  Best practice is always to allow plants to die back before harvesting, but you can pull them early for a smaller yield of new potatoes.  You should still give them two or three weeks after the onset of flowering for new potatoes.
 
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William Whitson wrote:They start to form tubers at about the same time that they start to flower.  Best practice is always to allow plants to die back before harvesting, but you can pull them early for a smaller yield of new potatoes.  You should still give them two or three weeks after the onset of flowering for new potatoes.



This isn't always the case the type I grow for my very early new potatoes (Solist) doesn't get as far as flowering before they are ready to dig, (I've never seen them flower to be honest) so I would recommend having a ferret around and seeing if you think they are big enough to dig some up, if you want new potatoes of course!
 
William Whitson
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It is always true that potatoes are just beginning to form tubers when they begin to flower, as the two are hormonally linked.  But it is also true that many potatoes don't flower at all.  Flowering is influenced strongly by climate, maturity, sexual genetics, and viral load.
 
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Can you pull out a few new potatoes and leave the plant in, if you’re careful?  I don’t know where I got this idea, but it seems possible.
 
Michelle Heath
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Anne, yes you can pull a few new potatoes out if you are careful. We usually just sacrifice a few plants to harvest new potatoes though.
 
Jen Fulkerson
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I was sure at this point the potato that looked like it was dying of thirst was not going to get better.  I lightly pulled on the stem and it came right up.  My best guess is when I mulched I must have broken the leaves off.  The good news is the plants are definitely producing potatos.  I can't wait.
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Jen Fulkerson
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The potato plants look good.  The only real difference is the potatoes grown in the tub with compost and a little organic chicken manure look a lot darker green then the plants in the ground.  When I planted, and each time I hilled the potatoes in the ground I did add compost and a little organic chicken manure.  I wonder if I should give some compost tea, or something to give them a boost?  Or should I leave well enough alone?
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Jen Fulkerson
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When I planted my seed potatoes I knew it was later then it should have been.  They have been growing so well I was glad I went ahead and planted them.  I am still glad I planted them, but I am seeing the price my delay will pay.  Last week we had two 104, and a 105 degree day.  I lost I think four or five plants.  Not all, or even half, so that's good.  They are mulched and watered, but the heat was to much for them.  Maybe I should have shaded them, I didn't think of it until right now when I am writing it out.  For kicks my son and I picked out the potatoes from one of the plants I was sure wont recover.  We got a had full of very small potatoes.  We sauteed them with zucchini and onions also from the garden.  I'm not much of a potato person, but man best potatoes I have ever eaten.  I'm sure some because they were small young potatoes, but home grown always tastes so much better than store bought!  The weather has cooled down for a few days, but expected to reach 100 by Wednesday.  I suspect the rest of the plants wont last much longer and we will just get baby potatoes.  I'm fine with that, something is better then nothing, and I learned a lot.  I will make sure I get lot's of potatoes planted next year on time, I hope.
 
Eric Hanson
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Congratulations on the excellent growing experience Jen!  It’s always nice to learn how to grow a new crop and potatoes are one of those that really produce a nice, satisfying bounty.

A few days ago I was getting all concerned because be white potatoes were not coming up.  If I had just a little more patience I could have saved myself some angst.  My white potatoes are now starting to come up.

I hope the rest of your gardening goes as well!

Eric
 
Michelle Heath
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Congratulations on your first potato crop!  Wow, temperatures in the 100s!  We had a few days mid 90s last week but that's unusual for this time of the year.  
 
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Congrats Jen on getting the potato harvest! Its been fun to see what you and others have been doing potato wise.

I'm trying something new with my potatoes this year that seems to be working so far at least. I haven't had a good area to grow potatoes in the past and I also need a lot more leaf mold than my regular bins can produce. I also needed to remove grass along my new backyard fence. So I decided to see if I could solve all of these issues at once!

I first sheet mulched an area of grass along the fence with cardboard (over the grass) and then some topsoil/compost mix--not too much just about 2 inches on average. I put the potatoes (2 rows, 1 type per row) in this soil/compost mix and then covered them with fall leaves. I also put some logs around the edges to make a defined bed area. Once the potatoes had grown up a bit I added more fall leaves to cover the potatoes with about 6 to 8 inches in total of fall leaves.

This was all sized to use the same amount of fall leaves that normally goes into my leaf mold bins. I also experimented with adding oyster mushroom spawn to the first layer of fall leaves. No mushrooms yet but there is a good amount of mycelium growing along the soil surface and the bottom of the leaves. I'm hoping now that I added a lot more leaves to it all that the oyster mushrooms will spread and I will get some mushrooms later in summer or early fall.

So far the potatoes are growing great. The attached picture was taken a week ago right after I put the rest of the leaves on. Already the potatoes have grown a bunch and are spreading their leaves above the mulch.

I haven't had to water them at all so far and this system has taken care of the grass. I'm hoping to get a decent harvest from it all--I had 3 potatoes not survive but the rest are doing great. No mushrooms yet but hopefully that will change. The leaves are hopefully breaking down nicely and I'm planning on taking the leaves off later when I go to harvest.

At that point I'm either going to use the leaves as leaf mold for my regular garden or I will plant garlic and add the leaves back with the leaves that were on top put back on the bottom and the ones that were on the bottom added to the top. If I go that route I will wait to harvest the leaf mold for use in the garden until the following year when I harvest the garlic.

Basically I'm using this system to prep space for future planting and to save space by growing potatoes in the same area that I'm making leaf mold. Seems to be working so far but I will have to wait to see what sort of harvests I get from it. Ideally potatoes, mushrooms and leaf mold followed by garlic all from the same space!
potatoes.jpg
potatoes growing in the experimental bed
potatoes growing in the experimental bed
 
Anne Pratt
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I put my (purple) potatoes in the ground a bit later than I could have, but before our last-frost date. I ran out of space, too, so instuck them into the wood chips (about 12” deep) in my new food forest. The wood chips already have a good web of
Mycelium developing. The potatoes aren’t peeking out yet, but my fingers are crossed!
 
Eric Hanson
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Hi Daron,

I sure like the look of your potato beds!  I like that you used logs as a raised bed edge.  It reminds me of one of my beds that at one time consisted of logs for raised edges.  I say at one time because those logs have rotted down to just about nothing.

Your soil bedding looks beautiful, full of organic matter—great job!

Eric
 
Eric Hanson
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Jen,

Judging from your pictures of your potatoes in their beds, I would say that you did a great job.  The bedding material looks amazing and the plants are nice and healthy looking.

Good job!

Eric
 
Daron Williams
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Eric Hanson wrote:Hi Daron,

I sure like the look of your potato beds!  I like that you used logs as a raised bed edge.  It reminds me of one of my beds that at one time consisted of logs for raised edges.  I say at one time because those logs have rotted down to just about nothing.

Your soil bedding looks beautiful, full of organic matter—great job!

Eric



Thank you! Yeah, I like to use logs for most of my raised beds. One day when they do rot away I may replace them with rocks. But the logs right now are easy for me to get for free
 
Eric Hanson
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Daron, everyone,

My log edge beds are just about shot.  Two years ago I said I had one, maaaaybe 2 years left in those logs.  Since that time they have endured (barely) the onslaught of wine caps.  The bed itself is heaping full of woodchips that are growing wine caps that in turn are eating what’s left of my log edges.

Next year I need to do something different.  Option #1 is to do what I have already done with other beds—that is use 2x10 lumber painted with drylok masonry sealer.  The drylok stops the fungi from eating the wood without killing the fungus itself.  Think of a paintable ceramic.

Option #2 is to get some cinder blocks and lay them in place as a sturdy, permanent edge.

I have not decided which option to use yet and am open to suggestions.  

Eric
 
Jen Fulkerson
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Eric if ever there was a loaded question, this is it. I don't mind you asked on this post, but I think you should start a post just for this question.  (So maybe you will get a better response) Half of my raised bed garden are made with cinder blocks.  I have looked into it a few times, and always end up frustrated.  If you look at 20 posts you get 20 answers.  I have a bed that is not going to last one more year so I too am very interested in the answers you get to this question
I like my cinder block beds, especially the one that is two blocks high.  It is so easy to use.  I like that I can make the bed any shape, and know it will last forever.  Is it toxic, leaching bad chemicals into my bed?  I hope not, but I just don't know. I would like to, so I hope someone who has seen a study, or a great scientific brain will answer your question.  Good luck. I hope we get an answer.
 
William Whitson
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My experience with concrete block beds:
https://www.cultivariable.com/how-i-build-raised-beds/
 
Jen Fulkerson
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William thank you.  I like your post a lot.  
 
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I too have grown potatoes in a raised bed. Sure is easier that trying to in clay. I’ve grown sweet potatoes in a pile of grass clippings and leaves that had about eight months to settle. The picture below is the third year of this particular bed. Wood chips, grass, leaves and pine needles. This is where every eye that sprouts goes regardless of the time of year. I did a lot of reading before doing this. There was an overwhelming amount of info saying don’t plant potatoes that sprout from the store. Virus’s, rot, doom and gloom if you do. I just thought I’d try it and it keeps giving me a small crop a few times a year. Even got a couple sweet potatoes slips in here that are growing right along with the red, and Yukon gold.
 
Scott Stiller
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Sorry, picture here.
A545F99C-CADD-4D10-9BFC-5F17369AB25E.jpeg
[Thumbnail for A545F99C-CADD-4D10-9BFC-5F17369AB25E.jpeg]
 
Daron Williams
gardener
Posts: 2123
Location: Olympia, WA - Zone 8a/b
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Eric – Thanks for sharing about your logs. My kitchen garden is in it’s 2nd year and so far the logs look fine but of course as I build the soil life and get wine caps established I’m sure they will rot away much more quickly. I like the idea of building rock walls for the beds in the future mainly because they could provide habitat for some beneficial critters that I’m trying to attract.

William – thanks for sharing! I love your site! 😊

Back to potatoes… I thought I would share an update to my potato bed. Attached is a picture taken today which is 8 days after the last one. Lots of new growth! 😊
potatoes-8-days-later.jpg
Potatoes growing great!
Potatoes growing great!
 
Posts: 7
Location: quebec zone- 4a loamy sand soil
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Scott,
It's been awhile since I've seen a slip like that, lots of eyes covered in that bunch! Nice bed, by the way. I also planted a bunch of store-bought potatos this year, hoping they start growing soon. I'm not big on the doom and gloom much either, especially in gardening. I even sometimes appreciate a good laugh if things don't go quite as planned, especially with all the stress lately..  Thanks for sharing!
jim
 
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