Growing potatoes in straw
By Habeeb Salloum
Issue #100 • July/August, 2006
Virtually unknown to people in other parts of the world, the inhabitants in the Northern European countries have for hundreds of years grown potatoes above ground in straw or other mulching material. It is a method of growing potatoes that works. Little effort is needed to grow flourishing potato crops in this unusual manner. Amongst those who plant potatoes in straw or mulch there is a saying that goes, “even a couch potato can grow a good potato crop with very little work.”
In the vegetable world, there are few that yield more than the potato crop, and this is even increased when potatoes are planted in straw. By using straw mixed with a bit of rich soil or manure, it is easy to grow a bountiful crop in a limited space. It is a great way to grow potatoes for those who live in urban centers where space and cultivatable land are usually hard to find.
The planting and harvesting of potatoes planted in straw or mulch is a simple matter. There are numerous ways of growing a crop in this fashion. The following is one of the simpler methods.
Vegetation should first be cleared from the area where the potatoes are to be grown. Place the seed potatoes—always make sure that you use certified seed potatoes—directly on the ground and cover them with a 50/50 blend of straw with old manure 12” deep, then soak with water. The tubers will form in this mixture and flourish. As the potatoes grow, keep adding, a little at a time, the straw with old manure mix mounded up around the base of the plants. Keep the mix watered regularly. Mounding up is important, since if the tubers are exposed to sunlight, they will turn green, making them toxic.
When potatoes are planted in straw, there are very few weeds. The few that appear are easily removable. The straw holds the moisture, so less water is needed. The beauty of growing potatoes under a straw mat is that the guesswork is taken out of the growing, and harvesting becomes considerably easier.
The corner of the straw can be lifted carefully and one can see how the potatoes are developing. New potatoes can be harvested easily even before the potato vines mature completely. When the potatoes are ready to harvest, one can simply pull back the straw and remove by hand as many potatoes as needed, then replace the straw properly in order to keep the light off any remaining potatoes. You may harvest this way a number of times. The plant will produce more and more potatoes until the vine dies.
Growing and harvesting in this fashion is a great method of cultivating potatoes. It is much cleaner and simpler than planting them in the ground and having to dig them out. As the saying goes, “It’s easy picking rather than digging.”