Growing potatoes probably qualifies as one of the vegetable gardener’s favorite pursuits. Because they are so easy to grow, you’ll find them in even the most novice gardeners' beds. However, while growing potatoes is a favorite pastime, digging them up is less popular. Particularly for garden lovers with bad backs! Enter the no-dig potato, by far my favorite method for planting potatoes.
Advantages of No-Dig Potatoes
It's a lot less work than conventional methods of potato growing!
It's a great way to get weeds under control since the much blocks the light and keeps weeds from growing.
The no-dig method helps to build soil fertility over time and protects the soil structure.
Your potatoes will be easier to harvest than those grown the traditional way.
Say goodbye to “Fork Damage.” That awful feeling you get when you accidentally spear a prize potato while digging it out will be a thing of the past
You get to enjoy some of the smoothest, cleanest potatoes you’ve ever harvested.
Disadvantages of No-Dig Potatoes
You’ll need to start your potatoes a little later than with traditional methods since the light covering makes frost more of a threat.
Your initial harvest yields may be slightly lower (but balance that against the lessened workload)
Slugs and mice can be a problem in some areas, but it’s worth noting that the mulch encourages predators such as amphibians and beetles.
Depending on your climate, your crop may need more watering than traditional methods.
When to Plant Potatoes
Potatoes are traditionally one of the earliest spring crops you can plant. Once your soil is workable and reaches around 45 - 50 degrees F, you should be good to plant. For many centuries, farmers looked for cues from nature to determine planting times (this is known as cyclic biological occurrences phenology.) According to this ancient method, you should plant potatoes when the first dandelion blooms.
How Long Does it Take to Grow Potatoes?
The short answer is that it depends on the variety! Early-season varieties typically take 75-85 days to mature to full size. Mid-season varieties will mature in 90-100 days. Late-season varieties can take as long as 105-125 days. The good news is that since potatoes should be left in the ground for two to three weeks after the plants die back, you won’t have to wonder when they’re ready to harvest.
How many potatoes does an average potato plant produce?
As we said above, no-dig potatoes may have smaller yields, but the average potato plant produces five to ten tubers, depending on the variety. Sizes vary depending on the potato type, so read the plant description before choosing which kinds of potatoes to grow.
Planting No-Dig Potatoes
These are the easiest potatoes you will ever plant, with just a few basic steps.
Prepare Your Seed Potatoes
Before planting, your seed potatoes need to be sprouted, or you risk them rotting instead of growing. To get your potatoes to sprout or chit, try following these steps:
Place the potatoes in a warm (75℉ / 24°C) dark location for 2-3 days. (We just keep ours in the paper bag they came in from the farm store.)
Next, place your potatoes in egg cartons with the side that has the most eyes facing up and put them in a cool space that gets plenty of light.
Potatoes are ready to plant when the sprouts are ¾” to 1” tall.
Once your potatoes have large enough sprouts, cut them into pieces if they’re larger than an egg. Ensure each cut piece has 2-3 eyes.
Let the cut potatoes sit to dry out and scar for two to three days, and then they are ready to plant.
Prepare the soil
Choose a location that gets at least 6 hours of sunlight per day. Loosen the topsoil with a small rake or other implement to ensure the surface is not packed down. You could also add a layer of compost. Remember to rotate where you plant potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants each season. These are all nightshade family members (Solanaceae); if not rotated, you could be more susceptible to disease and soil nutrient depletion.
Plant the potatoes
Plant one sprouted seed potato every 10”-12”. If you are using square-foot gardening, plant one potato per square.
Gently nestle each sprouted potato into the soil. There is no need to bury it.
Cover the entire bed with a layer of straw (or other light mulch) approximately 6” deep.
You may need to lay sticks on top of the straw to hold it in place if you have a windy climate.
Caring for Your No-Dig Potatoes
Depending on your climate, there is very little you will need to do to take care of your no-dig potatoes.
Green sprouts should be visible peeking out of the straw within a couple of weeks. Once the new leafy growth is 6”- 8” high, add an additional layer of straw thick enough to cover the new growth.
Water the potatoes deeply once or twice a week. Your aim is to keep the straw and the soil below evenly moist.
Once sprouts crown through the second layer of straw, allow them to grow—no need for a third round of burying.
Harvesting No-Dig Potatoes
As harvest time approaches, the plants will begin dying back. Once this starts to happen, you can stop watering the potato plants. Let the plant die back entirely before checking on the progress of your potatoes.
When you think the time is right, reach down, uncover, and harvest a single potato. Rub the skin to test for firmness. You are good to harvest if the skin is hard to rub off. However, if the skin rubs off easily, it won’t store as long. Leave your potatoes in the ground for an additional two weeks. The extra time in the ground allows the skin to dry out and toughen up, making the potatoes less prone to bruising and better suited for storage.
If you don’t want to wait, you can also harvest potatoes at any development point as “new potatoes.” These tiny tender tubers won’t store well, but they are perfect for the evening's dinner. New potatoes have a higher moisture content, thinner skins, and lower starch content, making them a delicious treat!
Each year, I look forward to the day I can put my lovely potato sprouts in the ground and thanks to no-dig beds, I look just as forward to harvesting them. How about you? Have you ever tried no-dig potatoes? If not, what is your favorite way to grow spuds? Tell us all about it in the comments below! And, as always, until next time,