Potato plants growing under mulch using the no-dig
Potato plants growing in old car tyres
These vegetables are so easy to grow and taste great. You'll never
go back to potatoes from the green grocer or supermarket once you've
tasted your own.
You can grow potatoes in so many ways. Dig a hole in your vegetable
patch and pop in a potato. Or bury them under a thick layer of mulch,
manure, blood and bone, and compost. Or you could always throw all
of this good stuff and some spuds into a tyre and watch them grow.
When we were growing up there was only two types of potatoes you
could buy, washed and brushed. But now vegetable gardeners have
so many options to choose from. Different potato types are used
in a variety of cooking methods - boiling, frying, roasting and
mashing. If you get the spud and cooking method working in tandem
you're onto a winning combination in the kitchen.
In subtropical Queensland we get our best results planting
potato tubers out in either late summer or early spring. Our
climate is too humid for a summer season. But in cool and temperate
climates summer is probably your best bet. We've grown potatoes
in winter, but with mixed results.
Potatoes adore a heavily manured rich soil.
They love sunny well drained beds.
Potatoes are from the same family as tomatoes
and eggplants. So to avoid soil disease and pests you shouldn't
plant either of these in the same bed for a number of years.
This can make things difficult unless you've got a huge backyard
which can accommodate an ever extending vegetable garden.
To get around crop rotation problems we've event tried growing
our potatoes in old car tyres. We filled them with the usual
good stuff and quality potting mix. In theory as the plants
grow you throw another car tyre on and fill it up more. Here's
Our tyre experiment really didn't work out as well as we'd
hoped. A lot of water got caught in the tyre and couldn't drain.
The soil went sour, creating soil diseases which killed the
potatoes. If you want to try growing potatoes in tyres we'd
recommend drilling drainage holes into the tyre walls. Some
gardeners believe the materials in rubber tyres can leach out
into the soil (and the potatoes). If you've got any health concerns
about this issue, you should avoid doing it. If you've seen
any research into this issue please
let us know, as we'd also like to find out more.
We're fast running out of space on where to plant our potatoes
as the potato patch consumes new sections of the backyard. If
you're like us you love tomatoes and won't give up any precious
space from your tomato bed. Anyway, it's also a delicate balance
if you decide to grow spuds in the same bed. Tomatoes and potatoes
generally hate each other, they're bad companions, stunting
each other's growth. There is no simple solution. The most interesting
story (or is it an urban/ garden myth!) we've heard is grafting
your tomatoes onto potato root stock. But from recent emails
from visitors to this site and this
link (scroll to the last post on the page), the grafted
potato and tomato theory sounds like a dud - but if you've had
You can technically grow potatoes from a seed, but it takes
forever and you generally get poor results.
Instead make sure you buy certified seed potatoes. These should
be disease free. Potatoes you buy from the green grocer could
add disease to your soil.
We've grown a number of potato varieties - Sebago, Kiefler,
King Edward and Pink Eye; all tasting great and with generally
Growing potatoes is easy under straw or even sugar cane mulch.
In the past we've covered the grass with thick layers of newspaper.
These help kill the grass and any weeds. Make sure you water
them though so they don't blow around whilst you're working.
Then you place your spuds in rows on the newspapers. My rows
were 60cm (2 feet) apart. And each spud was placed about 30cm
(1 foot) from each other. If you can try to keep the "eyes"
facing up. And then its time to get dirty. Start dumping a heap
of mulch all over your spuds. A good organic mulch like sugar
cane trash or straw will do nicely. Avoid hay as it still has
seeds. You'll need a very thick layer of mulch. Aim for 60cm
(2 feet) at least as over time this will decompose. A thick
layer is needed to keep the potatoes away from the sun's light.
Then its time to mix in all the good stuff: old manures, blood
and bone, compost. Have a field day as potatoes adore this lovely
organic mix. Then top it off with some more mulch or sawdust
to again keep out the light. Its time to get out your hose and
saturate your mountain of manure and mulch. Water the whole
area continuously for at least 5 minutes.
In about 3 weeks you should get your first sign of a spud.
The foliage will start creeping out of the mulch and within
a couple more weeks they should all be poking up their little
heads. Remember to regularly water your potatoes as they really
do need a lot of water to grow those succulent tubers. You'll
need to keep piling mulch up against the main stem of each potato
plant. This encourages the plant to grow taller, which means
more potatoes under the mulch. You can use the same principle
growing potatoes in soil. Instead of mulch hill the plants up
with more dirt.
Don't forget to feed them regularly with liquid manure.
Keep an eye out for bugs on your potato leaves. In the past
we've had small infestations of bugs which we inadvertently
identified as lady beetles. But they weren't. Instead they were
bean bugs which stripped the foliage off my spuds. We eventually
got on top of them using the forefinger and thumb method (squish!),
but it's a reminder on how important it is to identify a problem
before it becomes significant and dealing with it immediately.
We harvest our spuds a couple of weeks after the flowers had
set their poisonous fruit and the foliage died back. This can
be anywhere between 3-5 months after you first plant the tubers.
Wait until at least the bottom leaves have turned yellow, or
after half the bush has died. Then its time to go mad, rip out
all the plants and pull aside your mulch and harvest potato
after potato after potato. The mulch has kept your potatoes
all clean and the bed is full of organic matter and is incredibly
After our potatoes we usually grow an extra crop like sweet
corn, watermelons and pumpkins in the same bed.
13 December, 2008
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