Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Bagging up spuds

I cheerfully admit that I'm guilty of various forms of gluttony, and in growing potatoes I've found the perfect blend – gluttony for eating spuds and gluttony for punishment. Here I go again – spud growing time!

This year I'm taking a different tack – I'm growing potatoes in a bag. I'll explain why a bit later on, but one reason for growing spuds in a bag is the familiar one here in my small backyard – lack of space. Here's a photo taken this afternoon of Spudland. Just two bags. Not the prettiest bags either, so I set them amidst the pleasing greenery of spinach world and the cheery colour of some calendulas, violas and a dazzling potted succulent, Crassula 'Campfire'. Once the potato plants start growing you'll see less of the bags, anyway.

When I say 'not the prettiest bags' I suppose I should say 'downright ugly bags', but these are, at least, very practical bags. They're horticultural planter bags of very tough black plastic with drainage holes all over the place. Other friends are using car tyres for growing their spuds, but that would be one aesthetically dodgy garden project too far for Pammy, I suspect. She's hardly thrilled about the bags as it is. By the way, I sourced these bags by mail order from Botany Horticultural, at www.botanyplastics.com.au

So, here's the steps. The bottom layer is a 10cm thick layer of mulch or straw. I used sugar cane mulch because I already had some. I've rolled the sides of the bag down, to allow sunlight to hit the soil once I've done these basic first steps of making up various layers.

Then I scattered a good handful or two of pelletised chicken poo (ie, Dynamic Lifter) over the straw. Any balanced fertiliser will do, but the chicken poo is a good organic choice.

Then I covered that layer with a 5-10cm thick layer of home-made compost, of which I have a goodly supply on hand, being a keen composter! If you don't have compost you could use potting mix or very well crumbled soil, or even more straw if that's all you have. The idea here is that the spuds shouldn't come into direct contact with the chicken poo.

Then I added another 5cm layer of straw on top of my compost layer, and set the spuds on that.

Make sure the sprouted eyes of the spuds are facing upwards. (I was almost not going to grow spuds this year, but my good friend Fenella bought too many seed potatoes while on a garden shopping spree on holidays in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney. So faced with a lovely array of Spuntas, Pink Fir Apples, Saphire (which are purple) and Kipflers, I was spurred into action by Fen's spree, and generosity – thanks Fen!)

Cover the spuds with another 10cm deep layer of compost (or straw/soil/potting mix/a blend of these, or whatever you have). Then, water the lot fairly well, but not too much, not so it's muddy – more like thoroughly moistened. We've been having quite a dry, warm spell here in Sydney lately, so I've been watering the bag about every third day. All this was done about two weeks ago (August 25) and today (Sept 8) the first buds have appeared. I'll finish off the blog with 'what I plan to do next', but as an aside, here's why I'm growing spuds in bags, and not in the ground, this year...

This is last year's happy, healthy, productive potato patch in late October, centre-stage in my little backyard, in the sunniest bed I have.

And here's the potato patch a few weeks later, in late November, doing what potato patches must do in order to produce spuds – ie, die back horribly. And that's a downright awful look for a small, pretty garden!

The harvest was both delicious and lovely to behold (these are King Edward potatoes, and a mighty fine-tasting home-grown potato they are too). But after that first go at growing spuds, I knew that I wasn't going to devote my central, bestest bed to that ugly show again!

And so here we are back at bagged Spudland, today. The first green shoots are up, and the spuds are underway. While I plan to do an update a bit later on, showing the progress and other steps, to finish things off I might as well go through what I intend to do next.

It's the same as in-ground spud growing really. Potato plants like lots of sunshine and a steady supply of water, so they'll get that, but no more feeding is needed. Pests weren't a problem here last year, but there is a caterpillar which can munch on them, so I might use a spray of an organic product (either Dipel or Success) to control these, if I notice any flitting about.

I'll just let the shoots grow on until they are about 20cm tall, then I'll add another 10cm layer of compost and straw to cover up the bottom half of the plants (and I'll unroll the sides of the bag at the same time, to hold in that new layer of compost and straw).

I'll repeat this process one or two more times (but I won't fanatically keep on hilling soil like I did last year. Once the hills are about 30-40cm tall that's more than enough, judging from what happened here last year). Hopefully by then the bags will be fully unfurled and the only job after that is watering.

Then I'll let the plants grow and flower on, which should happen some time in November, I suspect. A few weeks after flowering finishes the plants will start to die off, and the longer I leave the plants the better my harvest will be. Last year I harvested earlier than I should have, and still managed to get lots and lots of spuds. So the best idea is to just harvest a few at a time, taking just as many as you need each time, and let the other spuds keep on developing under the soil.


Bangchik and Kakdah said...

Lovely post on growing potato in bags. I love the way you go into details. We had three clumps of sweet potato on vegetable bed. It will be a 3 month wait for them to grow in the soil....... Cheers ~bangchik

Mary Delle LeBeau said...

A good description of growing spuds in your bags. It's obvious by your writing how much you relish the harvest. Good luck with them.

Lanie said...

I have gone the same way this year also! I have just planted Kipfler potatoes in the bag kits from Diggers. I felt reassured that I had done a similar thing to you in planting them.

Today was choko planting (see my blog). Cheers,Lanie

Freejesh (Biju) said...

Awesome !!!, I tried few of the varieties and now attempting on potatoes. Hope can use your blog for reference.

Freejesh (Biju) said...

great work

Freejesh (Biju) said...

great work