Last September I posted on my establishing a new bed in which the first crop was to be potatoes. I decided to employ the method of potato growing detailed by Peter Cundall in that months Organic Gardener magazine. I didn’t have quite the volume of either straw or manure that he suggested but otherwise I followed his technique.
This week I finished harvesting the potatoes.
From this bed which measures approximately 3 square metres I got about 5.5kg of Dutch Cream, 3kg of Pink Fir Apple and 3.5kg of Kipfler. Although the yield wasn’t huge I was pretty happy with it as the potatoes will last us a fair while and over half of the bed was taken up by salad varieties which I find tend to have a smaller yields.
One thing I definitely noticed when harvesting was that the roots and the tubers spread throughout the straw part of the bed – they didn’t dig into the dirt below at all. I think that if I had more straw to put on I could have got a bigger yield, equally applying more manure may have given them a bigger feed, as well as more space to grow in to and thus made them more productive.
I noticed much the same thing with all my methods of growing potatoes this year – the tubers were located in places that the plant found easiest to reach. In this bed it was in the straw above the seed potatoes, in the pots it was around the level in the pot where the initial seed potato was planted. Ie if I planted at the bottom of the pot and then gradually topped up with potting mix while the plants grew the potatoes would mainly be in the bottom of the pot, equally if I planted near the top the potatoes would be predominantly in the top part of the pot. This has got me thinking that the perfect method may be one that allows the easiest movement of roots over as large an area as possible. For my next attempt, which will be in pots as I’ve run out of space in my beds, I plan to plant the seed potatoes in a layer of potting mix covering the bottom third of the pot then cover that with straw and then manure as per the Peter Cundall method above. I’m hoping that by doing this I will be maximising the potatoes space for growing tubers, as well as food available to them. Time will tell if it works or not.
So was the Peter Cundall method worth it? Well from a financial perspective possibly not unless you have a nice cheap/free source of both straw and/or manure. All together I spent about $70 on straw, manure and seed potatoes and I reckon the potatoes are worth about $45ish at current supermarket prices (for non organic produce). I do now have a bed which is full of lovely organic matter and which is now happily supporting some lettuces and is about to support some beetroot, chard and celery so if you factor in the prices of those it may well break even at the very least. If nothing else though I would pay a fair bit for having the pleasure of digging for potatoes – heaps of fun for me and the kids.
The other interesting thing I have discovered in this years potato growing is the benefit of growing Kipflers over other salad potatoes. While Pink Fir Apple tastes great the yield is roughly similar and Kipfler has the advantage of being ready more quickly as well as sprouting much more easily, or it could be that it sprouts in warmer weather. Whichever it is, the sprouting has meant I am able to replant Kipflers straight away whilst the others I am still waiting to grow shoots. This may have implications for storing the potatoes but at the moment my aim is to be harvesting year round rather than storing for long periods.
Year round potatoes in Melbourne? Can it be done? So far I’ve managed December & January, with enough stored to cover February and my next potential crop is currently flowering so – so far so good. Of course it is prime potato growing season now, from about May on is when it will get more difficult…..