F.A. Farm

  (Ferndale, Washington)
Postmodern Agriculture - Food With Full Attention

Potato Experiment

Back in 2006, I did a Ruth Stout-type potato experiment that worked quite well. [Ruth Stout was a cheery old gardener from New Jersey who developed a permanent mulch method. Her books are fun to read.] I got some extra potatoes from another farmer, laid them down on top of the ground and covered them with hay. The planting date was June 13th, which would normally be quite late to plant around here. The potatoes sprouted up through the mulch and grew fast. In mid-September, I just pulled the mulch away and harvested a bumper crop. There were also quite a few slug eggs as well, which is one of the downsides of this method. Here in NW Washington, we have a tremendous amount of slugs and they love mulch. However, exposing them to the air and the predators cuts down their propagation. The yield on these potatoes was up to 2.95# per row foot, but I did put quite a lot of potatoes down in the row and didn't weigh them first, so that is a kinked statistic.

In 2007, I tried this method again, but in two parts. The first part was laying some potatoes down under mulch in January and February. My thinking was that the potatoes would just sit dormant until the weather warmed them up. Well, the slugs ate most of them and the rest rotted. So much for that idea. The second part was to wait until April, when I normally plant potatoes. This worked better, but the yield was quite low. My conclusion was that the mulch keeps the soil too cool early on in this climate, which is why the June planting did so well. Another aspect of this experiment was that the labor for laying down the hay is greater than tilling and planting in bare soil. Thus, I went back to conventional methods.

This year I have some new ground opened up, with winter wheat growing on it. In one section, the ground is so wet and low the winter wheat did not germinate, so there is a bare spot. I also had a whole bunch of Banana fingerlings left over that had sprouted quite lengthy sprouts, some about 8-10 inches long. In addition, I have a bunch of hay from cleaning out the neighbor's barn, so I decided to try the experiment again. I marked out a 12' x 48' area and dumped 32# of fingerlings on the ground, trying to spread them around as much as possible. I then laid two pickup loads of loose hay on the potatoes. They are covered by about 6-8 inches. Hopefully, the sprouts will get enough soil moisture to continue growing up through the hay. We shall see how this works. I won't be able to cultivate, but the mulch should suppress the weeds well enough that I can just pick the ones that come up and the potatoes should crowd them out. Since it is almost May and we are getting an extended run of good weather this year, I am hoping the experiment is fruitful. I will report back on this later.

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