Last year we carried out a potato study with market gardeners. We found that growing potatoes on the surface was a significant savings in labor with only a small sacrifice in yield by area (read more complete results here). One of our participants, the Parisi Family Farm, decided to scale this planting method up. We visited them on Monday to check it out.
Large Scale Roll Out
In our study, we had 8-×-8-ft test plots. To plant on the surface, we put down seed potatoes in three rows, added compost, and mulched with straw. We also tried it with newspaper sheet mulch below the straw. Both worked almost equally well. One suggestion for improvement was to use cardboard instead of newspaper below the straw (which is how we’re growing our potatoes this year). But this isn’t viable on the large scale.
The Parisis decided to try it out in a larger plot. They first disked the top layer of half of the plot to knock down weeds and then set the seed potatoes out in rows over the whole area in May. They then unrolled large straw bales to mulch the tubers.
Over the season, weeds grew up, first in the undisked area and then throughout the entire plot, but not enough to choke out the potatoes.
It is now time to harvest the potatoes as the tops are starting to die off. Instead of needing a tractor-pulled device to pop the potatoes up on the surface, as is usually done, the plants can be pulled up and the tubers come lose because they’re just suspended in rotting straw mulch. They tend to be cleaner than spuds that grow in the ground, saving time on cleaning before market and/or storage.
I hope we’ll have more from the Parisis as the harvest concludes and will share it here.