by Jim Erskine

(This was originally written for our weekly newsletter at Check it out!)

Dear Friends,

Wow! When I mentioned my "low labor / no till" potato growing method last week, we got flooded with requests for the details! (Must be a lot of frustrated gardeners out there!)

Okay, here's how to plant and grow your taters WITHOUT digging or roto-tilling. To do this, you'll need:

1) A flat area of your yard or garden to plant your potatoes. Now, this doesn't have to be tilled or dug  at all -- unless you already have an area like this in your garden. It can be a part of the yard if you want. (Yes, it really is OK if it already has grass on it. You don't have to dig or remove the turf. May want to mow it first, though, if the turf is tall.)

2) Several pounds of seed potatoes from the garden store.

3) Three or four bales of straw (hay will do, if you can't find straw).

Cut up your seed potatoes into no more than 1/4ths. The larger, the better.

Make your rows on the ground about three feet apart. Use a piece of string if you want to make the rows straight. Walk the rows and set a piece of potato about every two feet.

Now, take the straw and cover the rows over your potatoes heavily -- at least 1 foot wide, and at least 6 inches deep in the center.

That's it -- you've done your planting! Within a few days, the taters will take root in the ground in the moist dark under the straw.

After a few weeks, you'll notice the leaves of the potato plant poking through the straw. When they do, add a few more inches of straw. As they keep growing, keep adding straw. After a few weeks, you'll end up with rows of straw about 2 feet wide, and about a foot deep. The potato plants will eventually grow too big to keep piling straw on them, but by that time it is okay. You just want to keep the lower part of the plant completely covered, so the potatoes can grow in the dark.

What do you do if weeds start growing between your rows of taters? Throw more straw on 'em! Smother them with straw and kindness!

When it is harvest time for your taters (the plant will start to wither and die back after several weeks), just pull aside the straw. Magically, you'll find bushels of CLEAN potatoes, right in the straw -- not buried deep in the ground!

This method works great here in Kentucky, and it can work wherever you garden. You can even plant your potatoes well before the final frost in your area. They will be safe from frost under the straw. And if a late frost threatens your growing plants, just cover them up with more straw.

Remember us this summer when you enjoy your home-grown mashed potatoes! The "Potato King" has spoken!

PART TWO (written a week later)

Okay, so here I am, packing my gear for a three day campout with Russell and over 500 Boy Scouts down at Wildcat Hollow this weekend (woo hoo! THIS will be an experience!), with a ton of "stuff" to get done this week... and I keep getting all these emails.

Seems like a whole bunch of folks have been inspired to try growing potatoes this year, after reading about  our "low labor / no till" really, really easy potato growing method. Great! That's what I was hoping for. However, the same questions are popping up over and over, and I realize now I should have covered this the first time. My apologies. If you don't mind -- and those of you who have no interest in the potato patch, just skip the next few paragraphs -- I'll just answer them here:

How much do you water your potato plants? Answer: If the ground is very dry and no rain is forcast when you first plant them, you probably should give the straw a good soaking to get them going, but after that, they'll take care of themselves. Once the straw gets damp the first time, it will hold enough moisture to take care of your potato plants. In other words, you don't need to water them at all, unless it is throroughly, utterly dry in your area of the world.

Can I grow potatoes in sandy/clay/rocky/whatever soil? Answer: Probably. If your soil will grow weeds, it will probably grow potatoes. Obviously, some soils will do better than others. Just give it a shot this year and see what happens. You'll probably be surprised at what that empty part of the garden or yard will yield.

What about bugs and pests? Well, here in Kentucky, the only thing that really attacks potatoes are... you guessed it -- potato bugs! You'll know if and when they arrive. They are big round orange ugly things that will chew all the leaves off your plants before you know it. You can spray for these, or do what I do -- put on your garden gloves and squish them dead. I must admit there is something quite satisfying about squishing potato bugs between your thumb and forefinger after you get used to the idea. They are slow and easy to catch, and it is quite therapeutic to do away with them personally after they've defoliated a goodly portion of your plants. Caution: Your fingers will turn orange if you do this without gloves. Consult your local garden center for known pests & remedies for your area.

Okay, that's it for the potatoes for this year. If you decide to grow them, let us know how your crop turns out, and send us your favorite home-grown tater recipe.

email me here

Copyright 2006, Jim Erskine