No-Dig Potato Growing

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Innovative gardening techniques continue to revolutionize the way we grow our own food, and the no-dig potato growing method using straw is a prime example of this. Not only does it offer a sustainable approach to cultivation, but it also provides numerous benefits over traditional methods. Let’s delve into the wonders of no-dig potato growing with straw, explore alternative mulching options, and even uncover a unique twist to the technique.

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When growing indeterminate potato varieties, providing layers of soil is imperative to encourage those tubers to continue producing spuds. However, constantly digging and mounding can be pretty taxing on the body and quite a long process. Luckily, there’s a better way with no-dig potato growing!

hilling potatoes with straw

Benefits of No-Dig Potato Growing with Straw

There are many different benefits that can be offered to your potato patch and soil by growing through a no-dig, straw hilling method.

Weed Suppression

One of the primary advantages of using straw as a hilling method is its ability to suppress weeds. By creating a thick layer of straw around the potato plants, you can effectively smother weeds, reducing the need for manual weeding and minimizing competition for nutrients and water.

Moisture Retention

The straw acts as a natural mulch, helping to retain moisture in the soil. This is particularly beneficial during hot and dry periods, as it reduces the frequency of irrigation while ensuring consistent moisture levels for optimal potato growth.

Soil Health

Unlike traditional hilling methods that involve digging and disturbing the soil, the no-dig approach with straw preserves soil structure and promotes soil health. It encourages the proliferation of beneficial microorganisms and earthworms, enhancing the overall fertility and vitality of the soil. The straw mulch also enhances the soil health when left to decompose on the soil surface.

Improved Yield

By providing a nutrient-rich environment with ample moisture and minimal weed competition, the no-dig straw method can significantly boost potato yields. Expect plump, flavorful potatoes with minimal effort and resources.

Ease For The Gardener

Not having to dig, mound and then dig to harvest is incredibly easy for the gardener. This method will save your time, your soil, and your back!

charles dowding growing potatoes

Alternative Mulch Options

While straw is one of the easiest mulch options, and often most readily available, there are other options to use when no-dig potato growing.

Grass Clippings

  • Pros: Grass clippings are readily available for many gardeners and provide effective weed suppression and moisture retention. They can also break down relatively quickly, adding nutrients to the soil.
  • Cons: The primary concern with using grass clippings as mulch is the risk of herbicide contamination. Grass from lawns treated with herbicides can contain residues that may harm your potato plants. Ensure that the grass clippings are sourced from untreated lawns to mitigate this risk.

Leaves

  • Pros: Fallen leaves are a natural and abundant mulch material, offering excellent insulation, weed suppression, and moisture retention. They also decompose gradually, enriching the soil with organic matter and nutrients.
  • Cons: Whole leaves may mat together and impede water penetration if not shredded or chopped before use. Additionally, some types of leaves, such as those from black walnut trees, may contain compounds that inhibit the growth of certain plants. Use a diverse mix of leaves and shred them for optimal mulching benefits.

Compost

  • Pros: Compost is a nutrient-rich mulch option that improves soil structure, fertility, and microbial activity. It provides a slow-release source of nutrients for your potato plants and helps retain moisture in the soil.
  • Cons: While compost is beneficial for soil health, it may not offer as effective weed suppression as other mulch materials. Additionally, mature compost should be applied carefully to avoid smothering young plants or burying them too deeply. This material is basically soil, so you will have to do quite a bit of digging when harvesting.

Wood Chips

  • Pros: Wood chips or shredded bark can serve as long-lasting mulch that gradually breaks down, enriching the soil with organic matter. They provide excellent weed suppression, moisture retention, and insulation for potato plants.
  • Cons: Just as with the compost, using wood chips will require quite a bit of digging to harvest, something a no-dig metho avoids. Additionally, avoid using wood chips from treated lumber or toxic tree species.

Recycled Paper

  • Pros: Various recycled paper products can be used to cover your potato patch, such as shredded paper, cardboard, or newspaper.
  • Cons: Like straw, ensure that alternative mulch materials are free from residues that could harm your potato plants. Additionally, some materials, such as shredded paper, may decompose more quickly and require more frequent replenishment.

Warning:

When selecting alternative mulch options, be mindful of potential risks such as herbicide contamination, nutrient competition, and allelopathic effects. Always prioritize organic and herbicide-free materials to safeguard the health of your potato crop and the integrity of your soil ecosystem. Conduct thorough research and, if in doubt, consult with local gardening experts or extension services for guidance on suitable mulch choices for your region and circumstances.

grow potatoes in straw

Planting Potatoes with No-Dig, Straw Hilling

No-Dig potato growing is a pretty easy and straightforward process. Here are a few helpful steps to ensure maximum success!

Site Selection

Choose a sunny location with well-drained soil for planting your potatoes. Avoid areas prone to waterlogging or excessive shade, as potatoes thrive in full sunlight and require adequate drainage to prevent rot.

Preparation

Clear the planting area of weeds, rocks, and debris to create a clean and fertile bed for your potato crop. Loosen the soil gently with a garden fork or rake to improve aeration and root penetration. Applying 2-3 inches of compost will create the perfect environment for your potatoes and soil microbes. Alternatively, apply a slow-release potato fertilizer will do wonders as well.

Selecting Seed Potatoes

Seed potatoes from a reputable source can be purchased to ensure they are disease free. Alternatively, you can use store-bought potatoes or potatoes you’ve grown in previous years. You can cut larger seed potatoes into smaller pieces, each containing at least one eye or sprout, using a clean, sharp knife.

Check out our article on the Best Potato Growing Tips for maximum production!

Planting

Place the prepared seed potatoes (cut side down if slicing) evenly spaced directly on top of the soil, with approximately 12 inches of space between each potato. If planting in rows, maintain a spacing of 2 feet between rows to allow ample room for plant growth.

Covering with Straw

Once the seed potatoes are in place, cover them with a thick layer of clean straw, ensuring they are completely buried and surrounded by the straw. This initial layer of straw provides insulation and protection for the developing potato tubers.

Adirondack Blue Seed Potato

Large, oblong tubers feature lovely deep purplish-blue skin and flesh. Color may leach when boiled, but remains when baked or microwaved. Matures in 80-90 days.

Caribou Russet Seed Potato

The very best baking potato! Developed by the University of Maine, Caribou Russet is a mid-season potato with real flavor and good keeping ability. Medium yields of good-looking, oval russeted tubers love cold climates

Dark Red Norland Seed Potato

Widely adapted! Plant has a spreading habit and purple blooms. Smooth, oblong tubers are slightly flattened with shallow eyes. Good for boiling, baking and frying. Matures in 65 days. 

Keuka Gold Seed Potato

High yields of uniformly-sized potatoes. A boon for organic gardeners, as this variety is comparable to Yukon Gold (though not quite as early) but far easier to grow organically. The brawny vine produces very pretty white flowers and wheat-colored potatoes with pale yellow flesh. Use as you would Yukon Gold, especially for mashing. Mid-season. Resistant to scab and golden nematode.

Yukon Gold Seed Potato

Superior taste. Slightly oval tubers have a yellow skin and flesh. Good for all cooking types, especially frying. Retains yellow flesh color when cooked. Matures in 65-70 days.

Watering

Water the newly planted potatoes thoroughly to settle the straw and provide moisture to the soil. Aim to keep the soil consistently moist but not waterlogged throughout the growing season, especially during hot and dry periods.

Mulching and Hilling Up

As the potato plants begin to emerge and grow, continue to add layers of straw around the stems, gradually hilling them up to encourage tuber formation. Add additional straw as needed to maintain a thick layer around the plants, but avoid burying the foliage completely.

Maintenance

Monitor the moisture levels regularly and water as needed, especially during dry spells. Pull any weeds you may see and address any possible disease concerns if they arise.

Fertilization

While the straw provides some nutrients as it decomposes, you may supplement with a balanced organic fertilizer or compost tea to support healthy plant growth and tuber development. Apply fertilizers according to package instructions and avoid over-fertilization, which can lead to excessive foliage growth at the expense of tuber production.

Harvesting

When the potato plants flower and begin to die back, it’s time to harvest your potatoes. Gently begin pulling back the straw to reveal the harvest within. Harvest potatoes as needed for immediate consumption, or cure them in a cool, dark place for long-term storage.

no dig potato bed

Straw Growing with a Twist: My Personal Experience

In my own journey of experimenting with no-dig potato growing, I discovered a unique twist that combines the benefits of both straw and trench methods. Instead of solely relying on straw for hilling, I opted for a half-trench, half-straw approach.

I begin by digging a shallow trench to plant my potatoes. I cover with soil and will sometimes even add a few inches of hill using soil. After that, I stack straw for the rest of their growth. It’s not completely no-dig potato growing, but for my garden it works perfectly.

We have a pretty bad Japanese beetle population here and those grubs like to overwinter and lay dormant in the top 4-6 inches of soil. Using half dig trenching helps me to rid my soil of those little boogers without completely destroying the microbial life beneath. However, hilling with straw the majority of their growth helps for ease of harvest and weed suppression.

No-dig potato growing with straw offers a sustainable and efficient way to cultivate delicious potatoes in your own backyard. By harnessing the benefits of straw mulch and minimizing soil disturbance, you can enjoy higher yields with less effort and environmental impact. Experiment with alternative mulch materials and innovative techniques to find the approach that works best for you, and savor the satisfaction of harvesting your own bountiful potato crop.

Hey Beautiful! I’m Tara, garden enthusiasts, keeper of chickens, herbal homesteader and stay at home mom of 3 tiny humans and a sourdough starter named Ma. I love teaching others how to live a self-sufficient and sustainable life through homesteading, scratch cooking, and remembering to live barefoot, wild and free!

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