Raised beds have revolutionized gardening by providing the opportunity to cultivate a beautiful garden, even in areas with poor soil quality. With the ability to control soil content and enjoy extended growing seasons, raised beds are a favorite among gardeners. However, some vegetables are often overlooked when it comes to growing them in raised beds, and potatoes are one such vegetable.
Potatoes, being bulky plants that require ample space, can deter gardeners from planting them in raised beds. In fact, I once suggested avoiding potatoes in raised beds due to this reason. However, it’s important to note that gardening always comes with exceptions, and potatoes can thrive in raised beds, especially when you have sufficient space.
If you have limited garden space, don’t worry! Potatoes can also be grown successfully in five-gallon buckets. You can start by experimenting with a few potatoes in a corner of your raised bed to see how they perform. You may even find yourself expanding your gardening space to accommodate more of these tasty tubers.
Why Bother Growing Potatoes?
You might wonder why you should bother growing potatoes when they are readily available and inexpensive at the supermarket. Well, there are two compelling reasons to grow your own. Firstly, growing potatoes allows you to have complete control over their growing conditions. If you’re passionate about eliminating chemical pesticides from your garden and prefer to go organic, growing potatoes is a worthwhile endeavor. Secondly, by growing your own potatoes, you have access to a much wider variety than what is typically found in supermarkets. Say goodbye to boring white, red, and yellow potatoes! Instead, explore the world of Atlantic potatoes, Adirondack potatoes, and Strawberry Paw potatoes. The possibilities are endless.
Early or Late Potatoes?
Before delving into the planting process, it’s essential to decide whether you prefer early or late potatoes. The difference lies in their harvesting and storage properties. Early potatoes, also known as new potatoes, are harvested in mid-summer. They have thin skins, are relatively small, and should be used immediately. On the other hand, late potatoes are ideal for long-term storage. These potatoes are harvested in the fall when they have grown larger and developed thick skins. The good news is that many potato varieties can be harvested both early and late. You can simply harvest a few plants in mid-summer for early potatoes and leave the rest to continue growing for a fall harvest.
Sun, Soil, Water & Nutrients
Potatoes thrive in full sun, requiring a minimum of six hours of direct sunlight per day. Raised beds offer the advantage of well-drained soil, which is ideal for potato cultivation. When planting your seed potatoes, it’s beneficial to incorporate compost and bone meal to provide the necessary nutrients for a successful growing season. While potatoes generally tolerate average rainfall, it’s crucial to water them deeply during dry spells to prevent the leaves from drying out and to avoid splashing dirt, which can lead to disease.
Preparing Potatoes for Planting
To ensure optimal growth, it’s recommended to “chit” your seed potatoes a few weeks before planting. Chitting involves placing the seed potatoes in a warm and sunny location, allowing them to develop sprouts. Several days prior to planting, cut whole potatoes into smaller pieces and allow them to scab over before placing them in the soil.
Planting and Hilling in Raised Beds: Exploring Your Options
Raised beds are an excellent choice for cultivating potatoes, even if your beds are not very deep. Let’s explore two methods for growing potatoes in raised beds.
Deep Raised Beds
If your raised beds are at least a foot deep, you can grow potatoes in the same manner as you would in the ground. Begin by creating a trench approximately six inches deep along the length of your raised bed. Space your trenches about a foot apart. Place your seed potatoes in the trench, ensuring that the potato eyes are facing up and the potatoes are about a foot apart. Add any necessary soil amendments, such as compost and bone meal, before loosely covering the seed potatoes with soil.
In a couple of weeks, your potato plants will emerge from the soil. Once the sprouts reach a height of 6-8 inches, gently hill up soil around each plant, leaving only the top few leaves exposed. Additional hilling can be done if desired, but it is not necessary. From this point on, allow your potatoes to grow freely.
Shallow Raised Beds
Even if your raised beds are on the shallow side, you can still successfully grow potatoes by using straw as a substitute for soil. Create trenches along the length of your raised beds, approximately one inch deep. Space the trenches one foot apart and plant your seed potatoes every twelve inches. Instead of covering the potatoes with soil, cover them with a layer of straw around four inches deep, ensuring that it completely blocks out light. Thoroughly wet the straw with a hose to help it settle, and if necessary, cover it with cardboard and a few stones to hold it in place temporarily. Remove the cardboard after a few days to allow the plants to grow through the straw.
From this point on, the cultivation process remains the same, regardless of the method you choose. Let your potatoes grow large and bushy, keeping an eye out for pests like Colorado potato beetles. Water them during extended dry periods, but otherwise, potatoes require minimal maintenance.
Harvesting and Storing Potatoes
Knowing when to harvest potatoes can be a bit tricky since they grow underground. However, potatoes provide us with clues that indicate when they are ready for harvest. For early potatoes, observe the flower buds. Harvest new potatoes when the blooms start to wilt or drop off the plant without opening. For a fall harvest, pay attention to the foliage. Once the lush green plants turn yellow and start to dry out, it’s time to harvest your potatoes, usually around the first frost. If you intend to store potatoes for an extended period, wait for a week or two after the foliage has died back to toughen up the skins.
If you grow your potatoes in soil, gently lift the tubers from the ground using a garden fork, taking care not to injure them. However, if you opt for the straw method, simply peel back the layers of straw to reveal your bountiful harvest.
Once you’ve harvested your potatoes, it’s essential to cure them before storing. Place them in a dark and dry location on a layer of newspaper, a dry tarp, or large pieces of cardboard. Allow them to cure for 7-12 days, ensuring good airflow around the potatoes. After curing, store them in a cool, dry, and dark place for long-term storage. If freezer space is available, potatoes can also be frozen for later use.
Are Potatoes Meant for Raised Bed Gardening?
The decision to grow potatoes in raised beds ultimately lies with you. Raised beds offer the advantage of control over soil content, ensuring optimal growth conditions for your potatoes. Whether you’re looking to expand your potato variety options or prefer the rewarding experience of growing your own organic produce, planting potatoes in raised beds can be a match made in gardening heaven.
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