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(Wood )chips and potatos  RSS feed

 
David Livingston
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Simple question . Can I grow pots in/under woodchips? How deep would the chips have to be ? could I just lay the potatos on the soil and cover in chips ? Should I then make ridges ? Should I chit the potatos ?

David
 
Ann Torrence
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I've heard of setting potatoes in shallow soil then using straw to "hill" them up. Supposedly the potato vines make their potatoes in the straw, easier to harvest. I'm thinking you need some soil for the nutritional needs of the plant though. Now I'm curious to if anyone else has tried this.
 
Casie Becker
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I've heard it's actually a standard strategy for no till potatoes. If I remember correctly, there's a slight decrease in yield, but the work is much less and all the potatoes are very clean at harvest.

I know Gabe Brown talks about doing this successfully with a bale of straw. Apparently he was specifically responding to a challenge that potatoes couldn't be grown with a no till system.
 
Travis Johnson
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You could do so with straw but not with wood chips I am afraid, at least not without a significant amount of loss in yield.

We use straw to plant our potatoes with great success and I recommend it to anyone. The reason you cannot do so with wood chips is because of the way wood decomposes in soil. Basically it is the opposite of nitrogen fixation, at least for the first 7 years or so, then it reverses. In a nut shell, in order to break down the wood chips, they rob the soil of nitrogen. After the wood chips have broken down however (around the 7 year mark), the reverse is true and wood chips return that nitrogen back into the soil.

I have run into this a lot on our farm here in Maine as I have converted a lot of woodland back into tillable land. For the first 7 years to get anything to grow takes considerable fertilizer...cow manure in my case off a dairy farm. But oh my, after that 7 year period is up, I am richly rewarded for my efforts and things really grow with little inputs.

This is complicated by potatoes which are unduly hard on soil health. They love nitrogen! So while it would be possible to use wood chips, you would have to use a lot of fertilizer to compensate for the loss in nitrogen or risk not getting much of a yield. A better strategy would be to grow potatoes in straw all the while prepping your future garden area. After tilling the soil with wood chips for several years, you would be able to grow a bumper crop with hardly any fertilizer inputs.

The long and short of it: I highly, highly recommend you try the straw method first. It really works well. And by the way, potatoes like acidic soil so don't use lime if you already have it.
 
Kyle Mays
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Location: Eastern Panhandle West Virginia
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I tried growing potatoes under wood chips last year. I harvested 2 potatoes per plant each about 1 inch across. I will never do that again.
 
Chadwick Holmes
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Best if you make a chip bed and allow it to age a few years and add the whole time building up a thick fluffy layer of rough compost.
 
Tristan Vitali
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I've always heard/read and even experienced basically like Travis said - wood chips rob the nitrogen as they rot down (really the fungus doing that as they eat up the lignin and whatnot). Thing is, the past couple years I've seen a lot of people swearing that's just not so. We see it to some extent with the huglekulture technique, where rotting wood in the core has minimal effect on the nitrogen availability to the plants growing, but I'm also seeing it in my stropharia (garden giant) mushroom beds. We're growing white clover in some of these beds but even those without a "nitrogen fixer" don't seem to be suffering from nitrogen deficiency. It seems like the key is to *not* mix the chips with the soil. If they're kept in a solid layer, either as a top mulch or buried, the nitrogen robbing tendency is apparently reduced.

I will second (or, I guess, third) the straw suggestion though - it's an effective technique If you do try doing the potatoes with wood chips, let us know how it turns out.
 
Dan Boone
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I tried a no-till potato experiment late last summer, intended for fall harvest. I put the potatoes on the slightly-loosened ground and covered with chips less than a year old. There was very little potato vine growth (they topped out at about 6" high) and no tuber production, but the weather was hotter for longer than I expected. So I can't blame the chips for certain; I'm not sure the sprouts ever got the conditions they needed to push into the ground and find nutrients there.
 
Jim Thomas
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This is the Back to Eden method:

 
Chadwick Holmes
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I think the people who aren't experiencing the nitrogen rob, are the ones applying manure and compost to the top regularly, and aging the wood well, if you are interested in wood chips I do suggest the back to Eden film, but you have to be listening for the small hints throughout that make it work.
 
Tobias Ber
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i hope, i remember it correctly. the back to eden method (Paul Gautschi) for potatoes:

- they don t use only wood chips, they chip trees with leaves and mix other plant matter
- the first years they used organic fertilizers
- they use chicken-manure-compost from time to time
- they do not drill the "wood-chips" into the soil, they add on top
- they lay the potatoes on the soil, then cover them
- probably by that time, the "wood-chip-stuff" has already decompost into "compost-with-some-woodchips"
- they use the woodchips as cover for potatoes, because it s flexibel. even when the potatoes grow, they ll stay covered and would not need to be hilled
- it acts as insulation. he plants his potatoes, when he harvests. he put s the biggest back on the soil and covers them. he s around zone 8a(i think).
- he uses the same seed potatoes for 26 years and does not change the beds


 
Todd Parr
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I grow my potatoes in pure wood chips and I don't experience any of the problems being mentioned here. I don't use manure, fertilizer, or anything else. I also don't have to water. I grow in wood chips a foot or so deep. I dig a hole in the wood chips down to the ground and pile the wood chips back on. Then I wait 'til the plants die back and harvest the potatoes. It couldn't be easier. I've been growing in the chips since the day I put them on the ground and this is the fourth year.
 
pat less
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Same as Todd, I put a feet of chipped branches with the leaves last fall on my grass, planted this spring and had excellent results, most potatoes were the size of a baseball one was bigger than my hand and like Paul Gautschi said, plant your biggest back at harvest for next year. Can't wait to see the results!
 
Todd Parr
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pat less wrote:plant your biggest back at harvest for next year.


This didn't work for me. I believe it is because my climate is so much colder than Paul's, but the potatoes I tried to do this with rotted in the ground and didn't grow anything.
 
Tobias Ber
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as far as i know, potatoes will rot after freezing. the woodchips will help with mild frost, but i doubt that they will help with extreme frost over a long time. as far as i remember, paul gautschi is in zone 8a.
 
Todd Parr
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Tobias Ber wrote:as far as i know, potatoes will rot after freezing. the woodchips will help with mild frost, but i doubt that they will help with extreme frost over a long time. as far as i remember, paul gautschi is in zone 8a.


I believe that is exactly what happened with mine. We get frost several feet deep here. Regardless, I plant them in the spring and they grow really well in the wood chips.

Are you able to plant at the same time you harvest there? I would love to be able to do that.
 
Tobias Ber
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Location: Northern Germany (Zone 8a)
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i haven t tried it yet. but would like to do this year

in our zone, people would plant potatoes the conventional way in a few weeks to gte a harvest in early summer. last year i planted mid of may (shortly after we got the garden) and got a harvest in late fall.

so i wonder if one could get two harvests in zone 8, with replanting at both harvests.
 
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