Growing Potatoes Under Straw-My Test and Review

Discussion in 'Homesteading Questions' started by fin29, Sep 2, 2004.

  1. fin29

    fin29 Well-Known Member

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    We decided to try potatoes under straw this year. While the technique seemed too good to be true, I'm happy to report that there's no better way to grow them. I'm in Maine, zone 4.

    We tilled up two 5' wide, 100' long rows of old pasture. We had a round bale of old hay in the barn that we used for the mulch. We spaced red seed potatoes about 15" apart in double rows and placed them on the surface of the ground, covering them with just a liberal sprinkling of soil. We then covered the seeds with about 8 inches of hay and walked away. We also did a test patch of our traditional method, which was to bury the seeds in 6' trenches and hilling them as the plants grew.

    It was a rainy and late season here, and I did worry that the seeds might rot. It took about 2 weeks to see the seedlings coming up. We found almost immediately that the straw potatoes grew much faster, owing, I think, to the fact that the root system was kept cool and moist by the mulch. In late July, our nemesis, the Colorado Potato Beetle, emerged from the soil in droves, and despite our relentless hand picking efforts, they came close to almost defoliating some of the traditionally trenched and hilled potatoes. The straw potatoes were virtually untouched. I speculate that the straw mulch confused them as they emerged from the soil and that they died from starvation because they couldn't get to the plant in time. I have read that they have a very small window of time to come up from hibernation and get that first meal of nightshade.

    Well, harvest time is here now, almost a month early for these parts. The potatoes are abnormally large, smooth and round from not having to grow around the rocks and other obstacles in the ground. The potatoes grew about 2 inches into the soil, often with the tops sticking out and visible under the hay. They're scab free, which is a blessing in Maine, and the insect damage from pin worms and other grubs is non-existent. The best part is the harvest. For new potatoes, lift the hay, grab a few off the plant, pat down the soil and replace the hay; the plant continues to produce. For the main harvest, lift the hay, use a fork to lightly stir the soil, and pick the potatoes. There's no more back breaking work associated with potatoes, and the final product is superior to the old method.

    So, I have nothing but good things to say, and I hope you'll have enough information from this post to decide to try it for yourself. Happy Mashed Potato Eating!
     
  2. SRSLADE

    SRSLADE Well-Known Member

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    I can't believe that we did the same thing this year. I don't know the results as we hav'nt looked yet but, your post makes us hopeful. We also had no bugs. We grow all our veggies in hay. We have done this for 3 years. We grow everything in hay with just a little soil.
     

  3. Meg Z

    Meg Z winding down

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    I told dh I was going to try this next year and he scoffed. Ha! I'll show him! :haha: :haha:

    Thanks fin! I'm thrilled that you have such wonderfiul things to report. I'm also glad you did a plot each way, for a true comparison!


    Meg :)
     
  4. fin29

    fin29 Well-Known Member

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    Anyone who does it the old way doesn't believe it's possible, just like when automatic washing machines came out and no one believed they could do a better job than the back-breaking wringer and board. :haha:
     
  5. Torch

    Torch Well-Known Member

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    Was the original 8" of hay all or did you add more as the season wore on?

    A stupid question. You interchange hay and straw, I'm guessing the whole time you used the old round bale of straw or did you at some point add fresh cut hay? :confused:

    Finally, do you have any pictures?

    This sounds really great. I wonder if I could do it in zone 8b???
     
  6. OD

    OD Well-Known Member

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    We tried this a few years ago & it started working really well--then the fire ants found them. They covered every plant & just sucked all the moisture out of them & they all died. This would be a wonderful way to garden if there were no fire ants. :(
     
  7. sugarspinner

    sugarspinner Well-Known Member

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    Fin, glad it's working for you. We've done this in Indiana (zone 5) for years and had very good success. That's potatoes. I've never tried anything else that way but potatoes seem to thrive, are much easier to harvest and are easy to re-cover as they need more hilling-up during the season.
     
  8. Judy in IN

    Judy in IN Well-Known Member Supporter

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    The last time I planted potatoes in the garden, I put the spuds about an inch deep to get away from slugs. I used old straw that we had put around the well house that winter. It was wet, heavy, and FULL of worms! Those were the best potatoes I ever had. The next time I have a garden, that's the way I'm going!

    Oh! Did you know that Rheas LOVE to eat fireants? That's the only good use for that bird besides the feathers that I know of, but I've heard that they will flat erradicate fireants! Isn't it nice the way that nature works?
     
  9. fin29

    fin29 Well-Known Member

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    Torch-
    Yeah, the technique is called straw potatoes, but I used hay. I wasn't concerned about the seeds because we'll be rotating the beds all around the field to take advantage of the "deposits" our pastured poultry make. The hay seeds will just improve the plant mix in the pasture.

    I put the 8" of hay and I did not add any more, although I had planned to. The plants grew so well and got tall enough to shade the spuds well before the potatoes started forming, so I left well enough alone. We had absolutely no burn.

    I'll try to snap some pictures and put them up, but only if I can see it clear to do that as well as harvest the 500+ pounds of potatoes I'm anticipating.
     
  10. OD

    OD Well-Known Member

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    ____________________________________________________________________
    There is even one good thing about fire ants--I haven't seen a tick in years. My DH is a horseshoer & he used to come home covered with ticks that he got from horses. A couple of years after the fire ants arrived, the ticks disappeared. I think I'd rather have the ticks though.
     
  11. ozarkin'it

    ozarkin'it Well-Known Member

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    I wonder if your potatoe trick would work with sweet potatoes? even though they are not a potatoe
     
  12. mightybooboo

    mightybooboo Well-Known Member

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    WTG!
    Im going to try it too.
    BooBoo
     
  13. MullersLaneFarm

    MullersLaneFarm Well-Known Member

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    I finally tried it this way also. Can't believe the tators wouldn't turn into instant mulch though! I'm using spent hay/straw mixed with horse manure from when we cleaned out a lady's barn last fall. I dug the potatoes in a bit and covered with even more manure/hay. Last year at this time, I was digging potatoes, this year, the plants are still big and green so I'm leaving them be.