Win a deck of Permaculture Playing Cards this week in the Permaculture forum!
  • Post Reply Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic
permaculture forums growies critters building homesteading energy monies kitchen purity ungarbage community wilderness fiber arts art permaculture artisans regional education skip experiences global resources the cider press projects digital market permies.com private forums all forums
this forum made possible by our volunteer staff, including ...
master stewards:
  • James Freyr
  • Nicole Alderman
  • Anne Miller
  • r ranson
  • Mike Jay Haasl
  • Dave Burton
  • Pearl Sutton
stewards:
  • paul wheaton
  • Joylynn Hardesty
  • Joseph Lofthouse
garden masters:
  • Steve Thorn
gardeners:
  • Dan Boone
  • Carla Burke
  • Kate Downham

Favorite easy ways to make garden beds? Here's mine using mulch and potatoes!

 
master steward
Posts: 10441
Location: Pacific Northwest
4169
hugelkultur kids cat duck forest garden foraging fiber arts sheep wood heat homestead
  • Likes 20
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
One of my favorite ways to start a new garden bed, especially if I have time, is by growing potatoes in mulch! You smother the plants/weeds, get potatoes to eat, and you have an amazing, weed free garden to plant in the next year!

I like it because it doesn't cost more than a few potatoes, it's really flexible depending on your materials, and you can work on it slowly over a year so it's not as overwhelming. And, the whole time you're locating and adding mulch, you're growing yummy, vitamin-rich potatoes!


Step
1

Prepare Your Site:


I've done this a lot of ways.

  • If I have months before I'll be planting potatoes, I just mow/hack down to ground level everything that's there and cover it with paper sacks/paper feed sacks and a layer of mulch to hold down said paper.
  • If there's an annoying perenial weed like buttercup, I try to remove most of it with a hand cultivator-weeder tool. Or give said tool to my kid and let him have fun.
  • If the weeds aren't too bad, I'll just mow it short.


  • Here's the bed I made this year, with the grass just mowed short.




    Step
    2

    Put a Border on Your Bed...or Not!


    Every time I make a bed, I do it a bit differently based on how much time I have and what materials I have. Usuaully it's nice to have at least 6 inches of some sort of boarder to hold the mulch. But that's not even necessarily.

    Here's some of the garden boarders I've done:

  • Fencing. I initially surrounded it with fencing to keep the chickens out, but found it did great for holding the deep mulch

  •      
  • bricks
  • Cinderblocks--older ones are better as more junk has leached out of them. They still are probably a bit toxic, though. The heavier concrete ones are supposedly less toxic than the lighter cinder block ones

  •      
  • Logs stood on end. These are great for sitting on when gardening or taking a break, too!

  •      
  • Logs on their sides. I often use skinny alder logs that fell down in the woods. Sometimes I just lie them down. This last time, I did saddle notches in the sides and built them up log-cabin style.

  •          
  • Nothing. The mulch won't mound as well, but you only need 4-6 inches, so it's no biggy

  •      

    There's no right way! Use what you can find.



    Step
    3

    Put in some potatoes!



    Get some potatoes. Organic seed potatoes are, of course, the best. But I've had good luck with store-bought organic potatoes and non-organic seed potatoes for the colorful varieties. You could also use potatoes that randomly sprouted because you didn't eat them in time.

    Put the potatoes on the dirt. If you mulched it with a paper barrier first, dig through the paper/mulch and put the potato on the ground. If your planting on grass, remove the grass where you're planting (dig up the sod and flip it over).

    Space the potatoes 8-12 inches apart. I don't cut mine. You could cut yours if you like to do it that way.

    Optional companions: (from this thread) Garlic and elephant garlic don't mind the deep mulching, and help prevent pests. Horseradish also prevents pests, but it's a hard to get rid of. Don't put it in there unless you want to grow horseradish there permanently! I like to grow my elephant garlic either in between the potatoes, or in a row between the potato rows.



    Step
    4

    Cover the Potatoes with Mulch


    Put some mulch on top of the potatoes. At least 2 inches so that the potatoes are covered. Here's some idea of mulch:

  • Woodchips from tree trimmers
  • Poultry bedding
  • Chopped up ferns (make sure to cut them down to at least 4 inch pieces. The potatoes have a hard time growing through a mat of long fronds)
  • Grass clippings--too many might be a rodent attractant. Planting in some garlic with the potatoes can help repel rodents
  • leaves
  • chopped/dropped other plants/weeds
  • bamboo leaves


  • Use what you have. More variety is better, but mine grew fine in straight woodchips with a little duck bedding.
    Here's some ferns I'm assembling for my current potato bed, as well as another bed with leaves/woodchips/duck bedding



    Step
    5

    Keep adding more mulch


    I've done this a lot of ways.

    As the plant grows, add more mulch, being careful not to cover the leaves. You want to make sure the potatoes are covered. You'll want at least 6 inches as they grow, and can do as much as 2 feet as long as you don't cover the leaves. Adding more WILL NOT get you higher levels of potatoes See article by Cultivariable for more information. Potatoes don't work like that. But, it'll decompose down to some lovely soil for next years garden.

    Here's some potatoes growing in last year's potato beds:



    Step
    6

    Harvest Your Potatoes!


    Since the potatoes were growing in mulch, you should be able to just dig through the mulch with your bare hands (or with gardening gloves) and pluck out the potatoes.

    Here's my harvest from two of my potato plants:




    Step
    7

    Plant in it the Next Year!


    Your garden bed will be ready to plant in come the next spring. You'll find that it will have composted down to a few inches, and depending on how much it composted, you might brush aside the half-composted mulch to plant in the soil. Either way, you now have a weed-free, compost-filled bed, with very little effort!

    Here's some lovely soil from a bed I grew potatoes in for two years in a row:




    Share your favorite method(s) for making a garden bed! The more ways we can grow food--and help others grow, too--the better!
     
    gardener
    Posts: 2780
    Location: Central Texas zone 8a
    544
    cattle chicken bee sheep
    • Likes 2
    • Mark post as helpful
    • send pies
    • Quote
    • Report post to moderator
    Nice write up. I'm pretty sure i gave you the suggestion to use potatos. It's still my favorite so i don't have another method to ad. I'm glad it worked for you. The bed i did last year turned out great. I can turn over a spade fork pretty easy in that bed this year. This years new bed is twice the size (for twice the potatos!)
     
    gardener
    Posts: 1223
    Location: Pacific Wet Coast
    347
    duck books chicken cooking
    • Likes 4
    • Mark post as helpful
    • send pies
    • Quote
    • Report post to moderator
    1. I have ducks and it's so wet here in the winter that I have to dig out their deep mulch at some point, so a little over a year ago I did so and put it in a long mound to create a new compost heap.
    2. I also have neighbors. Billy called complaining that it was so wet he couldn't get the organic okara he'd picked up over to his compost pile, so the duck shit/mulch got covered with okara mixed with 2 year old wood chips.
    3. I also have a sister, 4 provinces to the east. She had the misfortune last summer to require emergency surgery, so I had to go and look after her. When I returned, I found a bag of potatoes with 1-2 foot long (30-60 cm) sprouts trying desperately to escape.
    4. So now I also had potatoes begging for a place to go, so I figured I'd trench the above-mentioned long heap, carefully de-tangle the potatoes trying not to break off the sprouts, cover the pile with a white tarp as it was waaaayyy to late to start potatoes and see what happened.
    5. I spent Jan and Feb digging new potatoes a few plants at a time out of the row. They weren't big, but we had a meal/week or so, and they were delicious.
    6. Above sister needed follow-up surgery just over a week ago. Before I left I lifted the tarp and stuck some extra bush bean seeds in. Again, this is the *wrong* time of year to do this, but with the tarp for protection, I figured I had nothing to loose. If they germinate, that's great. If they add a little nitrogen to the heap, even better. If they actually produce beans, that's a bonus.

    With the crazy weather we're having, trying experiments in small plots and accepting that the soil will benefit one way or another works for me!
     
    Nicole Alderman
    master steward
    Posts: 10441
    Location: Pacific Northwest
    4169
    hugelkultur kids cat duck forest garden foraging fiber arts sheep wood heat homestead
    • Likes 4
    • Mark post as helpful
    • send pies
    • Quote
    • Report post to moderator

    wayne fajkus wrote:Nice write up. I'm pretty sure i gave you the suggestion to use potatos. It's still my favorite so i don't have another method to ad. I'm glad it worked for you. The bed i did last year turned out great. I can turn over a spade fork pretty easy in that bed this year. This years new bed is twice the size (for twice the potatos!)



    I can't remember if it was you or not, but I think the first time it was kind of an accident on my part. I was going to do the whole deep-mulch potatoes where they magically make more and more potatoes the higher up you pile mulch...which doesn't work. But, all the mulch composted down to a lovely garden bed. I think after I did it, I saw your post, and so kept makig more garden beds that way, assured that it was a good way to go. Years before, I think I'd also seen mention (in a gardening book) of making a garden bed by growing potatoes, but the book didn't say HOW to do it, so I never tried. So, I thought maybe I could make a tutorial for those that are beginner gardeners like I was, and need it all explained in detail or they don't feel comfortable trying it.

    It really is a marvelous method!
     
    Posts: 4
    • Likes 2
    • Mark post as helpful
    • send pies
    • Quote
    • Report post to moderator
    Nice tips

    I usually dig a shallow a trench 2 shovel widths wide on contiur and place the dirt on the down slope.
    Then put about a foot of waste timber or chopndrop in.
    I then do a layer of acacia longiflora all the while sprinkling a little lime on to help decomposition.
    Next comes several alternative layers of Lucerne and cow poo.
    Done.
    Planting by digging a small hole in the top layers and dropping in a few handfuls of good compost and then your favorite seedings.

    Happy hugel
     
    pollinator
    Posts: 252
    Location: Zone 8b Portland
    30
    forest garden fungi food preservation
    • Likes 2
    • Mark post as helpful
    • send pies
    • Quote
    • Report post to moderator
    I like it! This post is timely. I just made 2 double reach 10” thick wood chip mulch beds. Getting a potato harvest out of them while I wait for the chips to break down sounds great!
     
    Posts: 21
    Location: Coastal BC
    2
    • Likes 5
    • Mark post as helpful
    • send pies
    • Quote
    • Report post to moderator
    That's funny, I was thinking about doing this same thing just today and wondering how well it would work. Well now I'm going to try it for sure, thank you :)

    I've been having a lot of fun with wattle garden bed edging lately. It's fast and cute. My partner is very impressed at how quickly I'm making garden beds (just made three little round ones for the kids today, they are pretty adorable). I'm using cedar stakes, and weaving in first year coppiced maple shoots, which are numerous on the property thanks to my guy taking down several maples last year.
    I always end up making beds lasagna style, first with cardboard weed barrier, then chunks of rotten alder, then whatever coarse organic material I can find including unrotted compost, seaweed, partly aged manure and small bits of plants like leaves (though I don't like all the settling I get with leaves, prefer them as mulch) and then top with a relatively thin layer of topsoil or fine compost. For me, because I'm building on top of poor soil, that's as quick and easy as it gets. For two recent beds, I did also dig down so that I could bury quite a lot of wood without having a big mound. Way more work/less fun.
    I've considered so many other ways of making garden beds, but keep coming back to sheet-mulch style with a low border. It's just chill.
     
    gardener
    Posts: 1144
    Location: Southern Illinois
    211
    transportation cat dog fungi trees building writing rocket stoves woodworking
    • Likes 3
    • Mark post as helpful
    • send pies
    • Quote
    • Report post to moderator
    Nicole,

    This is a great way to build a new garden bed, and I really like the way you make the most with just a few materials you have laying around.  In the past I have used oak and hickory last logs from fallen trees for my garden edges and they have lasted about a decade.  Also I love that you are using wood chips and not tilling soil.  

    All in all, this is a great, simple way to build a new garden bed.

    Eric
     
    Chris Holcombe
    pollinator
    Posts: 252
    Location: Zone 8b Portland
    30
    forest garden fungi food preservation
    • Likes 2
    • Mark post as helpful
    • send pies
    • Quote
    • Report post to moderator
    Do the potatoes need to have eyes on them before planting?  I just got the seed potatoes in the mail and most of them don't have eyes yet.  
     
    Nicole Alderman
    master steward
    Posts: 10441
    Location: Pacific Northwest
    4169
    hugelkultur kids cat duck forest garden foraging fiber arts sheep wood heat homestead
    • Likes 3
    • Mark post as helpful
    • send pies
    • Quote
    • Report post to moderator
    I think they gain eyes/sprouts faster in the house than outside, but it's not necessary for them to have eyes before planting--it just speeds up the process. They get 2 inches of spouts a lot faster inside than outside. Having said that, I was lazy and planted most of mine without sprouts, and they're sprouting now in their beds now that the weather has warmed up.
     
    Chris Holcombe
    pollinator
    Posts: 252
    Location: Zone 8b Portland
    30
    forest garden fungi food preservation
    • Likes 3
    • Mark post as helpful
    • send pies
    • Quote
    • Report post to moderator
    So far so good! I put 10lbs of seed potatoes in this 6x50ft bed and they look great!
    image.jpg
    [Thumbnail for image.jpg]
    6ft x 50ft bed
     
    wayne fajkus
    gardener
    Posts: 2780
    Location: Central Texas zone 8a
    544
    cattle chicken bee sheep
    • Likes 2
    • Mark post as helpful
    • send pies
    • Quote
    • Report post to moderator
    Its kind of funny seeing the different climates. One recently got the seed potatos. Another has plants a few inches high.

    I'm harvesting mine.

    Lol
     
    Nicole Alderman
    master steward
    Posts: 10441
    Location: Pacific Northwest
    4169
    hugelkultur kids cat duck forest garden foraging fiber arts sheep wood heat homestead
    • Likes 3
    • Mark post as helpful
    • send pies
    • Quote
    • Report post to moderator
    Here's mine!
    IMG_20190523_193414-1-.jpg
    [Thumbnail for IMG_20190523_193414-1-.jpg]
    IMG_20190523_193453-1-.jpg
    [Thumbnail for IMG_20190523_193453-1-.jpg]
    Two blurry garden beds of potatoes (my daughter dropped my camera, so I'm stuck using a cellphone and I can't hold it stable enough)
    IMG_20190523_193430-1-.jpg
    [Thumbnail for IMG_20190523_193430-1-.jpg]
    Random volunteer potato from last year's potato bed
     
    Chris Holcombe
    pollinator
    Posts: 252
    Location: Zone 8b Portland
    30
    forest garden fungi food preservation
    • Likes 3
    • Mark post as helpful
    • send pies
    • Quote
    • Report post to moderator
    I have to say Nicole that these might be the best potato beds I’ve ever grown. They all look healthy and just started flowering. I love that I’m building soil and getting a yield at the same time.  I tried growing squash once in this spot without mulch years ago and it grew maybe 6” and died. The soil in this spot is/was pretty burned out. I’ve seen fat worms on the surface now after rains. It’s looking great!
     
    Chris Holcombe
    pollinator
    Posts: 252
    Location: Zone 8b Portland
    30
    forest garden fungi food preservation
    • Likes 1
    • Mark post as helpful
    • send pies
    • Quote
    • Report post to moderator
    I’m starting to pull up the potatoes and while the plants looked great while growing they’ve made hardly anything in the way of tubers. My rough guess is I’m getting back what i planted. The good news is the chips are breaking down into amazing looking soil so there’s that 😄. I’ll try planting again next year in the same spot. It should go a lot better I’m guessing. I’ve only pulled up two plants so who knows. Maybe those were duds for some reason and the ones in the middle did well. The two I pulled looked like they were weeks ahead of the others. 🤷‍♂️
    37516B02-7849-4AD3-A0EA-A1E932C98E10.jpeg
    [Thumbnail for 37516B02-7849-4AD3-A0EA-A1E932C98E10.jpeg]
     
    master steward
    Posts: 5401
    Location: Northern WI (zone 4)
    1499
    hunting trees books food preservation solar woodworking
    • Likes 2
    • Mark post as helpful
    • send pies
    • Quote
    • Report post to moderator
    I pull my potatoes when they are mostly dead above ground.  If they're still leafy, there's a modest chance they're still putting energy/size into those spuds.
     
    Chris Holcombe
    pollinator
    Posts: 252
    Location: Zone 8b Portland
    30
    forest garden fungi food preservation
    • Likes 1
    • Mark post as helpful
    • send pies
    • Quote
    • Report post to moderator
    Yeah I wait till they’re totally dead also. The two I pulled were faster than the others for some reason.
     
    Nicole Alderman
    master steward
    Posts: 10441
    Location: Pacific Northwest
    4169
    hugelkultur kids cat duck forest garden foraging fiber arts sheep wood heat homestead
    • Likes 1
    • Mark post as helpful
    • send pies
    • Quote
    • Report post to moderator
    It could be something ate the plant, like a mice or shrew. I had that happen one year, too. A few plants went brown sooner than the others, and I realized there was some critter going at them that ended their lifespan prematurely.
     
    Chris Holcombe
    pollinator
    Posts: 252
    Location: Zone 8b Portland
    30
    forest garden fungi food preservation
    • Mark post as helpful
    • send pies
    • Quote
    • Report post to moderator
    Yeah that would explain a few things 😄
     
    Chris Holcombe
    pollinator
    Posts: 252
    Location: Zone 8b Portland
    30
    forest garden fungi food preservation
    • Mark post as helpful
    • send pies
    • Quote
    • Report post to moderator
    Would this be sufficiently dead to pull the tubers or should I wait longer?
    D8B15871-0E37-4A17-8ED8-2C2A4118A7CA.jpeg
    [Thumbnail for D8B15871-0E37-4A17-8ED8-2C2A4118A7CA.jpeg]
     
    Mike Haasl
    master steward
    Posts: 5401
    Location: Northern WI (zone 4)
    1499
    hunting trees books food preservation solar woodworking
    • Likes 2
    • Mark post as helpful
    • send pies
    • Quote
    • Report post to moderator
    It's getting there but I'd wait another week or two.  From what I understand, there's no need to get them out of the ground quickly unless you have a nibbler problem to worry about.
     
    Chris Holcombe
    pollinator
    Posts: 252
    Location: Zone 8b Portland
    30
    forest garden fungi food preservation
    • Likes 2
    • Mark post as helpful
    • send pies
    • Quote
    • Report post to moderator
    Alright! Things are looking up. I pulled 2 more that looked dried down completely
    image.jpg
    [Thumbnail for image.jpg]
     
    Chris Holcombe
    pollinator
    Posts: 252
    Location: Zone 8b Portland
    30
    forest garden fungi food preservation
    • Mark post as helpful
    • send pies
    • Quote
    • Report post to moderator
    Ready or not I’m pulling the late season ones up. Due to https://cliffmass.blogspot.com/2019/09/wet-tember.html?m=1 they’re starting to rot and sprout. I think all the rain is starting to generate compost heat in the wood chips and sprouting the potatoes. Ugh. So I pulled up about half of the ones that are left this morning and I’ll do the other half soon.
     
    Nicole Alderman
    master steward
    Posts: 10441
    Location: Pacific Northwest
    4169
    hugelkultur kids cat duck forest garden foraging fiber arts sheep wood heat homestead
    • Mark post as helpful
    • send pies
    • Quote
    • Report post to moderator
    That's crazy that yours are rotting and sprouting! Maybe it's because the soils are more clay down in Portland? I've got "gravely loam" soil, so the water drains down, even with all our rain. And since the potatoes are pretty much on top of the soil, they're not staying too wet. I have had some eaten by rodents in the places I didn't plant alliums along with them. But, I'll probably just leave them in the ground until I need to harvest some for dinner. It's too humid in my house and garage, and the potatoes sprout within a week or two once I bring them in!
     
    Chris Holcombe
    pollinator
    Posts: 252
    Location: Zone 8b Portland
    30
    forest garden fungi food preservation
    • Mark post as helpful
    • send pies
    • Quote
    • Report post to moderator
    Yeah they’re all coming up like this. A lot of them look green but they were under at least 6” of mulch still. I don’t understand what happened. Maybe the bintje variety I used just has a really weak dormancy.
    image.jpg
    [Thumbnail for image.jpg]
     
    Jay Angler
    gardener
    Posts: 1223
    Location: Pacific Wet Coast
    347
    duck books chicken cooking
    • Likes 2
    • Mark post as helpful
    • send pies
    • Quote
    • Report post to moderator
    Last year, I planted potatoes at the end of August (because I'd been away and a bunch had sprouted in the closet). I figured they'd help build soil if nothing else. In fact they grew quite well and I had "new" potatoes Dec to Feb, as I ate my way down the row. So it may just be our climate. This is why I'd *really, really* like a decent cold cellar!
     
    pollinator
    Posts: 94
    Location: Ontario - zone 5b
    61
    forest garden foraging tiny house books bike bee
    • Likes 1
    • Mark post as helpful
    • send pies
    • Quote
    • Report post to moderator
    I tried this this year too. I might have gotten amount of potatos back as I put in (not much yield per plant, and lots of potatos that didn't sprout and/or were stolen by wildlife). So not a hugely successful way to grow potatos for me  I layered newspaper, a bag of topsoil, cedar mulch, then garden weeds through the year.

    But.... Nicole didn't advertise this as the most productive way to grow potatos. She said this was an easy way to start new beds, and that, was indeed a success. Weed free, lower layers breaking down, full of moisture despite never being watered, some insect activity visible,  hard grey dirt below softening, etc. And no digging! I interplanted some clearance pepper plants when the potatos failed, and they have really started perking up as the mulch started to decompose(too late for yield though). The herbs I planted have also doubled in size in the last month. Turning the layers as I harvested potatos was also probably a good thing.  If I use these beds again next year(my strawberries are already trying to move in), I have high hopes for them.
    15691614111201945613491.jpg
    [Thumbnail for 15691614111201945613491.jpg]
     
    Chris Holcombe
    pollinator
    Posts: 252
    Location: Zone 8b Portland
    30
    forest garden fungi food preservation
    • Likes 3
    • Mark post as helpful
    • send pies
    • Quote
    • Report post to moderator
    Yeah I totally agree. The soil forming in those beds is incredible. The fact that I got potatoes while it was forming is a bonus.
     
    Chris Holcombe
    pollinator
    Posts: 252
    Location: Zone 8b Portland
    30
    forest garden fungi food preservation
    • Likes 1
    • Mark post as helpful
    • send pies
    • Quote
    • Report post to moderator
    Putting the beds to sleep for the winter
    image.jpg
    [Thumbnail for image.jpg]
     
    pollinator
    Posts: 292
    45
    • Mark post as helpful
    • send pies
    • Quote
    • Report post to moderator
    I tried replacing my garden soil with just horse manure. The green leafy vegetables grew fine, but plants like zucchini grew large but without zucchinies on them. I’m sensitive to nitrogen-rich growing now, I won’t do it again.
     
    Water proof donuts! Eat them while reading this tiny ad:
    One million tiny ads for $25
    https://permies.com/t/94684/million-tiny-ads
    • Post Reply Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
    • New Topic
    Boost this thread!