Sunday, April 21, 2013

Potato Planting 2013

This is our second year attempting to grow potatoes. Our results in 2012 were not very good, as I discussed in a previous post. We learned several things from that failed experiment, and are optimistic about this year's crop.

Like last year we planted three varieties: Yukon Gold, Kennebec, and Pontiac. We tend to prefer Yukon Gold, so planted more of those, 10.33 lbs, than the others. We planted roughly half of that amount of the other varieties, 5.84 lbs of Kennebec and 6.13 lbs of Pontiac.

I began preparations for planting potatoes approximately a week before we planted by spreading composted horse manure. Rather than cover then entire area, I made twelve inch wide rows, where the potatoes would be planted, so that it wasn't wasted on the walkways between rows. We also sifted some top soil, that had been dug up elsewhere on the property, and added a few inches to an old plastic compost bin for a potato tower experiment.

I planted the potatoes on April 7th, which is approximately two weeks earlier than we planted last year. Rather then digging a trench, I simply dug a hole for each potato, and then covered it back over with a couple of inches of soil and compost. I used twelve inch spacing in the rows, with approximately two feet between rows. We hadn't actually done any prior calculations to determine how much space we would need for the seed potatoes we had bought, and it turns out that we needed one more row than I had prepared. For this row I used the tractor with middle buster attached to dig a trench to plant the potatoes into. This is similar to what we did last year, although that was done with a rototiller, so I'm interested to see how this row compares to those prepared with compost.

A few days after planting I applied a thick layer of straw mulch, both to the rows and walkways. This required eight bales, which was more than I had expected. I'm hopeful that future additions of mulch can be made with grass clippings and leaves, but I'll buy more straw if needed.

The two biggest mistakes we made last year, I believe, were waiting to late to add more dirt around the plants and our watering schedule. This year we are going to try to address the first issue by applying additional mulch, rather than dirt, and being sure to do so earlier. For the watering, I plan to apply approximately half gallon weekly during periods of no rain.

Earlier this week, which was about a week and a half after planting the potatoes, we received an extraordinary amount of rain. Water from the ditch along the highway backed up, and the creek overflowed, both spilling into the garden. I wasn't able to get over there to check on things when the water was highest, but when I checked a couple of hours later I found two to three inches of water covering the potatoes. By the next day the water had gown down, and the mulch had dried out. I'm hopeful that the soil has been able to dry out enough to prevent rot, although we'e received even more rain since then, so I'm not sure how likely that is. I'm hoping that the improved drainage from the manure might be enough to help things dry out. I'm much less confident about the row without the manure.

If all goes as planned I will keep detailed records of yields this year, which will help to determine how many potatoes we should plant next year. It will also help us determine the cost effectiveness of buying organic seed potato next year. We would prefer to use only organic seed, but until we feel confident that we can expect better yields that last year it seems better to experiment with conventional potatoes.

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