• By Faith Pineo •
We like to try something new each gardening season and decided to give this a shot a few years back. But this method was only new to us, as our grandfather used to plant this way many years ago. Still, it’s unusual enough so that when we tell people we grow our potatoes in a pile of hay they look at us kind of funny. Although we’ve discovered that telling some of our gardening tales makes people look at us kind of funny anyway…
So put away the hoe and leave the tiller in the shed. Just grab your gloves, a bale of hay and you’re ready to grow!
You’ll need about 1/2 a bale of hay to make the base of an approx. 4’x6′ bed. Take a flake (those are the square chunks that make up a bale) from the bale and gently pull it apart. Lay these down to form the base.
*Note: If you’re growing hay potatoes for the first time and are putting your hay down on grass, it’s best to use the whole bale for the base that first year, so buy 2 bales. It will kill the grass without tilling and you won’t have the bother of weeds.
Get your seed potatoes and fertilizer ready. Each fall we buy several hundred pounds of Onaway potatoes from a farmer in Mars Hill to eat over the winter. His potatoes aren’t treated with chemicals to inhibit sprouting, so we save out between 50-100 pounds each year to “plant”. Otherwise, we buy seed potatoes from a few of our favorite growers.
Because the spacing isn’t very important in a hay potato bed, you can easily fit 50lbs of seed in a 4’x6′ bed. We remove any sprouts and plant them whole since the potato plants will need all the energy and nutrients they can get.
Lay the seed potatoes in their bed and top each one with a generous handful of organic potato fertilizer. We have always had wonderful results using Wood Prairie Farm Organic Potato Fertilizer, produced locally in Bridgewater, Maine. You can visit their website at www.woodprairie.com
Cover the seed potatoes with the remainder of the hay. You want them to be fully covered so the potatoes aren’t exposed to any sunlight. Let Mother Nature take over from here unless it’s terribly dry, then a good dousing of water from the rain barrels once a week can help things along.
Watch them grow and blossom! About 2 weeks after the blossoms have gone by, start checking for potatoes by gently pulling back a bit of hay from around each plant. Remember to wear gloves since the seed potatoes will still be there and can be squishy! If you can stand to wait, just check their progress until they grow to the size of a golf ball before harvesting.
Start looking for recipes – you have beautiful, clean, organic potatoes to eat and enjoy!