I know it is early in the season, but my garden beds are letting full quickly--at least in my mind! I would like to try growing potatoes in wood chips this year and I am wondering what is the best way to ensure that they get enough nutrients from my available materials. I am trying to go as "permie" a path as possible, so the only fertilizers I will use will be the ones I derive from my own land. I was thinking about just placing the potatoes on the ground and then covering with chips, but instinct tells me that the potatoes will starve for nutrients. Materials that I have available include the following: LOTS of grass clippings, a modest amount of comfrey, some 1 year aged wood chips with chicken bedding, fresh straw (the only item I will allow to be bought in this year) and soon a whole heaping pile of fresh wood chips from some spring land maintenance.
A thought I had was to wrap each seed potato in a comfrey leaf or two, then cover with alternating layers of lawn clippings and aged wood chips and then top with either straw or fresh wood chips. I really want to incorporate the wood chips because in the other areas where I have wood chips laid down, the worms absolutely seethe in and through the chips (my personal favorite indicator of good soil fertility). Also, I want whatever technique I use to not only be good for the potatoes, but also to help make the underlying ground more fertile (again, worms).
At present, the bed is clear save only for a small pile of wood chips and some weeds I need to get rid of (the weeds are a very low-growing type that would probably be easy to bury out of existence.
If anyone else out there has any experience with planting potatoes right on the ground--no digging or has any suggestions to alter my plan, please fire away.
The year old composted woodchips/chicken bedding should work ok if its decomposed enough. The nitrogen from the chicken manure should help ballence out the nitrogen hungry bacteria that may still be decomposing any wood particles. Use that straw in the mix too, and as a top dressing. Grass clippings will be ok as a top dressing too, but shouldn't be mixed in to the soil untill they cool off enough not to burn. You could create big hefty rows of your mix on top of the ground to plant in. Just make sure you keep it moist enough, as it will dry out fairly quickly compared to regular plantings. And if its struggling with nutrients, you may need frequent water soluble bio available supplements, like worm casting/compost tea.
Thanks for the quick reply and the insight. So per your recommendation I will first clear away weeds and level off the ground. I will then wrap each seed potato with comfrey leaves and place on the ground. Next I will cover with a layer of aged wood chips followed by a layer of grass clippings lasagna style until I run out of the wood chips. Finally I will top off with straw, sit back and wait.
Hopefully the comfrey will give the potatoes an initial burst of nutrients and attract earthworms. Further, the aged wood chips and grass clippings will continue to decompose and offer up more nutrients to the growing plants. Additionally, the grass/chip layer will make a great growing medium for the growing spuds and an attractive home for earthworms which will continue to fertilize. Finally, the straw won't so much add nutrients as provide a protective layer so the chips don't dry out so easily.
I hope this all sounds about right. I will try to update the thread with pictures later today. I would have done so earlier but we have had clouds and rain all week. This morning it is actually clear and beautiful outside. Thanks again.
I added this picture so you can see both my bed and my aged chip pile. Obviously the bed desperately needs weeding, a chore I will get to once the ground dries off just a little bit. I know some say that it is best to weed in wet soil, but our dense clay holds on to weed roots very well even when soaked, and drying off just a little really reduces the mess. At any rate, I plan to use the aged chips to plant 3 rows of potatoes, one each for white, yellow and red potatoes. I may also plant onions in the bed with the room left over--once I have the weeds cleared! Just so you know, the bed is the area that is slightly lighter green and is about 6x10-12 feet.
You don't need to pull those weeds if you have enough woodchips to smother them, because there isn't enough green material to cause an issue at the soil woodchip interface. I wouldn't even wrap the potatoes in comfrey leaves, as it may slow root development. If you want to use comfrey leaves, put them a little further away from the potato, so it doesn't act as a barrier.
Actually this is all extremely helpful and I thank you kindly. Regarding the comfrey leaves, I see two options. One is to shred up the leaves and plant on top of the shredding. The other idea is to lay the leaves all around the seed potato. Either way, I want to make good use of the comfrey I planted last year (it is supposed to be a super plant right?). I would think that shredded comfrey would be no barrier to potato roots. On the other hand I can probably get more comfrey goodness by placing around the spud. Tentatively I think I will lay the leaves around the potato, but please let me know what you think. I hope to plant by next weekend as this weekend I plan to do some serious chipping around my land.
Comfrey is loaded with nutrients from deeper within the soil, and breaks down quickly. I would just make sure if you put the leaves within your medium, its far enough away, its finished breaking down before the roots get there. 6 inches away from your potatoes should be sufficient, as long as things stay mois enough for the leaves to break down.
I will definitely keep you updated on my potatoes. Actually I have several garden projects going simultaneously. This is what I call my first real year in permaculture, meaning I am trying very hard to only use "fertilizer" I grow myself (comfrey). I am also using mushroom spawn to help break down a load of wood chips I chipped myself from invasive brush that grows on my own land. Those chips are now about a year old, have been spread to cover a 6x12 raised bed 1 foot thick and have 8 tomatoes growing in them in little piles of manure (sadly I had to buy in this manure, but I think this still counts as permaculture).
I have plans to rent a wood chipper this weekend to chip up some more invasives. I will make a chip pile, mix with grass clippings and let sit till fall so that some bacterial decomposition going. In fall I will spread the pile out and inoculate with wine caps to get some fungal action going to work over fall and winter and hopefully have some well decomposed chips by next spring.
I am new to permaculture so I am still in a highly enthusiastic state about my new garden practices and it helps me greatly to have people willing to engage with me, work with me and generally let me bounce my ideas around. So in conclusion, thanks a bundle and I promise to keep you updated, hopefully with pictures as I go.
There are other fertalizers you can grow as well. If its an option, try starting your own worm bins, with composting worms, so you can use there castings mixed with your compost. Once your standard compost is well finished, use that as a medium for your worm bins, if you dont have paper or cardbord shreddings to use. Im sure you know, worm castings are the gold standard in horticultural. Also, if you have straw and cardboard laying around, or can get some easily, you may not have to let your chips age very long before innoculating with wine cap spawn. If you use the layering method, like back to eden style gardening. You can use the fresh woodchips in the top layer, and wine caps will continually grow in your garden. For example, try innoculating the tomato bed with wine caps now, for a fall or spring wine cap harvest.
Actually I am already half there. The tomato bed is already inoculated with wine caps I set up last weekend. I am anxiously awaiting wine cap mushrooms and mushroom compost this fall. I did once try to set up a worm bin and it ended in stinky failure. Instead I am focusing my worm efforts on attracting new worms. So far my woodchips are doing an admirable job attracting numerous earthworms. But yes, I wholeheartedly agree with your suggestions on getting on the permie bandwagon.
It was stated earlier in this thread that I don't need to weed this bed before I plant. Even though I agree that weeding is unnecessary, it is because of my overall weeding strategy.
I am a teacher and as such I literally go through hundreds of pounds of paper each year. I collect the bulk of these old papers and save them for my garden where I lay them down as a weed barrier. I find that tests are the best as they are typically three pages thick and stapled together. By laying these down and slightly overlapping, weeds just don't stand a chance, yet water seeps right through and worms go wherever they want.
By the end of the season the paper is mostly broken up, the worms have more material for their homes and the weeds either never germinated or were smothered outright. I think this is a very "permie" solution as waste paper gets a new use, does not end up in garbage and my disposal method has no energy cost as opposed to typical recycling options.
I am writing this not as a form of bragging, but as a way of giving back instead. So many people have offered me so much information, I hope I can pay the favor back (or forward) with this technique I have found successful in the past.
Last year was the first year I planted potatoes. I let my son have fun a cultivator/hoe tool to rip out the buttercup, and then put the potatoes on top of the ground. I then covered them with duck bedding, woodchips, lawn clippings, and cut up ferns. They did great! In another area, I just covered them with woodchips and duck bedding, and they also did great.
This year, I'm doing pretty much the same thing. In the fall, I covered the area I wanted to put the potatoes with a layer of paper sacks and then put duck bedding on top of it--maybe 2-3 inches. By spring, I pulled back the mulch until I got to the soil (can't even see the layer of paper anymore) and then planted my potatoes and covered them up with the mulch. I'll add more duck bedding and woodchips as the potatoes grow. I'm hoping that this works as well as it did last year!
That sounds like an awesome project. Just to fill in some blanks for me, is duck bedding basically the same as chicken bedding? If so then I can totally see a mental picture of all your gardening steps. I am glad you like using paper in much the same way I do--let it decompose under your chips, but before it decays, it serves as a weed barrier.
Please let me know how your potatoes go, I am looking forward to getting mine in soon.
I do believe duck bedding is similar to chicken. I use pine shavings in my duck house, and supposedly the duck poop is a little less "hot" than chicken poop, but I'm thinking that it would be very similar to chicken bedding.