Growing Potatoes - Without Digging!

Does growing potatoes the traditional way fill you with horror? All that digging and earthing up...? If you have been put off potato growing by the thought of all the hard work involved, this page is most definitely for you.

No dig or no till methods of growing potatoes mean that it is entirely possible to grow potatoes without all the hard work!

We asked our no dig gardening expert, Ed, to share his potato growing secrets and he came up with two methods - the true No Dig Method and the Black Polythene/Plastic Method.

Both are easy and give good results so now there is no excuse for not trying your hand at growing your own delicious potatoes - simply choose the method that you prefer and give it a go.

If you have never grown potatoes before, do take the time to read the information on how to grow potatoes the traditional way which explains the difference between 'earlies', 'second earlies' and 'maincrops', what is meant by 'seed' potatoes, and how to go about 'chitting' your seed potatoes.

Ed's No Dig Method of Growing Potatoes

Ed has simplified his no dig method of growing potatoes to make things even easier. If you are new to potato growing, he recommends starting off with an early variety which will produce a crop of delicious new potatoes well before there is any danger of potato blight setting in.

Read through the advantages and disadvantages of this method to decide if it is right for you...

Advantages

  • It's a lot less work than the conventional method!
  • There is no need to clear the ground of weeds by digging as the mulching materials will smother them.
  • This method builds soil fertility over time and protects the soil structure.
  • Beneficial soil organisms, which promote better plant growth, will flourish.
  • The potatoes are easier to harvest than those grown the traditional way.

Disadvantages

  • Your initial yields will probably be lower than with conventional methods of growing potatoes as it takes time for soil fertility to increase (but balance this against the lower workload).
  • Slugs and mice can be a problem in some areas.

Ready to try it? Here's what to do...

  1. Mark out your bed in an area of your garden that gets as much sun as possible. If you align it north to south you will maximise the amount of sun each potato plant receives.
  2. Cut down any existing weeds and simply spread them over the surface of the bed.
  3. Spread a couple of inches of very well rotted manure or garden compost over the whole bed.
  4. Create a weed barrier by laying a double thickness of damp cardboard, or a layer, at least six sheets thick, of dampened newspaper over the manure or compost.
  5. Place your chitted seed potatoes on the surface of the cardboard at the recommended distances.
  6. Cover with a thick layer, 15-30cm (6-12in) deep, of straw or hay and dampen down.
  7. As the potato foliage grows, cover it with more straw, or, better still, with grass clippings which create the slightly acidic conditions that potatoes prefer. This is the equivalent of earthing or hilling up and prevents your potatoes from becoming green and inedible. Continue to mulch up as necessary.
  8. To harvest your potatoes there is no need to dig - simply pull back the mulch and hey presto, lovely clean potatoes! With this method it is very easy to pick a few potatoes for a single meal - just scrape aside the mulch, select your spuds and then replace the mulch. What could be easier?

Ed's Black Polythene/Plastic Method of Growing Potatoes

If you're not ready to embrace the true no dig growing method, but still don't like the thought of all the hard work involved in the conventional method, you can try growing your potatoes through sheets of black plastic or polythene.

Again, there are advantages and disadvantages to this method...

Advantages

  • Less work for you, the gardener!
  • There is no need to clear the ground of weeds by digging - the black plastic will do a good job of this.
  • If you put the plastic in place a couple of weeks before you are due to plant, it will warm up the soil for you.
  • Apart from the polythene sheets you won't need to gather any special materials.
  • The potatoes are easy to harvest and clean as they form on the surface under the plastic.

Disadvantages

  • Slugs and mice can be a problem in some areas.
  • It can be difficult to water your potatoes through the plastic so this method is better for earlier varieties which do not need as much water as maincrops (although you can get round this by perforating the sheets at intervals using a garden fork).

Ready to try it? Here's what to do...

  1. Mark out your bed, cut down any weeds and cover with a sheet of black polythene. Do this while the soil is damp as the plastic sheet will conserve moisture and reduce the need for watering. If the soil is dry, give it a thorough watering first.
  2. Anchor the sheet in place using large stones, bricks or scaffolding planks, or bury the edges in the ground.
  3. Plant the seed potatoes through the plastic at the recommended distances by cutting a cross shape at each planting station and using a trowel or bulb planter to make a hole about 12.5cm (5in) deep.
  4. As the potatoes develop, the foliage will emerge through the slits whilst the plastic protects the growing tubers from light.
  5. To harvest simply peel back the plastic and remove the potatoes - easy!

A variation of this method is to spread a couple of inches of well rotted manure or compost, and few inches of straw over the bed before laying down the black polythene sheet. The potatoes are then planted into the mulch, rather than into the underlying soil. This can be a good method to use if your soil is very thin and chalky, which potatoes don't like.

Need More Information?

How to grow potatoes contains more advice about potato growing, including the traditional cultivation method.

More information on vegetable growing can be found at creating a successful home vegetable garden.

If you're new to vegetable gardening, do try these easy vegetables to grow.

And if you are thinking of growing your vegetables in raised beds you will find lots of tips and information at planning a raised bed vegetable garden.





New look!

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Many thanks


Deirdre