Growing Potatoes

I love growing potatoes. They are a fun and early crop for us. This year we planted 1,500 pounds of seed potatoes on an acre below the orchard and another 500 pounds on the south side of Heady Ridge Road. 

Fifteen loads of beautiful, black, biodynamic compost were spread with the New Idea manure spreader. It is a 206 model, which I mention for a reason. If anybody has one, we would like to look at it. We bent a rod and don’t remember exactly what it is supposed to look like. We’ve bent it back but it is not quite right. 

The chisel plow was pulled through the field very slowly and not too deep, around mid-March. The wet fall and winter have really pugged up the soil. It is packed down pretty hard, so it is plowing up a bit on the cloddy side. 
A few days later I criss-crossed the first plowing, still very slowly but a little deeper. I like to go deep but not if it pulls up wet, shiny clods. I keep my hand on the lift and am careful not to replow what I’ve just been on. 

In early April the last pass with the chisel plow went over the field like the first pass, but deeper and with a spike-toothed harrow behind it. This left the field in pretty good shape. I then made rows with the Farmall 140, using the middle busters behind the wheels to create furrows. 

A dedicated crew dropped the potato pieces, cut to the size of a hen’s egg, about one foot apart, and then stepped on them to firm them into the soil. Meanwhile, I finished fitting the other field for planting. It still had quite a bit of the rye cover crop left in it. 

After they are planted, I straddle the row with the cultivators down and cover them up. Helpers showed up in time to get us finished right before dark. The varieties are Kennebec, Red Pontiac, and Red La Soda. 

Ten days later I pulled the harrow over the rows. After another ten days the potato plants started appearing and I pulled the harrow over them again, this time with the cultivators down. A potato can be raked over, it will just pop right up the next day. Harrowing and cultivating keep the moisture in the soil by creating a soil mulch, and it takes out the small sprouting weeds in the row. 

JEFF POPPEN “The Barefoot Farmer” – Long Hungry Creek Farm – 8.2.14 © photograph by Alan MESSER []

Subsequent cultivation happens every time the soil dries up after a rain. The first cultivation is very slowly in first gear, but as the plants get taller I can go in second gear, and this throws soil back on the row and plants. Potatoes can be covered, but this smothers the weeds. 

The next time over them will be with disc hillers. I’ll have to go in first gear the first time, and this will throw a ridge up along the potato stalk. A final pass later with hillers, with a little more speed, will lay the crop by. 

All that is left to do then is watch them flower, fade and die. The old potato digger will then lift the potatoes out and onto the ground for us to pick up and put into baskets. The baskets get put on a truck, and then stacked two baskets deep. We rest the top basket on the sides of the bottom basket so we don’t scratch the potatoes. 

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