In deference to this wait to ditch the digger, halt the hoeing, and say “sayonara” to practice, we ripped open a few more bales of rotting hay and tucked the spade. After years of chipping weeds and grass off the potato paddock, breaking my back spading up the ground, and then forking out for fuel to fill the cultivator, I’m leaving it all behind for a much, much easier way to grow bigger, better potatoes off an even smaller patch of land.
My new spud growing discovery began a couple of years ago after our farming neighbours bequeathed to us a stack of rotting hay. Never one to waste things, and behind in the gardening calendar, I figured we might as well spread it over the mass of weeds posing as our spud patch, and see what we could grow. My husband was one step ahead of me, however, and suggested we dispose of the old carpet clogging up our garage by laying that down first to suppress the couch or ‘cooch’ grass and buttercup.
So there we were, rolling carpet over humps and bumps and shaking out 20cm of hay on top. We added a sprinkle of our usual spud-food – a few handfuls of blood and bone and a shake of super phosphate, then another thin layer of hay to make sure the spuds’ shoots weren’t burned by the latter. We sowed the seed spuds on top of the hay, spacing them as we would if we were using the usual soil-growing method. Finally, we covered the seed with another scattering of hay to a depth around 20cm.
We’re talking about a lot of seed spuds here, and yet it all seemed so ridiculously easy that I was reluctant to believe this spur-of the-moment experiment would ever produce anything. After all, if growing potatoes was this easy, why wasn’t everyone doing it? The days got warmer, the spuds emerged through their covering of hay, and the grass around the edge of the potato patch grew higher while never invading the area mulched by the carpet. At it round the spuds in a very random sort of way. I think we even missed a few rows. The potatoes didn’t care. Those tops just kept on growing. During a very dry spell they wilted quite a lot more than spuds grown in soil would, which had me a little worried.
My anxiety was probably the reason I didn’t put in an appearance at the potato patch again until early autumn when the tops were beginning to die down. Feeling a little curious, I decided to have a wee tickle to see what was going on under all that hay, and that’s when I got the shock of my life! Just under the surface, I connected with something hard. I pulled back the hay to reveal an enormous cream potato, almost as clean as if it had just been washed! There were more of them – lots more. They weren’t dispersed through the ground as spuds grown in soil are, these beauties were lying in a nest, close together, just begging to be gathered up! I actually felt like a cheat as I later loaded the potatoes into sacks, especially as I hadn’t had to use a fork to dig them and, consequently, not a single spud had been speared.
This was all three years ago. Since then, unable to acquire wet-baled hay, we’ve moved on to past-its-best-by balage as a planting medium. Balage is actually better than hay because, having been “pickled”, the grass seeds it contains are no longer viable so there’s not a problem with grass sprouting in the potato patch.
I will never return to sowing potatoes in the ground. It’s too hard, at every stage. With the hay/balage method you can lay down a potato patch almost anywhere. I wouldn’t mind betting that, watered often enough, you could even sow a spud patch on your concrete drive (just be prepared for some mighty strange looks from the neighbours!).
- The carpet was rolled out over the grass, weeds, lumps and bumps!
- Super phosphate and blood and bone are scattered Discarded balage or rotting hay form the growing directly onto the carpet. medium for the potato crop.
- Discarded balage or rotting hay form the growing medium for the potato crop.
- A 20cm deep covering of rotting hay was spread over the carpet.
- The seed potatoes were spaced out like soil-grown potatoes.
- Earthing up involved nothing more than tucking a little more hay round the plants.
- Who would ever guess what lies beneath!
- Potatoes are seen here clinging to the underside of their hay bed.
- Potatoes cluster together in slug nests when grown in hay or balage.