Potato Experiments – Peter Cundall’s method revisited

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…..

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24 Responses to Potato Experiments – Peter Cundall’s method revisited

  1. We dig holes with a trowel and plant our tubers it that and it seems to give a good crop.

  2. Mark Willis says:

    For me the economics of home gardening are clear: you seldom make a profit, when you consider all the costs (don’t forget the cost of water!). But the costs are all outweighed by the enjoyment and sense of achievement we get. For gardening to be “worthwhile” in financial terms you need to do it on a big scale.

    • Liz says:

      So far this year I’m in the black – if you ignore the cost of putting in the beds in the first place….water here is relatively cheap (ridiculously so given me have shortages so often) they get you on the service charges though. We have a water tank so for these potatoes it was pretty much free (save the electricity to run the pump). Having said all that I do agree with you about it not really mattering whether it is cheaper to grow or buy the stuff. I think the intangible benefits are huge and if nothing else if i didn’t garden what on earth would I write about on this blog?

  3. Sorry I didn’t mention depth – basically as deep as I can dig with the trowel. We have a bit of video here if you’re interested. I’m just redoing my website so this is the unfinished version of the original.

  4. Mike says:

    I love that you are considering the possibilty of year round potatoes and Peter Cundall’s method sounds like a good one.

  5. Tracey says:

    I grow potatoes in Melbourne through autumn, winter and spring so there’s no reason one couldn’t have year-round spuds here. The thing that stops me is lack of space in the summer garden.

    I have to agree they are so much fun to dig up – it’s like opening a present. And home-grown taste so much better than bought ones.

    As far as where the tubers form, there’s a lot written on the internet and gardening forums about whether hilling/trenching really encourages tubers to form up the stem, and reports from a lot of disappointed people trying potato ‘towers’. My experience is similar to yours – tubers in and around the original planting level. I have seen people claim that it’s dependant on the variety, that what are called ‘late’ varieties or storage varieties are the only ones that do this, but have no first-hand experience of this (or even know what varieties these would be!). I get reasonable yields doing what I’m doing so I’m not too fussed.

    • Liz says:

      Thanks for letting me know of your experiences – really interesting. I’m really pleased you grow them through autumn and winter. I absolutely agree regarding flavour – just lovely.

  6. Leanne says:

    I must remember this and get in touch when I am ready to do potatoes again.
    I had my first tomato yesterday from the garden, they really do have so much more flavour. I couldn’t get over how my flavour just exploded in my mouth.

  7. L says:

    I really like the sound of year-round potatoes, and home-grown taste so much better than the bought ones. I’m starting to think it’s possible to grown year-round here too with salad varieties making up the bulk. I’ve been growing in bags as well as beds and the yield has been pretty good.

    • Liz says:

      I’ve been surprised by both how much better they taste and also just how much fun they are to dig. They shall be mine year round….

  8. Wilderness says:

    When I did mine in hay last year I noticed that the potatoes definitely grew above the the seed and since the manure was under the potatoes they didn’t do that well. Also I had a difficult time keeping them covered so they didn’t get exposed to the sun. Maybe I will give a few a try in pots this summer since I can’t really justify the space for the yield in garden.

    • Liz says:

      I do think the pots work really well. The pots I grow them in are pretty big – 40cm diameter and my dad gets a much better yield in 45-50cm diameter ones. I think have the manure on top probably makes sense, having nutrients drip down onto the roots. Its interesting that yours headed upwards – they do seem to like growing throught the hay don’t they?

  9. ted says:

    when I mow the lawn I heap the grass cuttings in a heap and noticed that II got no weeds and my Avocado tree fruited tremendously five shopping bags full and the Avos where a Half pound each I share them out and my friends couldn’t believe it, well now I thought I’ try it out on the spuds so I put the eating spuds down and covered them with 8ins.of grass and they are coming on beautifully without any watering , as are my 4 strips of lettuce .got my Idea from a lady in America name of Ruth Stout get it in wiki

  10. Ted Rennie says:

    Wen I peel spuds I take out the eyes and save them, my garden has a few places where nothing seems to grow well “against the fence and such so I just dig them in along the fence no trenching, and they grow a treat it’s like a lucky dip when I dig them up as there are many different types even the “new potatoes” and it’s the only time I like digging too

    • Liz says:

      Great idea and an interesting method. I have a few places like that too and funnily enough I am growing some potatoes in one such place this year. looking forward to seeing what happens.

  11. Lorna Cameron says:

    Thanks for all the useful tips and for sharing your experiences

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