How to Grow Potatoes Without Digging
Grow potatoes in straw—and you don’t have to dig to plant or harvest! Plus, you’ll have fewer weeds. Essentially, you just cover potato seeds in layers of straw—and wait for a big harvest! See five steps for planting in straw in this article (with video demo).
Normally potatoes plants are ‘hilled’, when the soil is drawn up against the stem in order to create more space for the tubers to grow. This also reduces the risk of them making their way to the surface and turning green in the light. But straw can give exactly the same results with less of the work. Plus, straw helps keep the ground cooler in hot weather, and will eventually break down to contribute to soil structure and fertility.
Directions on Planting Potatoes in Straw
Note: Use organic or untreated straw bales (cut from pasture that wasn’t recently treated with herbicides).
- Prepare yor garden bed by removing weeds and adding a couple inches of compost (or aged manure) to the entire surface.
- Lay seed potatoes on the compost. You can plant them whole or cut in pieces. (See video for “chitting” potatoes if desired.)
- Space 12 to 18 inches apart each way for maincrop potatoes, and a little less than that for early varieties.
- Cover with 3 inches of straw! Dampen straw with water.
- Once the foliage reaches about 6 inches above the straw, add a couple more inches of straw.
How to Harvest the Potatoes
Harvest as soon as the tops start to die back. When the tops turn brown the plant is pulling as many nutrients as possible into the potatoes. Plants may come away from the ground easily if you grip them firmly at the base of the foliage and pull straight up.
If you wish, you can also start harvesting the smallest, or ‘new’ potatoes, as the plants come into flower. Then lift potatoes as needed. When the foliage starts to die back it’s time to dig up the rest of the crop.
To Water or Not
In terms of watering, it depends on your weather. There are some years when we don’t water the potato crop at all. The moisture from the ground and the rain is often all the water that’s needed.
Pull back the straw occasionally to check the soil moisture and water if its dry. Water through the straw, aiming to keep the straw itself consistently moist too. It’s important to make sure that the potatoes are always well covered so no light gets in.
If you straws gets wet from rain and begins to break down, that’s fine. It’s returning nutrients to the soil. If this happens, do not water as there is plenty in the straw.
The straw that’s left behind will have already begun breaking down to nourish the soil. Leave it where it is, rake it up to redeploy as mulch elsewhere, or retire it to the compost heap.
See more information about growing potatoes in the Almanac’s Potato Growing Guide.
Would dead leaves be a good substitute for the straw? I have a feeling the price of straw is going to be very high this year.
Have been planting potatoes in straw since 1975. Works wonders, especially if your soil is not sandy and loose. Easy to harvest, just pull the straw back a little and pick your potatoes. Small new potatoes are ready when the green beans are for a mess of green beans and new potatoes and the remaining potatoes can be left to grow to larger potatoes.