The No Dig Potato Patch

I’m not a huge fan of “traditional” home garden potato patches

To me, they are labor, resource and time intensive but I have always used this traditional approach.

IMG_20140222_170528From a labor standpoint, you typically clear an area, prep the ground via Tilling/Plowing, and dig 12″ – 16″ straight rows. Rows are usually 4″ – 8″ inches wide and the dug soil is piled parallel the “ditch”; the soil is used later to fill the ditch after you seed and continually through the growing season.  Rows are usually stacked side by side closely for space reasons so you are left with a ditch, mound, ditch, mound etc.

Before “seeding” you then have the lovely task of deciding on an irrigation technique. Some smaller patches (4′ X 10′) could be hand watered, but anything larger would require something along the lines of a drip system. Now, I don’t personally have anything against using drip irrigation for long term, permanent systems, but all the fittings and physical resources that go into this type of manual system has always bugged me. Never the less, you have to irrigate, right?  

Then you “seed” using, well…seed potatoes. Potatoes are placed 8″ – 12″ apart in your dug ditch and covered with a few inches of top soil from the mound. And that’s pretty much it, except for watering, waiting, watering, waiting…and then “oh look the potatoes are coming up”.  Some home gardeners will usually allow the new plant to grow 6″ tall and then pull more dug soil into the “ditch” leaving 1″-2″ of plant remaining above the surface.  This is done to create more roots, which creates more potatoes which is the goal right? This assumes the exposed, mounded soil has not been lost due to runoff/wind.  In my experience, there’s never enough mounded soil to cover more than once so you usually have to wheel some in. This all seems rather time intensive to me.

Is there A different way?

I recently had one of those “Oh my glob” moments when I caught a youtube clip about a no dig potato patch. Check it out below.

Brilliant! Simple! This is worth a shot!

Basic steps are

  1. Fertilize an area 
  2. Sheet Mulch the area with newspaper or cardboard
  3. Add your seed potatoes
  4. Cover with TONS of mulch (straw, leafs etc)
  5. Fertilize everything again.  
  6. Layer on some sand or sawdust to inhibit direct light from entering the center of the bed
  7. Water

I believe it’s called “no dig” because you don’t have to dig the potatoes to get them out. Digging out potatoes in a traditional patch is actually somewhat rewarding. To me, the “no dig” way is really about not having to dig ditches to get the potatoes in!  You also have this wonderful result of the no dig patch turning into an amazing planting bed full of biomass after you harvest out the potatoes. Now that’s stacking functions! In a traditional potato patch you would usually till the area (boo) and replant again next year.

Here’s some photos of one of my no dig patches this year:

Cleared space, sheet mulched, gathering mulching materials

Cut up those seed potatoes guys! Most potatoes can be cut into pieces to make more starting plants. Leave one or two “eyes” per cutting.

Seed potatoes (and onions) placed onto sheet mulch, partially covered bed.  Why onions? Because I had a ton left over and if nothing else they are some good biomass addition.

Finished product. Needs a bit more straw on top?

Conclusion

Time will tell what this method yields, but holy smokes, this was easy!  A traditional bed this size would take me 3-4 hours labor, a tractor, tilling, irrigation etc.  I built a few of these and they took about 25 minutes each. It’s my hope the massively deep mulch will negate a need for an irrigation setup and I can get away with hand watering once a month.

I will be adding more posts as the no dig beds develop.

Happy Gardening!
-Jim

Update March 16th 2014:

So far so good

Potatoes Sprouting
There is life!  After about 3 weeks many new and happy potato plants have sprouted and are growing fast.  Since I attached zero irrigation, I was a little worried with how well the beds would hold water but it seems to be of no concern.  You can actually press your finger all the way down to the cardboard sheet mulch and it’s super wet. I would estimate I’m watering about every 10 days and guessing by the water content it’s probably too much. I’m going to start watering every other Saturday and see what happens.

One interesting observation: half of our northern potato patch gets sun only part of the day (due to a low spring sun and our southern tree line) and it appears to have an affect on growing patterns:

I don’t know if this is due to soil temp, ambient light or potato variety. The partly shaded area happens to be mostly Russet, so maybe that’s it. The reason I think it’s due to direct solar exposure is because our southern potato patch was planted a week behind the northern and it has almost zero signs of growth (except a small onion coming up):

I’m excited to harvest (months away) and to see how the “no dig” really is.  I’ll continue to post updates on this experiment.

Happy gardening!
-Jim

Update March 27th 2014:

Success?

20 days ago
Potato Patch before

Today
Potato Patch after

It’s seems magical. A beer in the garden right? Yes but that’s not all I’m talking about. It’s something we have all witnessed as gardeners at least a thousand times.. things growing. It sounds utterly underwhelming defining the beauty of nature as “things growing” but you know what I mean.

I think I have a weird affinity for potato plants. I don’t know why, perhaps it’s their spectacular deep green color or maybe their ability to reproduce with ease. Or maybe it’s the fact that I get to eat them? Come on, how delicious does this look!:
Potato magic

After a closer look these plants appear a bit leggy at this stage. If they don’t fill in over the next week I’ll probably add one more 3″ layer of straw across the whole bed because I think it will increase yield a tad and make for happier plants. At any rate this experiment is going very well, watering is still around once every 10 days and it’s starting to become the focal point of the early spring garden.

Happy gardening friends.
-Jim

It's only fair to share...Share on FacebookShare on RedditPin on PinterestShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterShare on TumblrDigg thisShare on StumbleUponEmail this to someone