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Potato bin update #1. May 27, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, homesteading, wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben is delighted to report that our potato bin experiment is going well (so far). If you missed the initial description and setup, check our earlier post, “Tower of (potato) power.” After a month of pretty much nothing happening, our ‘Yukon Gold’ seed potatoes have not only sent up shoots but have been growing so strongly that it was obviously time to add a layer of soil to cover the stems.

Cover the stems? You read that right. Just as the related tomato will grow roots all along a buried stem—which is why old-timers always suggest burying new tomato transplants up to practically the top leaves to make for stronger, better-supported plants—potato plants will set potatoes all along their buried stems. Our plan is to alternate layers of straw and soil as the stems grow until we reach the very top of the bin, then let the stems grow in the fresh air, bloom, and eventually die back. At which point we’ll lift off the bin and paw through the soil and straw in search of potatoes.

I’ve been using organic potting soil for the soil layers, since we don’t have any soil to spare from our garden beds. But now my supply of potting soil was almost exhausted (and besides, Silence Dogood always needs some to pot up the houseplants, greenhouse plants, and deck container plants as they grow). So Silence and our friend Ben piled our puppy Shiloh in the car and headed off to Jim Weaver’s Meadow View Farm out in scenic Bowers, PA on Memorial Day to stock up. (See our earlier post, “Scotch Bonnets and Dutchy Gunpowder,” for more on Jim and his amazing hot peppers.)

Jim had a selection of potting soils and soil amendments for sale, including organic mushroom compost (the best!), their own compost, and bags of an intriguing mix of compost, vermiculite and perlite they called “Square Foot Gardening Mix.” Not seeing any reason to quibble, our friend Ben bought some of each and loaded it into the car along with a happy Shiloh and an even happier Silence. (She had found one pot of thyme that was a sport in the middle of a flat of silver-variegated thyme. This one pot did show some silver variegation, but the new leaves were pure gold, making for a breathtaking combination. Silence looked unusually smug, even for her—ouch, Silence! just kidding! owww!!!—as she clutched her newfound treasure.)

Back at Hawk’s Haven, I poured the Square Foot mix carefully around the potato stems until they were buried up to about the top two inches. Next time it will be a layer of straw. The plants looked healthy and vigorous. So far, so good. Of course, assuming they continue to thrive, the ultimate test will come when we pull off the bin and look for the harvest sometime late this summer or fall, whenever the plant tops have completely died back. Stay tuned. As noted, numerous potatoes overwintered for us this year—a first!—and are growing strongly in one of our in-ground raised beds, so we’ll have an interesting comparison when we harvest those, sort of the classic experiment setup with the new technique versus the control. 

And if any of you are familiar with Square Foot soil mix, let us know what you think! With the Weavers’ good compost as the main ingredient, it looked pretty good to our friend Ben.