I've just harvested my main crop spuds and re-made my vow never to return to growing potatoes in the ground. It's a backbreaking job: breaking up the soil, digging the holes, planting the seed, covering it up, then earthing up the rows at least twice during the growing season. And then you have to turn round and dig the darned things up again, spearing them with the fork as you go! Ex-hausting! If only I'd known about the method I now use, twenty years ago, my back might be in better shape than it is today.
I would never have discovered my current spud-growing method it if it wasn't for a particularly rainy summer three years ago when my farming neighbours were forced to bale wet hay. When I heard they were just going to dump it, I asked if they could put it on our place (figuring I'd find a use for it somewhere in the garden). By the time Labour Day rolled around, the rotting bales were still in tact so I thought, "Why not just spread the hay over the ground, mix in a few handfuls of blood, bone, and super, and plant spuds in it?"
The plants came up perfectly. I tossed some more hay around them as they got a little taller, but other than that, let them get on with whatever it is that spuds do. The tops flopped over the ground more than they usually would, tended to wilt a bit in the drier weather, then died down after the first frost. It wasn't until the very end of autumn that I finally got time to see if the experiment had worked, and when I lifted back the hay, I got the shock of my life! Humongous spuds were sitting underneath, clean as a whistle, side by side as if on display. I felt like a total cheat as I picked them up and loaded them into box after box. It really was like selecting the very best ready-washed potatoes off a supermarket shelf.
When things are this good, you tend to tell yourself it's just beginner's luck. But I've repeated this growing method with the same degree of success for three seasons, now, this year sourcing baylage instead of hay (it was past its use-by date and the farmer I got it from was happy to have me take it away). Would I ever return to the traditional method of growing potatoes? Never! In fact, I'm lining up my next source of baylage as we speak. Why not do your own back a favour and follow suit! You'll be blown away by the results.
Tips for growing spuds in hay:
- If your proposed spud patch is extremely weedy or infested with long, rank grass, consider rolling out old carpet on top of it, then spreading out the hay on top of that.
- To make sure your seed spuds don't come in contact with the super, shake some hay over it before sowing.
- Keep your eyes peeled for rotting and unused baylage as you drive along the roads close to your home – farmers are usually more than happy to have it removed at the start of spring.