potatoes

Potatoes, Potahtoes

A wide view of potato plants, collards, and cover crops

Most potatoes are not grown from seed, but rather by planting out “seed potatoes,” which are just high-quality whole potatoes, or pieces of potatoes, that were saved from a previous season. Here in Alabama, February is the best month to plant them, which is what Eric and the students did, despite all the rain. There are many ways to plant out potatoes, but at Rural Studio Farm the students set them out along shallow trenches in the newly built in-ground raised beds.

Then, students covered the potatoes with several inches of hay (many growers hill up soil around the seed potatoes). The hay protects the potatoes, modulates temperatures, suppresses weeds, and helps to retain moisture.

After a few weeks, the potatoes pushed their way through the hay and continued to grow.

Once the sprouts reached about 8 – 12 inches, Eric then hilled up even more hay around the plants until only the growing tips were left exposed. As the potatoes grow, the tubers will form in the hilled-up hay, increasing yields. This also eliminates the need to do any digging to harvest the potatoes—just open up the hay.

Preparing for Spring

We began cultivating additional land for crop production last fall, which will add about 33% more growing area. Using the walking tractor, Eric and the students first shaped the new in-ground raised beds before adding soil amendments and compost. Since we are promoting soil health, it is best to have something growing in the beds at all times, so it is important to start growing as soon as possible.

Students planted seed potatoes, which we covered in a layer of hay, and transplanted out collard greens. In some beds they also sowed a cover crop mix for early spring—hairy vetch, field peas, and oats—all to improve soil health and to keep the ground growing before crops are added later in the spring.

We are no-till, but we just tested out a new tool, the tilther. Run by a cordless drill, the tilther is like a baby rototiller, only working the soil to a depth of about two inches. This improves the tilth of the soil by fluffing and smoothing out the soil surface, making it ready to be transplanted into. It also mixes in any amendments, fertilizers, and minor crop residues.

In the greenhouse meanwhile, more seedlings are being started, and the early crop of tomatoes are being moved to larger quarters to allow their roots to expand and grow before they are transplanted to the greenhouse once March arrives.