Grow potatoes in straw—and you don’t have to dig to plant nor harvest! Plus, you’ll have fewer weeds. Essentially, you just cover potato seeds in layers of straw—and wait for a big harvest! Here’s information and a garden demonstration on how to do it!
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.
- 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.
Learn more about planting, growing, and harvesting potatoes in the Almanac’s Potato Growing Guide.