Raised Potato Plants – Methods For Growing Potatoes Above Ground
By: Amy Grant
Potatoesgo with just about everything, plus they are fairly easy to grow, so it’s nowonder that many gardeners plant them in the usual way, underground. But whatabout growing potatoes above ground? Raised potato plants may be an atypicalpotato growing method but one with many benefits. Read on to learn how to growabove ground potatoes.
Benefits of Raised Potato Plants
Potatoes actually don’t need to be buried under dirt togrow. The reason we do is simply to keepthe potatoes from getting green, but there are other ways to accomplishthat. The key is to block the light from hitting the actual spud.
The advantages of growing potatoes above ground arenumerous. First of all, diggingthe spuds up at harvest often damages them. Growing potatoes above groundeliminates that problem.
With this potato growing method, you are replacing the dirtwith mulch and that has all kinds of benefits. For one thing, it’s a great wayto clear a weedy area in the landscape since the mulch blocks the light. At theend of the growing season, the mulch breaks down to add more organic matter inthe soil.
Potatoes from raised potato plants will also likely be thenicest looking potatoes you’ve ever grown. They won’t be dirty and will besmooth.
Above Ground Potato Growing Methods
There are basically two above ground potato growing methods:raised potato plants grown in a raised bed or potatoes grown in a tower orcage. There are variations on either method, but here is the gist.
How to Grow Above Ground Potatoes in a Tower
A day or two prior to planting, cut certified disease-free seedpotatoes into 2-inch (5 cm.) chunks with at least two eyes per chunk. Laythem out to cure for 12-48 hours to allow the cut side to scab over. If you arechoosing the towerpotato growing method, you will need 12-24 pieces per tower. Choose longerseason varieties or indeterminate potatoes which will set more potatoes over alonger period.
To grow above ground potatoes in a tower, you will needmetal field fencing. Fold the fencing into a cylinder that is about 2-3 inches(5-7.6 cm.) in diameter and secure the ends. Choose a spot for the tower andfill the bottom third with straw and then a layer of soil. Place the seedpotatoes near the edges of the container and about 6 inches (15 cm.) apart.
Repeat the process until you have layered in all of yourseed potatoes. Cover the top of the container with mulch, flowers or even saladgreens.
Growing Raised Potato Plants
To grow above ground potatoes in a bed, either create araised bed or mound up dirt to create a long bed. Hoe or loosen the soil ifneed be and water the area. Lay the seed potatoes spaced just as you would ifyou were burying them – early varieties 14-16 inches (35-40 cm.) apart with atleast a foot (30 cm.) between plants and for other varieties 18 inches (46 cm.)in a bed or 14 inches (35 cm.) between plants in rows that are 30 inches (75 cm.)apart.
Cover the seed potatoes with just straw or compost and thenstraw. You can either cover them with 6 inches (15 cm.) of straw right away oradd to the straw layer as the potatoes grow. Water the straw well and cover itwith mesh or grass clippings to keep it from being blown away.
No space? That’s okay too. Growingpotatoes in containers or growbags will also suffice. You can layer this with straw and compost just asyou would in a tower.
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Alternative Ways to Grow Potatoes
The potato may not be the most common vegetable grown in home gardens, but they are actually easy to grow and tasty whether baked, mashed or cut up in soups and salads. Potatoes thrive in U.S. Department of Agriculture hardiness zones 1 though 7, but gardeners in all areas can enjoy home-grown potatoes, as there are a variety of ways to grow this delicious tuber beyond the traditional trenching method.
Growing Potatoes: Trench and Hill Method
My first year of growing potatoes, I used the trench and hill method. This involves digging trenches two feet apart, mounding the soil in between the trenches, planting the potato seed, and using the mounded soil to hill the potato plants as they grow. This is the basic, proven method of growing potatoes that farmers have used for centuries only scaled down for the backyard garden.
Ed's Black Polythene/Plastic Method of Growing Potatoes
If you're not ready to embrace the true no dig growing method, but still don't like the thought of all the hard work involved in the conventional method, you can try growing your potatoes through sheets of black plastic or polythene.
Again, there are advantages and disadvantages to this method.
- Less work for you, the gardener!
- There is no need to clear the ground of weeds by digging - the black plastic will do a good job of this.
- If you put the plastic in place a couple of weeks before you are due to plant, it will warm up the soil for you.
- Apart from the polythene sheets you won't need to gather any special materials.
- The potatoes are easy to harvest and clean as they form on the surface under the plastic.
- Slugs and mice can be a problem in some areas.
- It can be difficult to water your potatoes through the plastic so this method is better for earlier varieties which do not need as much water as maincrops (although you can get round this by perforating the sheets at intervals using a garden fork).
Ready to try it? Here's what to do.
- Mark out your bed, cut down any weeds and cover with a sheet of black polythene. Do this while the soil is damp as the plastic sheet will conserve moisture and reduce the need for watering. If the soil is dry, give it a thorough watering first.
- Anchor the sheet in place using large stones, bricks or scaffolding planks, or bury the edges in the ground.
- Plant the seed potatoes through the plastic at the recommended distances by cutting a cross shape at each planting station and using a trowel or bulb planter to make a hole about 12.5cm (5in) deep.
- As the potatoes develop, the foliage will emerge through the slits whilst the plastic protects the growing tubers from light.
- To harvest simply peel back the plastic and remove the potatoes - easy!
A variation of this method is to spread a couple of inches of well rotted manure or compost, and few inches of straw over the bed before laying down the black polythene sheet. The potatoes are then planted into the mulch, rather than into the underlying soil. This can be a good method to use if your soil is very thin and chalky, which potatoes don't like.
Now you know why it is a good idea to hill potatoes. You also know how to do it and what you can use (besides soil).
I hope you found this article helpful. If so, please share it with someone who can use the information.
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