Wednesday, February 3, 2010

How to plant and harvest heirloom potatoes

Many people think of growing potatoes as a laborious undertaking but I have a simple, easy way to grow potatoes. I have planted my potatoes this way for about 10 years so I know it works, and works well whether you are planting five pounds or 50 pounds ( or 150 pounds as we did last year) and you can start getting ready right now.

First, I use the lasagna gardening method and lay down several inches of cardboard and newspaper on the sunniest part of the yard usually where I have fought weeds last year since this is great for weed suppression. Then I open a few bags of peat moss and spread it in an even layer over the newspaper. For the next lasagna layer I bring in bags of leaves or bales of straw and pile that on the peat moss. Now, just leave the garden undisturbed until the temperatures outside are around 55-60 degrees and won't be dropping much below that. The potatoes can handle a light frost but nothing too heavy.

Around the beginning of March I take out my seed potatoes and put them out in the sunny place to start to sprout. After a week or two when I see several "eyes" sprouting I cut the potatoes into several 2" square pieces. Be sure they have one or two good "eyes". Leave the cut potatoes out in the sun for a couple of days to develop a good callous to discourage rot.

Here you have a couple of options. If you have a good organic fertilizer or kelp just spread some around for extra nutrients for the potato's root system. Obviously don't use chemical fertilizers (poisons in - poisons out) or fresh manure which can cause scab and ruin your harvest. Place the cut potatoes cut side down with the eyes pointing up, on the straw, compost or just on the ground (although that is not as good of a "bed") approximately 15" apart in rows 2.5-3 ft apart. Next, cover the potatoes with mulch, composted leaves or straw until they are covered about 2-3 ft deep. Water well.

As the potatoes grow stems upward and roots downward the potatoes form on the stem. As the vines grow continue to cover the potatoes with mulch material leaving only 2-3 sets of leaves showing. The more stem is covered, the more potatoes you will be able to harvest since there is more of a growing space. Keep the entire pile well watered.

Here is a good picture of a pile of potatoes that are well mulched.

Open flowers on the vine let you know that immature "baby" potatoes are ready for harvest. Once the vines start to turn yellow and die the potatoes are ready to harvest. Just move the mulch aside and harvest. The potatoes are clean and your your back remains unscathed.

As the season goes on I will take pictures of my planting to give a clearer picture of the process. So start dreaming of red, white and blue potato salad or just fun and fluffy blue mashed potatoes and get out the newspaper!


  1. well, this certainly sounds easier than all the digging my hubby & I did last summer to get our potatoes out of the ground! we live in Martin - had not heard of your farm until today [saw you listed on Meredith's "Like Merchant Ships" site] and will be reading through your blog with interest!

  2. Welcome Shanna,
    After the first year of planting potatoes using this method I wondered why I had not heard of it sooner. Another bonus is that you can plant earlier since you don't have to dig into the hard, cold soil you just have to mulch a little thicker.
    Let me know if there are any other burning questions you might have that I could help with.

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  4. How many bags of mulch does it take if I have 4 rows about 15' long for potatoes?