As a founding employee of Gardener's Supply, I wore many different hats over the years. Currently, I have my own company called Johnnie Brook Creative. The gardens around my home in Richmond, VT, include a large vegetable garden, seasonal greenhouse, cutting garden, perennial gardens, rock garden, shade garden, berry plantings, lots of container plants and a meadow garden. There's no place I'd rather be than in the garden.
Horticultural Technician Sarah Niland shows off a fraction of her potato harvest.
Baked, boiled, mashed or roasted. It's hard to beat the versatility, delicious flavor and good nutrition of potatoes. Especially when they are organically grown in your own backyard!
The problem is, potatoes tend to take up a lot of space, and hilling and harvesting can be hard, back-straining work. For years, we were looking for an easier way to consistently produce a large harvest of potatoes in a compact, easy-to-manage space.
The solution is a space-efficient, raised-bed system using one of our 3 x 3-ft. Grow Beds. It's a system we tested and perfected in our trial gardens in Burlington, Vt., One of our horticultural technicians, Sarah Niland, grew potatoes in Grow Beds side by side with conventional in-ground hills. She treated the plants exactly the same: planted at the same time, watered at the same time, same soil. (If a Grow Bed is too large, consider the Potato Bag, which only takes up 18".)
"When it came time to harvest, my co-workers all came out to see the huge potatoes tumble out of the Grow Bed when I unhooked the sides," Sarah said. "We were all amazed at how easy it was, compared to conventional digging."
May 11: Planting seed potatoes in the Grow Bed; you only need eight pieces per bed.
Sarah found that growing potatoes in a Grow Bed was much easier than growing in the ground and the harvest was bigger! In fact, she harvested 53 pounds of Elba potatoes from just one bed. Overall she averaged 46 pounds of potatoes per bed.
Here's how she did it:
Planting: Sarah started by loosening the soil underneath the Grow Bed with a garden fork, and then filled the bed with regular garden soil. Two days prior to planting, she cut three seed potatoes into pieces with at least two or three eyes each and allowed them to callous over. She then planted a total of eight pieces per bed, 4-5" deep and 8" apart in two parallel rows (see photo, at right).
June 25: Potatoes are thriving.
Caring for the Plants: Once the sprouts emerged from the soil and had developed a cluster of leaves about 6" high, she mulched around them with about 2" of straw. She continued adding straw throughout the summer as the plants grew. The straw mulch helped retain moisture, keep the soil cool and suppress weeds.
Sept. 26: Potatotes were easy to harvest; almost no digging required.
Potatoes are thirsty plants, so Sarah used drip irrigation to keep the plants well watered. She made sure that the beds received an inch and a half of water per week. In the absence of rain, she irrigated 20 minutes a day, seven days a week, delivering about 1.2 gallons of water per day, per bed.
Harvest: Two weeks prior to harvest, when cooler weather settled in and the plants began to die back, Sarah stopped watering completely. On harvest day, she simply took the bed apart and enormous potatoes tumbled out.
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