Do You Hill Up Your Potatos?
A few of last year’s potatoes decided to reshoot in the bed that I wanted to grow corn this year. I dug them out to see if there were any potatoes worth salvaging. Unfortunately the bed was quite hard and the potatos had a hard job growing into the soil, they just grew little ones on top.
When I saw the plants and their root system I was quite pleased and thought that the photos would make it easier to see how the potato sends out laterals from the main stem. If they find a suitable environment, they grow a potato from that lateral. Optimum growing conditions for potatoes is the mallee country in Victoria and South Australia. The soil is quite sandy and this allows the potato laterals to creep out through the sand easily and then grow a potato.
It is difficult for the potato to flourish in heavy clay soil. If this is your soil, you are better off to grow them in big mounds, or hay bales above the ground. Search for a copy of Esther Dean’s No Dig Gardening.
In this picture you can see the laterals that grow from the stem of the plant. If you look closely you will see that the laterals are attached to a small potato that is growing on the end. If the soil wasn’t as compacted the laterals would have grown much longer and gained more space for the potato to grow. When they are growing in light sandy soils or in a bed of compost or similar, you can “bandicoot” some potatoes as they grow. A bandicoot is a small Australian marsupial that digs and forages for food. Bandicoots are known to dig up potatos.
All Hilled Up
I am hilling these potatoes as they grow. The mound they are in is now about two feet (60cm) above the garden bed level. I planted the seed potatoes in the garden bed and as the stems grew, I moved some compost and kept pushing it up around them. The compost is fairly light and not compacted at all which should make it quite easy for potatoes to grow into it. That’s the theory. Time will tell if it is successful or not.
The dripper lines are at the bottom where the seed potatos were planted. I figured that the compost on top would prevent evaporation and that any excess moisture would probably wick up through the mound.
Potatos are harvested after flowering and when the tops have died off. Commercial growers usually spray the potatoes with a herbicide to kill the tops and make them wither. They find it easier to harvest if the top growth has all withered and shrivelled. It makes it easier on their machinery if they don’t have any fibrous material clogging it up. It also means that they can harvest earlier than if they waited for the tops to die naturally. You just don’t know how many chemicals you are ingesting when you rely solely on out food suppliers.