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Growing potatoes -- methods and musings

 
Posts: 99
Location: Washington coast
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Many people grow grocery potatoes, but it does have risks.  The most common problem is viruses, which are very widespread in ware potatoes.  The most common of these is PVS, which often won't even have any symptoms, other than that your yield will slowly decline.  PVY is also common in grocery potatoes.  It usually will have symptoms, but it is hard to get ahead of it because aphids spread it rapidly.  You can also introduce blight from grocery potatoes, which is a real bummer if you don't already have it.  The real problem is that it is hard to get rid of these once you introduce them, because potatoes volunteer so readily.  So, it is worth thinking about.  It mostly comes down to how serious you are about growing potatoes.  If you are growing a lot and relying on the crop, it would probably be worth the expense to get certified tubers.  Otherwise, people have been growing virus-infected tubers for most of history and they got by, so you probably will too.
 
pollinator
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Location: North Carolina zone 7
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Agreed Jim. I’m going to leave that pile there anyway to breakdown. I may as well throw some potatoes in there and find out what happens!
 
steward
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Scott Stiller
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Well I’m more relaxed now. Seventeen minutes of farm to table beauty with a relaxing soundtrack. I see she had no problems growing potatoes.
 
pollinator
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Hmm I like the use of the potato starch, I have 60lb of last year potatoes to turn into oven chips, that will make a fair bit of starch perhaps I should try to capture it rather than sending it to the septic.
 
pollinator
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For many years I experimented with "cool" potato growing methods: straw bales, vertical towers, grow bags, and complex mounding processes. All that effort generally left me with pathetic, or dead, plants and yielded me a small handful of potatoes.

Last year I gave up on complexity. I stuck a few chunks in the raised bed and left them alone - and I finally got a good harvest! Sure, there were a few with a spot of green - which is not ideal - but most of the potatoes developed deep enough under the surface and came out just fine. So here's what I'm doing this year:

1. Planting a wider variety, to see which work best.
2. Planting the potatoes a little deeper.
3. Mulching a little around them as they grow, but only enough to block out the sun, not so much as to be called "mounding"
4. Yanking any plants that aren't thriving, and disposing of them at the landfill, just in case the lack of vigor is caused by disease.

It is my goal to see discover what works for my no-till, raised bed garden, rather than just listening to the cool methods that most people try once and then abandon.

I have come up with 3 hypotheses which are guiding my new potato philosophy. These hypotheses may not stand up to scrutiny or experimentation, since I have only had *one* successful harvest, ever!

Hypothesis #1: Leaves are solar panels. If you bury the solar panels, there is less energy to make the tubers. While you may gain some potatoes growing off the stems, you may lose harvest weight because of the solar energy lost in the process.

Hypothesis #2: A plant can only commit a certain amount of energy to producing tubers. Leaving aside the solar collection issue, it is doubtful that a buried plant will produce more weight in potatoes, unless perhaps it is gaining significant nutrient from the mounded soil or mulch.

Hypothesis #3: The extra human energy, materials, and money spent creating complex potato systems is a total waste unless you need to grow potatoes on a balcony or rooftop and are doing it just for fun.

Potato experts, what do you think??? If you have real experience, I want to hear it! Please don't tell me "what you've heard" but, rather, only what you have personally experienced. :)

Here's a pic of one of my potato plants. While I was out there, I noticed a few three-striped potato beetles. I've removed the ones I found and am waiting to see whether they cause problems for my tomatoes or potatoes.



Thanks!
Karl

Instagram: @foodforestcardgame
Website: FoodForestCardGame.com
 
Skandi Rogers
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I grow potatoes on a very small commercial scale, with hand tools, we plant our potatoes deep and do not hill as such. They do get a bit of extra soil pulled up round them preferably once, sometimes twice depending on how bad the weeds are, but that soil will be less than an inch in total.
Big bakers will get 3-4 inches when they hit flowering as they tend to push up out of the ground and go green.  over the last 5 days we've dug 80lb of potatoes grown with no hilling at all (the weeds were nice to us) and we got 2 green potatoes out of all of that, hilling would not have been cost effective at all. These are of course first earlies (Solist) so the potatoes themselves are small.  hilling pushes the production back and since we need the earliers possible potatoes to get the premium price and get traffic to the stand we do everything possible to get them out as early as possible including having them in a greenhouse!
I also help on the family farm which grows around 15-20 acres of potatoes, these are set and harvested by machine, so they are not planted as deep and the machine makes a mound over the seed piece, the reason is simply because the harvesting machine doesn't want to have to dig a foot down to get the potatoes so the seed piece is set about 1inch under the ground surface and a mount put over it. Once or twice the hiller will be put over the potatoes during the growing season. The main reason is to remove weeds but a secondary one is to reform the hills. since they are raised the soil tends to slump and get washed off a bit risking exposing the potatoes. I have never measured but I would guess that the hills end up around 6 inches higher than they started by the end of the season.

In my experience constant hilling is counter productive, we have a short season and blight is a when not an if, so anything that delays the harvest like burying all the food creating leaves is a dumb idea.
 
William Whitson
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Location: Washington coast
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Karl Treen wrote:
Hypothesis #1: Leaves are solar panels. If you bury the solar panels, there is less energy to make the tubers. While you may gain some potatoes growing off the stems, you may lose harvest weight because of the solar energy lost in the process.

Hypothesis #2: A plant can only commit a certain amount of energy to producing tubers. Leaving aside the solar collection issue, it is doubtful that a buried plant will produce more weight in potatoes, unless perhaps it is gaining significant nutrient from the mounded soil or mulch.

Hypothesis #3: The extra human energy, materials, and money spent creating complex potato systems is a total waste unless you need to grow potatoes on a balcony or rooftop and are doing it just for fun.



Those are all pretty strongly supported.  Figure there have been something like 10,000 years of potato cultivation in the Andes and no evidence that they developed extreme hilling or towers or other crazy schemes to get more yield.  Hill enough to keep the leaves in the sunlight and the tubers out of it.
 
Karl Treen
pollinator
Posts: 158
Location: Providence, RI, USA
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Skandi Rogers wrote:In my experience constant hilling is counter productive, we have a short season and blight is a when not an if, so anything that delays the harvest like burying all the food creating leaves is a dumb idea.



William Whitson wrote:Those are all pretty strongly supported.  Figure there have been something like 10,000 years of potato cultivation in the Andes and no evidence that they developed extreme hilling or towers or other crazy schemes to get more yield.  Hill enough to keep the leaves in the sunlight and the tubers out of it.



Thanks to both of you for the helpful comments. Maybe the boring (but effective) way just doesn't get enough clicks to rise to the top of the search results. ;)
 
gardener
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Location: Ontario - Gardening in zone 3b, 4b, or 6b, depending on the day
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Karl- unfortunately, I agree with you. I have tried various methods over the years with mixed success. The best success has been adding better quality(purchased) soil, then mulching above, but that's expensive considering the price of potatoes.

I think it says something that this year, when I am worried about the food supply and it counts, I planted 4 10' rows or potatoes, in the ground, 6" deep, and intend to hill over them once the plants get 8" tall to keep the roots covered, and maybe hill once more during the summer, just to keep them from greening. I have never found any evidence that any more billing than that is useful.  I KNOW I will get production this way. I also planted a few leftovers in my mulched garden (2 15 'rows) - it will be interested to see the difference in yield.
 
paul wheaton
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