No-Dig Potatoes are GROW!

Posted on: September 28, 2008

One of my favourite veggie gardening segments I saw presented by my much missed tv gardener Peter Cundall, was his no-dig potato gardening method. At last year’s Gardening Australia expo I bought his ‘The Practical Australian Gardener’ which gives you a month by month guide to what things to be doing in the Australian garden month by month.

In it there is a whole section on ‘No-dig potato gardening’. And there was always something endlessly encouraging when Peter Cundall tells you ‘it couldn’t be simpler’. And it really couldn’t!

Last week I received my Sapphire and Pink Eye seed potatoes in the mail from Diggers. They are pictured above – Sapphire on the left, Pink Eye on the right. They were much smaller than I expected – about the size of a hen’s egg, maybe a little smaller.

We have had a couple of bales of hay sitting in our garage for the past year. They were surplus from when we smothered our lawn to build out native garden. We have been using it up slowly to mulch the yard but mainly it’s been sitting in the garage, and recently discovered by a mouse or two as a cosy winter home. So this was a great opportunity to get it out into the yard.

Basically what you do is choose a sunny, well-drained spot in your yard. This method is an excellent way to prepare the soil for a future garden bed and get rid of your weeds/ lawn and get a fantastic crop of scrumptious potatoes in the meantime.

As we have no lawn, all we had to do was scrape up the lillydale to expose the ground and placed the seed potatoes on top – 30cm apart, in rows about 60cm apart like so:

No-dig potato growing, originally uploaded by mooimadeit.

They look a little funny huh! Place them with the sprouting bits facing up.

No-dig potato growing, originally uploaded by mooimadeit.

Then you cover them with a LOTS of straw. It needs to be a very thick layer to make sure the sunlight doesn’t get in and make them turn green. When you get a bale of hay, it comes apart in like pads or ‘biscuits’ of hay that you can just pull off and lay down. So we just put a biscuit on top of each seed potato – they are compacted bits of hay but not so compacted that it wouldn’t be able to send shoots through I don’t think. I hope! Peter Cundall suggests amking it at least half a metre tall especially is the straw is fluffed. Ours wasn’t quite as tall because we didn’t have enough and because ours was already compacted anyway. Give it a good watering after you stack up the straw.

Then you dress the stacked straw (we used pea straw by the way) with some yummy goodness – a good handful of blood and bone with about 10% potash per square metre of the bed.

Then you put a couple of shovelfuls of ‘any kind of animal manure’ – we used pulverized cow poo:

No-dig potato growing, originally uploaded by mooimadeit

Water again. It’s similar to making the ‘lasagne’ mix of an Esther Dean no dig garden bed really. Water again. The manure plus more water should weigh it down and it will drop a bit.

Peter Cundall says you can add some seaweed as well if you have some or even sawdust to help exclude the light. What a great idea! We didn’t have any though. Maybe when we hit the Great Ocean Road next weekend we can bring some plastic containers to collect some.

Then top it up with any surplus bits of hay and tidy up the sides, water it some more and hey presto!

Now we wait. In apparently 3 weeks time the shoots of potato leafy greenness shall appear and the mulch will have turned into a ‘moist and highly nutritious pad about 15 centimetres thick’ – how good does that sound! We might end up having to top it up some more. It will need some occasional watering but in 2 or 3 months we shoudl be able to ‘lift up a corner of the ‘carpet” and see some nice clean ‘new potatos’ ready for cooking or we can leave them til they get a bit bigger! Best bit of this method is that you don’t need to scrub dirt off them because they’re all above ground! AND you can reuse all that fertilised straw as mulch elsewhere in the garden once you’re done too.

I have heard of other variations of this method, using old stacked tyres to grow them upward. Each time it sends up shoots you can place another tyre on top and add some more straw with just he tips of the shoots exposed so it keeps growing up and giving you more and more potatoes. I might try this out next time.

Peter Cundall suggests doing this in the last week of August but obviously that passed us by. I hope we haven’t left it too late but the label on the seed potatoes said to ‘plant before October 1’ which we did – JUST – so hopefully we have snuck in there!


4 Responses to "No-Dig Potatoes are GROW!"

That is a great method Moo! I have seen a different method that Josh from gardening oz used. He made a tower of chicken wire, but used exactly the same principle that you have. I suppose the tower method is best used when space is an issue. Looks like you have lots of room.

Best of luck and good harvesting!

Hey great new look for the blog! My mum is doing this spud-growing method at the mo as well.

[…] Even growing potatoes, planted directly onto the soil then covered with hay  or straw is perfectly possible if you absolutely refuse to […]

Hay biscuits? We call them flakes in TX. Wonder what else they are called.

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