Reader Leslie asked a great question, hoping for tips on how to grow potatoes in straw. Digging into the subject has gotten me fired up to try it, because I’m such a brute with the shovel I always end up nicking the spuds.
But growing potatoes in straw is an easy way to get perfect spuds without the hassle of shoveling. Known as ‘Straw Potatoes,’ you’ll have better size, shape, and color of the tubers than those grown in soil. Straw has the added benefit of reducing weeds, keeping roots cool, and conserving water.
Choose an early to mid-season variety, purchasing certified disease-free seed potatoes at garden centers or on-line – DON’T use potatoes from the grocers. That’s not safe gardening ; those potatoes might carry disease into your garden.
Plant seed potatoes (small, whole potatoes) or potatoes cut into 2 ounce pieces. If cutting up potatoes for seed pieces, be sure to leave at least one good eye per piece and let them wait a few days to allow the cut side heal over before planting.
Plant potatoes soon; four-to-six weeks before the last frost. Choose a flat, sunny location out of the wind for your straw patch. If there is no place in your yard without wind (please stop laughing), encircle the area for planting with a chicken wire cage that can be easily opened for harvesting. This will keep your straw from flying to Kansas.
Place seed pieces on the soil with the cut side down and eyes up, spacing the spuds 12 inches apart.
Cover the potatoes with six inches of clean, weed-free straw. The potato will send up a stem, and as it pokes up out of the straw, add another six inch layer. Repeat a third time. This ensures that you’ll have a long, underground stem from which the tubers will grow.
During the summer, if the straw compacts down or starts to decompose, add more, tucking it in around the plant. Check the straw frequently to make sure it’s covering the tubers – if hit with sunlight they turn green and become bitter.
Pay close attention to watering the potatoes over the summer; they should not be allowed to dry out, nor should they become soggy. A soaker hose laid across the surface of the soil will help you irrigate the potatoes evenly. Pull any weed that makes itself at home in the straw.
Go lightly with fertilizer – you want the potatoes to form tubers, not a lot of foliage. Give them a shot of balanced liquid fertilizer about six weeks after the first sprout has topped the straw (even if you continue to add layers of straw, mark the date the vine first poked up).
In August, harvest new potatoes – young tubers not fully sized – by carefully pulling back the straw to reveal them. Pluck out a few new potatoes, then tuck the straw back around the plant, and it will continue to produce for you. Or wait until the plant dies back to harvest the fully-sized crop.
- Hints and Tips for Planting Seed Potatoes (brighthub.com)
- When and How to Plant Potatoes in Your Hardiness Zone (brighthub.com)
- Learning How To Plant Potatoes For The Best Harvest (backyardgardeningtips.com)