For many years I experimented with "cool" potato growing methods: straw bales, vertical towers, grow bags, and complex mounding processes. All that effort generally left me with pathetic, or dead, plants and yielded me a small handful of potatoes.
Last year I gave up on complexity. I stuck a few chunks in the raised bed and left them alone - and I finally got a good harvest! Sure, there were a few with a spot of green - which is not ideal - but most of the potatoes developed deep enough under the surface and came out just fine. So here's what I'm doing this year:
1. Planting a wider variety, to see which work best.
2. Planting the potatoes a little deeper.
3. Mulching a little around them as they grow, but only enough to block out the sun, not so much as to be called "mounding"
4. Yanking any plants that aren't thriving, and disposing of them at the landfill, just in case the lack of vigor is caused by disease.
It is my goal to see discover what works for my no-till, raised bed garden, rather than just listening to the cool methods that most people try once and then abandon.
I have come up with 3 hypotheses which are guiding my new potato philosophy. These hypotheses may not stand up to scrutiny or experimentation, since I have only had *one* successful harvest, ever!
Hypothesis #1: Leaves are solar panels. If you bury the solar panels, there is less energy to make the tubers. While you may gain some potatoes growing off the stems, you may lose harvest weight because of the solar energy lost in the process.
Hypothesis #2: A plant can only commit a certain amount of energy to producing tubers. Leaving aside the solar collection issue, it is doubtful that a buried plant will produce more weight in potatoes, unless perhaps it is gaining significant nutrient from the mounded soil or mulch.
Hypothesis #3: The extra human energy, materials, and money spent creating complex potato systems is a total waste unless you need to grow potatoes on a balcony or rooftop and are doing it just for fun.
Potato experts, what do you think??? If you have real experience, I want to hear it! Please don't tell me "what you've heard" but, rather, only what you have personally experienced
Here's a pic of one of my potato plants. While I was out there, I noticed a few three-striped potato beetles. I've removed the ones I found and am waiting to see whether they cause problems for my tomatoes or potatoes.