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Earthing Up Potatoes

 
Alison Thomas
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Location: France
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Views please on earthing up potatoes.  I have about 0.25 of an acre given over to tatties.  Up until now I've earthed up but I have learned so many new and BETTER ways to do things on this forum that I thought I'd ask for others thoughts on this practise.
 
Aljaz Plankl
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Just put hay (50 cm layer or more) on a meadow, garden, field, ... Wait till spring and plant potatoes in between soil and hay. Harvest. Nothing else to do. Hope you got the hay.
 
Emerson White
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Location: Alaska
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Mulching heavily is one way to do it, but I'm sad to say if you've already planted them its a bit late to just throw down hay (which would crush your plants down. If you do not earth them up you will have sunlight exposure and loose some potatoes to that (do not eat them, especially not if you are a pregnant woman). Earthing up potatoes has been done since the early days of potato cultivation, it aint broke so don't try to fix it.
 
Aljaz Plankl
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Why earthing up, if you don't need to?
 
Emerson White
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You do need too. you need something on there to block the light and hold in moisture. It can be something soil like (dirt, compost) or it can be something mulch like (straw, leaves) but the mulch is something you want to start the season with. If you fork it on to healthy potatoes now you will end up hearting the plants trying to get it close enough to the base, because they have too  much structure. Earthing up isn't that much work really, I think that when all is said and done it is less work than mulching.
 
Aljaz Plankl
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if you talk about doing something now when it's already growing then yes, it's good to earth up with whatever is available cuz mulching is not really possible as you said, but for the next season you can do it in a way where you don't need to do it.
Put down at least 20 inches of hay (+ wood stuff, straw etc.) Next spring you have 10 inches of organic matter on top + native soil. Uncover, put potatoes on soil and cover back. Plenty of space for potatoes to grow and not being green...
For more potatoes earth up or make deeper layer in start.
 
                    
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I have not heard this term "earthing up potatoes", I kind of think I get the idea but would love to hear more about this process.
 
Emerson White
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Location: Alaska
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Well, potato tubers are grown down in the roots. If you put dirt up on the young stem you get more roots than if you do not (just like trenching tomatoes) which gives you a bigger more vigorous plant, which produces more potatoes later on (this is the first earthing up and it is optional). However, because the tubers are swelled up in the roots and the root ball is so high in the soil some of the potatoes will inevitably punch through the soil surface and be exposed to light. The potato surface starts to photosynthesize and produce chlorophyll in addition to the toxic compound solanine, it is also a teratogen (because fetal development can be affected by it). By piling earth up around to potato you prevent this from developing and leading to vomiting, diarrhea, and a really bad day.
 
                    
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Oh I see, thanks Emerson, you are a bank of knowledge!

I guess I knew to do this with them I was just never thought the name of the procedure.

I have a question, do you know the best way to keep organic potatoes from the store fresh?

I can't eat them but my family does, it seems that they always start sprouting & get soft before we can use them.

I do keep them in a ventilated container, in a dark cupboard with a cloth over them but what else might I do?
 
Emerson White
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Location: Alaska
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It depends more on the type of potato then the fact that they are organic, it's not as if they are getting attacked by blight in your cupboard. The thin skinned Baby Reds and Fingerlings just aren't as durable as the big Burbank Russets. Storing them in sawdust can slightly elongate the shelf life by moderating the ambient temperature and moisture and by isolating any rotting potatoes infected with fungi or protazoans. Yukon Golds have risen to popularity (though many places are selling just golds, I'm not sure what the difference is) because of there ability to sit in a root cellar for 6 months and still taste like young potatoes, though it is suggested that you eat them before that.
 
                    
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Thanks Emerson ,

I bet it is just getting too hot in the cupboard then?
Do you think I should keep them in the frig.?
 
Leila Rich
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Dianne. Don't put spuds in the fridge. I won't go into the science, but it makes them pretty unpleasant.
Got anywhere cooler than your cupboard? You can put a couple of meals worth  in  at a time.
 
Emerson White
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Location: Alaska
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When they get too cold they start converting starches to sugars to protect them from a freeze, keeping them in a fridge keeps them at this warning temperature and they keep at it way too long.

Feel around for a cool place to keep them.
 
                    
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You konw I was just telling someone I did not like spuds after they get cold because they have a weird sugary taste. Thanks for the advice.
 
Jonathan 'yukkuri' Kame
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Thanks for the info regarding potato storage.  Learn something new everyday here.

Wonder if there are any techniques equivalent to earthing for sweet potato?  Sweet potato tower?  How to encourage tuber formation? 
 
                              
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Location: Alberta, Canada
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Around here we call it "hilling up" the potatoes.  Check out http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vuqgv8N_5OY for a neat little hiller you can make for yourself.  I think it is more suited to hilling as they grow about every two weeks, rather than one hilling when the potatoes are about 12 inches high as my aunt does. We only hill until the plants flower.
I personally don't like to use hay because of all the seeds in it, but would reccomend straw instead.  If you don't put the mulch on top of your potatoes but rather beside them and push it in to them from each side it works the same as hilling with soil, but don't use fresh clippings as it will cook your plants. 
If you don't have a cool place for your potatoes in your house or garage you could make a "root cellar".  You dint need a large one and even a clean plastic garbage can sunk in a hole and covered in a shady spot in your yard will do to keep them cool.  I have a recycled garden shed under some trees that never gets direct sun in summer. All I did was dig some holes in the dirt floor and drop my garbage cans in.  As they are not far enough underground for our winters here for year round use they are only good for non winter cool storage.  I do however use them for seed storage as well but I purchased the good ones that have lids that turn to lock to keep out the rodents and keep my seeds in airtight insect proof containers over winter.  I made a wood disk to sit in the bottom of the can with a rope around it to lift things out but its not needed if you are not adverse to getting down on your hands and knees to reach in.
 
                    
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Thanks Monica, for the great ideas!
 
Jonathan 'yukkuri' Kame
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Went looking and found info on hilling sweet potatoes at apropedia, plenty more good info there:

http://www.appropedia.org/Root_Crops_30

Method - sweet potatoes are normally planted on ridges or mounds, the former being preferred although experiments in Zaire suggest that mounds are better, as they encourage tuber formation. In the tropics, small farmers sometimes interplant sweet potatoes with beans or cassava. Once planted in the field sweet potatoes normally receive little attention apart from weed control at the early stages of growth and the maintenance of ridge height and shape. In the USA, extensive use is now made of a wide range of effective herbicides for the control of weeds, including naptalam, allidochlor, chloramben, vernolate, diphenamid, prometryn; normally application is pre-planting or pre-emergence.
Field spacing - the spacing used is determined by the following factors: growth habit and root-setting characteristics of the cultivar; type and fertility level of the soil; length of the growing season; and the purpose for which the crop is required. In the last case, if the tubers are required for the fresh market, then high yields of tubers of uniform shape and size are of primary importance, while for canning or freezing small tubers with a diameter of 2.5-5 cm and a length of 7.5-15 cm are required; for industrial uses, such as the manufacture of starch and dehydrated flakes, large roots are preferred because they are easier to handle and losses during preparation are less.
In the USA, sweet potatoes are commonly planted 30-37.5 cm apart in rows which are 90-105 cm apart in well-drained light soils and 120 cm apart in heavier soils. In the tropics, the vine cuttings are usually spaced 22.5-30 cm apart in ridges 60-75 cm apart.

 
Joel Hollingsworth
pollinator
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Location: Oakland, CA
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Not precisely earthing up, but storage was mentioned, so I thought I'd say that many root crops can be stored where they are grown, in a clamp.

A clamp is just a buried pile (in this case, of vegetables) that has some ventilation built in. It has some of the advantages of a root cellar but is accomplished at much less effort and almost no expense. Lots of instructions on how to do this online. WWII instructions, for example...
 
                    
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Thanks Joel, I'll check it out.
 
Jami McBride
gardener
Posts: 1948
Location: PNW Oregon
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There are two separate discussions or topics here as I see them - (1) hilling to produce more yield and (2) hilling just enough to keep any growing potatoes on or near the surface from getting exposed to the sun.  I have something to add to the conversation about the first; hilling to produce greater yield.

One important thing I did not see specifically addressed on the subject of hilling for greater yield is the timing.... and in this regard timing is everything, this is why you cannot earth/hill the potato plants now, even though you can and should hill or cover any potatoes popping out of your soil, let me explain.....

You see it's not enough to just hill up a potato plant, you must catch the plants before they mature to far, covering the still developing lower stem of the plant. 

For example, say your new potato plants are now about foot high, with small leaves on the main stock, bigger ones at the very top - cover the lower part of the plant by hilling/earthing up to the top 6" of the plant before it gets much taller or branching and mature leaf development  starts. 

Keep doing this hilling as your plant continues to grow up, it's another foot or so higher, cover it leaving just 6" to 8" of top growth (watch the plant and you'll start to 'see' what I mean).  Keep watching your plants as they will grow fast, and if you wait to long to cover you will know it, because when you uncover your plants in the fall there will be just a long stem with some roots on it and no potatoes growing off at this level in the soil/hay.   

You can stop this hilling process at any time you like, earthing anywhere from a couple of feet to six feet - you will increase your yield accordingly.  Many vegetables can be forced/encouraged to produce more yield by constant gardener-intervention.  But only you can weigh the cost of labor against the return for you.

The earthing/hilling process is usually a trade off between land and labor - those that have the land, plant lots of seed potatoes in large mounds and save the labor of continuous hilling.  Those that don't like myself grow more by hilling up the plant as it grows.

You will find examples and instructions all over the internet on this and everything in between.
I've found most of the potato hilling info to be a bit deceiving, unintentionally of course.  They advertise this method as the 'easy' way to grow 'more' potatoes, and do not give enough detail on the timing factor of it all.  To my way of thinking, growing potatoes without hilling would be easier.

So in all of this talk about hilling potatoes for greater yield always remember to cover your plant before it has time to mature and branch, and don't get discouraged if you don't get it right the first time.  A little patience and you'll be getting gobs of potatoes from your potato towers.

~ Some other terms to search are: No Dig, Bag, Container and towers.

~ Youtube has more videos on this than you can believe.

All the best with growing your potatoes ♥



 
Alison Thomas
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Location: France
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Gosh Jami, for all these years of growing potatoes I didn't know that.  Lucky for us, land isn't an issue here but it's good to know these things.  Thanks 
 
                    
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Great tips! I'll be sure to come here & review before I plant again!
 
Jami McBride
gardener
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Location: PNW Oregon
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I found a picture (worth a thousand words I hope).

Note: how the leaf branches happen at levels on the main stem.  If you catch and cover the stem before these have started, somewhere around 8" to 1' of over-all plant growth - this is where a new set of possible potatoes can be produced - off this would be branching.  I say possible, because there is always soil conditions, ph, insects, etc. in the over all consideration of possible yields    The first year I tried hilling I was always to late, in the fall I had a lot of underground stem and no potatoes on it. 

So - remember the timing factor if you want to try hilling....
3-1.jpg
[Thumbnail for 3-1.jpg]
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Yes indeed worth more than 1000 words! Thanks, I love it when there are pictures!
 
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