It all started out so well; thirty certified disease-free ‘seed’ potatoes flown all the way from the home of the gourmet spud – Tasmania. I’d picked out my favourite varieties – Kipfler and Dutch Cream, and one type I’d always wanted to try but had never seen for sale: King Edward.
Here they are, sitting on our (unlit) wood fired heater a few months back, patiently waiting for tendrils to sprout before we planted them out.
From there, things started to go a little haywire. Given the high rainfall we get here and my doubts about how well the soil would drain, I was keen to use the no-dig method of growing potatoes (placing the seed potatoes on top of the ground and covering with straw and manure, layering more and more straw as the plants grew). But as we had so many seed potatoes, that was going to be a lot of straw! At roughly six dollars a bale for hay, they were going to be the world’s most expensive potatoes.
Sooo my enterprising husband decided we’d plant them the old-fashioned way – in the dirt. We chose a patch a lawn and he started digging. And digging. And digging.
Eventually we had a fully dug bed. I was a little short on organic fertiliser – my compost hadn’t matured yet, and we must have the world’s most efficient dung beetles because cow manure was almost impossible to find in the paddocks, so I was left buying bags of certified organic 5-in-1 fertiliser. Of course, because we were buying in and didn’t want to spend too much, we were probably a little more stingy with the amount of fertiliser applied than we should’ve been. Crossing fingers and hoping our stinginess wouldn’t come back to bite us later, we covered the bed in a layer of mulch hay. So in the end we had a bed that looked like this:
A few days later, we dug three trenches (one for each type of potato) and planted the seed potatoes.
You’ll have to tilt your head to the side to see this pic the right way up. Try as I might, I can’t work out how to get the blog to put it up the right way. And, no those aren’t my legs! That’s hubby in the gumboots 🙂
A couple of weeks later (about the same time I’d given up any hope of them growing) a single green tip showed through the mulch. A few days later and a few more appeared until it seemed every seed potato had sprouted successfully. So far, so good.
With all the seed potatoes sending up lush green leaves, I figured maybe, just maybe, we might end up with some potatoes.
All went swimmingly for a while until our chickens decided to dig up half a row of potatoes to create a dust bath. So up went the fence to keep out the chickens:
Anyway, we finally got the fencing right and managed to keep out the chickens. Then it rained – a lot. It bucketed for days. All the gardening articles I looked up said that while potatoes like having access to sufficient water, they don’t cope with too much of it – they get all sorts of nasty problems. Apparently our potatoes read the same articles, because they promptly started looking sickly:
The plants limped along, some growing slowly, some succumbing to whatever disease was ailing them. Eventually a few even started flowering. According to the gardening articles that’s a sign you can gently dig about under the plants and harvest a few baby potatoes while waiting for the rest of the crop to mature. I felt around – nothing. Not a baby potato anywhere. That sneaking suspicion I’d had that the crop was a dud appeared to be confirmed.
Finally today, with the first trench of potato plants completely dry and shrivelled, it was time to get out the pitch fork and find out for sure whether our first foray into potatoes was a complete flop.
With a grand total of five of the smallest potatoes you’ve ever seen, I think I can safely say the potatoes were a flop.
Under the mounded earth, the soil was very soggy. Despite the fact that our potato bed was on a slope, the drainage wasn’t sufficient to cope with all the rain we’d had. Several of the tiny potatoes I picked up turned to mush in my hands. I thought I knew what rotten potatoes smelt like. I didn’t. Truly there can’t be many more foul smelling things on this earth. There’s foul. Then there’s rotten potatoes. Yuck!
But it wasn’t all bad. As I dug about looking for non-existent potatoes, I kept churning up forkful after forkful of earth worms. So while we may not have produced the world’s best potato crop, it seems we made a pretty good worm farm 🙂