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The art of maximizing potato harvest

 
pollinator
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I'm not here to share the art, I'm here to ask about it.  lol.  I've always heard that you should bury it every time the plant reaches 6".  I've only ever managed to follow through with burying a plant about 1' deep. Usually the chickens start interfering after that.  

So what are some really good practices folks have used to produce oodles of taters?  Can you bury them in straw, perhaps, instead of dirt?  How deep do you bury them/when do you stop?  What kind of watering techniques do you use to keep them happiest?
 
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The only tidbit I know is that burying potatoes only increases the harvest on indeterminate varieties.  It's rarely reported which varieties are indeterminate and which are determinate but the indeterminate generally have longer DTMs (Days to Maturity).
 
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A couple times i've grown potatoes on fairly hard ground where the crop tended to push itself out of the ground. So lots of litter was piled on top to prevent them from turning green.
 
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I just hilled all of my potatoes. I used compost from the local brush and yard waste site. I am worried if there is a specific way I should've done it. I just shoveled the compost over them. I was surprised at how fast they came back up out of the soil. It only seems to take a few days. Maybe the rain washed them out again. A few of them seem to be stems that still have their tops buried. I'm not sure if this is fine, or if I should rebury them.
 
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Although we didn't learn from these links - already knew but it's good validation of the methods.

The links provide good advice - Gardening Australia is a national program and covers all the climates found on the continent. (Peter Cundall is somewhat of a 'National Treasure' here: old fashioned common sense gardening.)


Pete's Patch


The Patch


Pete Again


 
pollinator
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I grow potatoes on a small commercial scale and help with a slightly larger commercial farm (10 acres of potatoes in their case)
New potatoes do not get hilled it's a waste of time Early varieties are almost all determinate and will only produce x number of potatoes whatever you do. as they do not get large they don't push up to the surface and get green. Maincrops can be either determinate or indeterminate but for us with a short growing season hilling is only to stop greening and control weeds.

Hilling is important for baking potatoes and anything that grows large spuds, as they will push up to the surface and turn green which is most upsetting! What will really increase yield is water, and water at the right time, which is when the tubers are swelling often (but not always) this coincides with flower development. So do not let them dry out at that stage.
 
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Since my area has an exceptionally long growing season (March thru December) We can plant potatoes twice or even three times during the year.
This year has been quite wet so our first crop of potatoes went in about mid march (we use decayed straw bales since it is easy to plant in and also harvest from) and were pulled just last week.
I'm in the process of getting more of our spent straw bales moved over to the area we are using this year for potatoes so we can plant the second crop.

We do mound the storage potatoes (russet) but usually not the Yukon golds or red skinned potatoes, those we just plant deep and let them go.

My grandfather always mounded his potato rows, he would dig out a trench and plant at the bottom of that trench, then as the potato vines grew we would go through about once a week and move dirt up around the plants so only 4 leaves were visible.
He grew only russets and reds, both did quite well and produced lots of tubers. He mounded the reds because he liked them to get large before harvesting and up the vine was where the baby reds came from.

Redhawk
 
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Redhawk,  are there tips to 2nd or 3rd plantings? Mainly,  how to get potato to sprout for a fall planting. Seed potatos are unheard of after the first planting. I would need to replant from my first harvest.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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I put my new seed potatoes in brown paper bags with a small slice of apple (it's weird but it seems to work really well not only for ripening but for kick starting spud eyes to sprout).
You can also place them in a dark, warm place (the way my grandfather taught me to do it) or you can use a shallow dish of water (I've not tried this one yet but am going to trial it this year).

We are lucky in that we have friends that grow organic seed potatoes and we have used grocery store Yukon gold (new potato sized) for seed potatoes, this variety seems to be the only one they don't spray with an inhibitor.
If you can locate organic grown potatoes the odds are that no inhibitor was used on them, which makes them good for sprouting in the dark, warm spot.
I don't leave potatoes being sprouted so they are touching, I try to space them about 2 cm apart in a tray that has a thin layer of sand in it.
 
wayne fajkus
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Thanks.  Sounds like i can use some of the ones i just harvested for a fall crop. My goal is to not buy seed potatos,  use what i got. The apple thing seems viable. Makes reasonable sense in my head.....

If successful the fall crop can be used for spring planting.

This is exciting!


 
Bryant RedHawk
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We found out we were able to do it quite by accident. Wolf found some sprouting spuds a couple of years ago and tossed them into the collapsed bales, they grew and produced a small crop in around 60 days, lots of baby potatoes.
Since then we have been trying to work out a really good time table so we always have fresh dug spuds to eat and only store the last crop pulled which is in December.
 
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I have good results by just setting the potatoes on the ground and kind of pressing them into the top of the soil in a thick patch of weeds. Then I throw a couple handfuls of compost over them. Then I chop the weeds down over them and smother everything with leaves and pine needles/cones. They grow out along the surface of the ground under the leaves. I grow predominantly red skins of an unknown variety. Very easy to harvest and they get nice size to them and no scab. I've had good results with hay, sawdust, and wood chips in the past. Here is my current patch. They seem to do best for me with an eastern exposure for some reason.
IMG_20190618_141122689.jpg
garden potatoes
garden potatoes
 
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a few years back, I tried to do potato towers. I put fencing around my potato bed and piled more and more mulch up. NO potatoes appeared above maybe the first 6 inches, and there was 3 feet of mulch. Potatoe towers did not work for me. According to potato and rare-tuber breeders, Cultivariable, potatoes just don't make potatoes the way the potato towers advertise. https://www.cultivariable.com/potato-towers/. Here's a quote from the article:

  • Hilling up much beyond six inches brings no benefits and is likely to reduce yield.
  • The purpose of hilling is not to stimulate production of tubers, but to protect the tubers from the environment.
  • Potato yield is primarily limited by foliage area, not by the amount of soil above the seed tuber.
  • Conventional container growing works fine with potatoes but potato towers don’t work.


  • I found the article to mirror my own experiences. I grew potatoes last year and "hilled up" with mulch a good three feet tall (I had a three-foot fence around the garden bed, so the mulch was contained in it). I applied the mulch carefully so as to keep the leaves in the sunlight. When I went to dig for potatoes, they were all in the first 6 inches of mulch/soil. None any higher. I got a normal amount of potatoes, and all the mulch did smother all the weeds and make for a great garden bed the next year. But, looking back, it really wasn't necessary to spend the time and effort and resources to hill the potatoes that much.

    My favorite way to grow potatoes is much like Dan Allen wrote! You smother the plants/weeds, get potatoes to eat, and you have an amazing, weed free garden to plant in the next year! I wrote a post about how I make my potato beds here: Ihttps://permies.com/t/108411/Favorite-easy-ways-garden-beds
     
    pollinator
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    I am in heavy clay soils so spuds in the soil struggle a bit and are really tough to dig in the fall.  The cure has been to hill about 6 to 8 inches above the ground and plant in that.   The hill gets them out of the wettest of the ground. Lightly mulch the soil on planting.  Then every time the plants get 4 to 8 inches up bury them in grass clippings so just the topmost leaves are sticking out.   When the grass hill is about 2 feet deep and 3 wide let the plants get ahead.  Because they are so heavily mulched later in the season you have to watch over watering.  Usually I dig down thru to the hill to see how dry it is getting.  Then when you are ready to harvest most of the spuds will be above ground and the rest will be right at the surface of the dirt for the most part.  No real digging is needed just pull the grass away and you are set.

    I have had some real successes and real failures with this method.

    Failure one was getting grass clippings from town and getting some sort of herbicide in the clipping.  I put the clippings on and potatoes were dying within days.  The county agent said it was herbicide.  Since none was used it had to come in with the grass.

    Failure two was not watering the grass down after placing it on the first major cover.  It sat there for 2 weeks fine and then a high wind moved it off.  Didn't find it for a couple of days but by then the potatoes that had started to form were turning green.  Even recovered they were not right at harvest.  Lesson here is water the grass down a bit after placing it so it sticks down and together.

    Failure three was planting yukon gold.  Suddenly in Aug the plants were dying and there were no spuds growing up in the grass.  Lesson here is that Yukon gold is a determinant potato and this method is wasted other than mulch on determinate.  The reason is the minute the plant breaks thru to the sun that determines how high the spuds will grow on the stem.  The other problem is they have a definite life and when they are done, they are DONE. Have wanted to try a deep mulch from the start with them but have never gotten back to that.  If there was a foot of grass there when the plant broke thru to the surface would that work to keep from needing to dig?

    Be aware this much mulch is a great rain shedding roof.  If you are counting on rain to water then lay your rows out so the shed water will run under the mulch to water the row.  If you flood irrigate then it isn't problem as the water goes where it needs to into the low spots on either side of the hilled area.  

    Now for the success.  We have taken large crops off with almost no digging and watering is probably 1/4 as much.  The grass clippings are easy to spread out as winter mulch.  It is also a great way to knock off a cheat grass patch.  The time for the first heavy mulch lines up nicely here with when the cheat grass stem is just starting to yellow.  Mow when just a few stems are starting to yellow up by the head.  The grass is mature enough that it won't make a new seed head and yet the seed heads are apparently not viable yet if mowed then.  Almost completely wiped a quarter acre of cheat grass out the next year while mulching the potatoes.  Figured to till the seed bank out the next year but there was no cheat grass in that area.  Mostly I try to use the lawn grass and mow and let it dry for a day and then rake it up.  The reason is that it gets moldy if I don't.  If I mow and go straight from the lawn to dumping the green grass clippings  bag on the row.  I have done it both ways and it has never seemed to hurt the potatoes but out of concern for the mold if I have time I use the let it dry first method.  The cheat grass being a bit drier didn't mold and I dumped it directly from the bag onto the row.

     
    gardener
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    Thanks for the thread Jen & everyone for the helpful info. After reading the thread earlier today (and a couple other potato sites) I reevaluated our potato situation. Only grown them a few times & they were always an afterthought. I'm claiming delayed rookie status with growing potatoes. Stepped that up a notch this year. Planted four varieties of seed potatoes & several different organic potatoes from the grocery store. Most if not all sprouted. Not a single non-organic sprouted. Those were all planted in rather poor soil with a layer of mulch/compost on top. Hilled them once with decent soil & then later with leaves. They flowered several weeks ago. Dug up the first ones today. Nice fist sized potatoes & some slightly smaller. The new plan is to start harvesting some once a week & keep replanting until about late August. Rough guess this thread potentially tripled or quadrupled our potato harvest for the year. Thanks all!!!
     
    Jen Fan
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    I really appreciate all the input  Thanks everyone!

    I had never thought about D/InD on Potatoes!    How funny!  That does explain a lot though :p  How can you tell which varieties are which; just observe their growth/production patterns?

    I will share our results this year from my novice potato experiments I have going.  The plants in our first potato bed seem like they should be setting flowers soon.  This bed is a mix of all-blues and purples, bakers, russets, red, and golds.  After what I've just read about some of these varieties, with the fact that half the patch is mounded/buried in straw and the other half is buried in straw/soil much deeper, I'm curious to see what happens.  They were all set atop loosened soil or lightly buried, then covered in a few inches of hay.  I started mounding them in more hay as they reached 4-6 inches and they're now under an 8-12'+ thick mat of hay.  It's a lot of work burying them and not smothering the other plants in the process!  I'd love to not do it anymore!  lol!

    We just took any growing spuds from the organic potatoes we get at the store and used those.  That's how I've always grown potatoes but I've never had a thrilling harvest.  Usually 3-6 spuds per plant, and usually the blues and purples are what I plant.  I would love to never have to buy another potato (or anything else) from the store again!  But I'm not there yet, so here we are.

    I went into this year with the mentality of "get everything I possibly can into the ground so I have more food at harvest cause buying food is BS and I need to get this train moving".  I did some reading on the site here the other day before posting this thread and decided to try another experiment;
    With the last of the enthusiastically sprouting spuds from the pantry I planted another potato patch.  I used my recently 'retired'/rotated rabbit pen and put the tubers down in the low areas, trenches, and dug-outs the rabbits made, 6-10" deep, and mounded about a foot of hay on top of them to cover the pits to soil-level.  I watered everyone and will probably not touch them again for a long time.  I doubt that area is going to go bone dry.  I planted the spuds whole; another technique I read people using on here.  Curious to see how it differs from cutting eyes.
    garden-11.jpg
    potato patch
    potato patch
     
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    Jen Fan wrote:I really appreciate all the input  Thanks everyone!

    I had never thought about D/InD on Potatoes!    How funny!  That does explain a lot though :p  How can you tell which varieties are which; just observe their growth/production patterns?

    I will share our results this year from my novice potato experiments I have going.  The plants in our first potato bed seem like they should be setting flowers soon.  This bed is a mix of all-blues and purples, bakers, russets, red, and golds.  After what I've just read about some of these varieties, with the fact that half the patch is mounded/buried in straw and the other half is buried in straw/soil much deeper, I'm curious to see what happens.  They were all set atop loosened soil or lightly buried, then covered in a few inches of hay.  I started mounding them in more hay as they reached 4-6 inches and they're now under an 8-12'+ thick mat of hay.  It's a lot of work burying them and not smothering the other plants in the process!  I'd love to not do it anymore!  lol!

    We just took any growing spuds from the organic potatoes we get at the store and used those.  That's how I've always grown potatoes but I've never had a thrilling harvest.  Usually 3-6 spuds per plant, and usually the blues and purples are what I plant.  I would love to never have to buy another potato (or anything else) from the store again!  But I'm not there yet, so here we are.

    I went into this year with the mentality of "get everything I possibly can into the ground so I have more food at harvest cause buying food is BS and I need to get this train moving".  I did some reading on the site here the other day before posting this thread and decided to try another experiment;
    With the last of the enthusiastically sprouting spuds from the pantry I planted another potato patch.  I used my recently 'retired'/rotated rabbit pen and put the tubers down in the low areas, trenches, and dug-outs the rabbits made, 6-10" deep, and mounded about a foot of hay on top of them to cover the pits to soil-level.  I watered everyone and will probably not touch them again for a long time.  I doubt that area is going to go bone dry.  I planted the spuds whole; another technique I read people using on here.  Curious to see how it differs from cutting eyes.




    Ooh I'm eager to see how this works too! I've always cut eyes, but I cut mine too  small.
     
    Mike Haasl
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    Jen Fan wrote:How can you tell which varieties are which; just observe their growth/production patterns?


    The only way I know of without doing a bunch of research is to look at the days to maturity.  Longer days to maturity generally align with indeterminate potatoes (according to a presentation I attended).
     
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    Yukon Gold is determinate? OOOH, thank you C. Letillier for that info!! How do I tell when they are ready? Just dig them and peek? First time growing potatoes, my last climate was not potato friendly. I was assuming potatoes grow and produce more until you get around to messing with them.
     
    Jen Fan
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    Alexis Richard wrote:

    Ooh I'm eager to see how this works too! I've always cut eyes, but I cut mine too  small.



    My first potato patch was cut up pieces; I try to keep pieces 1-2" with 2-3 eyes.  I have no real rationalization behind that choice  I worried that I cut some too small but virtually all of them came up.  My partner said he's had potatoes grow from PEELINGS in the compost heap!  I haven't seen that one myself, but it made me rethink what 'too small' might be for a tater.  
     
    Alexis Richard
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    Jen Fan wrote:

    Alexis Richard wrote:

    Ooh I'm eager to see how this works too! I've always cut eyes, but I cut mine too  small.



    My first potato patch was cut up pieces; I try to keep pieces 1-2" with 2-3 eyes.  I have no real rationalization behind that choice  I worried that I cut some too small but virtually all of them came up.  My partner said he's had potatoes grow from PEELINGS in the compost heap!  I haven't seen that one myself, but it made me rethink what 'too small' might be for a tater.  



    Well mine all sprouted and formed at least one tater.... But not much more than that lol. Maybe it was my dirt then!
     
    wayne fajkus
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    Bryant RedHawk wrote:I put my new seed potatoes in brown paper bags with a small slice of apple (it's weird but it seems to work really well not only for ripening but for kick starting spud eyes to sprout).
    You can also place them in a dark, warm place (the way my grandfather taught me to do it) or you can use a shallow dish of water (I've not tried this one yet but am going to trial it this year).



    An apple in the box worked. Those potatos are sprouting. The others are not. This is exciting.
    20190718_210108-756x1008.jpg
    potatoes
    potatoes
     
    Pearl Sutton
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    Apples make potatoes sprout by their release of ethylene.
    "Ethylene is a natural plant hormone released in the form of a gas. It triggers cells to degrade, fruit to turn softer and sweeter, leaves to droop, and seeds or buds to sprout."
    Apples and pears are both high producers of it, potatoes and onions are both sensitive to it. There are more fruits and vegetables that either produce it in high amounts or react to it. This is why you don't want to store apples in your root cellar too close to your potatoes or onions, they will start sprouting and won't last as long.
    Storing fruit that was picked too green by apples makes them ripen, that's how grocery stores ripen things like bananas that are shipped green, they gas them with ethylene.

    List from Food Science: Ethylene
    Ethylene producing foods:
    apples, apricots, avocados, bananas (ripe), blueberries, cantaloupe, cherimoyas, cranberries, figs, green onions, guavas, grapes, honeydew, kiwifruit, mangoes, mangosteen, nectarines, papayas, passion fruit, peaches, pears, persimmons, plums, potatoes, prunes, quince, tomatoes
    Ethylene sensitive foods:
    asparagus, bananas (unripe), blackberries, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, chard, cucumbers, eggplant, endive, garlic, green beans, kale, leafy greens, leeks, lettuce, okra, onions, parsley, peas, peppers, raspberries, spinach, squash, strawberries, sweet potatoes, watercress, watermelon

    Useful trait to know about!
     
    Jen Fan
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    Just wanted to update.  I got about 100lbs total of potatoes this year. Not as much as I was hoping, but I don't think we'll have to buy potatoes until spring.  I don't think any of my taters were indeterminate.  

    I'd like to understand what causes scabbing.  Like 50% of my taters were scabby, between 4 varieties and loads of plants.  Even on the same plants some were scabby some weren't.

    tater1.jpg
    colorful potatoes
    colorful potatoes
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    Scab is caused by a bacterium that can be controlled by adjusting your soil's pH into a more acidic range.  Avoid using lime or other materials like wood ash that will make your soils more basic.

    Thick skinned varieties tend to be more resistant to infection as well.

    https://hort.extension.wisc.edu/articles/potato-scab/
     
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