Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Hills are Alive

Listening to our favourite Sunday morning music show, Chicken Hotrod on 2RRR community radio, I was struck by the idea that there's a hundred different ways to sing a song and come up with good results.

Well folks, it's the same with growing potatoes. There's a hundred different ways to do it, and all of them can come up with good results. 

I was Googling "when to hill around potatoes" and I came up with (maybe not a hundred) but lots of different ideas. Some said to start doing it when plants are 6 inches high, others said to wait until when plants are 10 inches high, when plants are 12 inches high, even one daredevil advocating waiting until her plants were 16 inches high. 

As to "what" to use when hilling around your spuds, some said "just use compost", others said "just use straw", others said "mix up straw and compost". There were votes for "potting mix" and some for good old "garden soil".

I'll bet you that all these good folk advocate their methods because they worked for them. So, I think the big message to newbie spud growers is just to relax. No matter what you do will probably work just fine. So, here's what I did this morning.

Here's my bag of spuds with the plants about 6 inches high. So you can call me an "early hiller" if you like. "Why this thing called 'hilling'?". Excellent question. That's the one thing the spud growers of the world ALL seem to agree on. If you mound up soil around your growing potato plants you will get a bigger crop of spuds, and you will also get a bigger crop of spuds that are edible. If growing spuds are exposed to sunlight they will become green, inedible potatoes, so hilling serves to cover up the crops of spuds forming.  

 I've shared my excess spuds and extra spud bag with my good friend Jolanda, and she has a bag of compost which she will be using to hill around her spuds. I'm doing it slightly differently, mostly because I like the way it looks. Yes, it's that irrational, folks! I'm mixing up my own homemade compost with handfuls of straw in a roughly 50:50 mix.

The easy way to mix it up is in a bucket or trug. Compost is an excellent choice because it's a gentle fertiliser that helps to feed the potato plants. The straw is nice and light, so the drainage of water through the bag should be nice and free. Besides, I just love the look of straw ... it's so farmyard.

It's so simple. Just pile in your compost, or your straw/compost blend, leaving the topmost leaves of the plants exposed.

I've got a couple of little "later starter" shoots poking through, so I'll give them a few more days to grow taller and catch up with the others, then I'll finish my first hilling job next weekend by hilling around them. 

About a month from now, the plants should have grown even taller. Next time I'll unroll the sides of the bag so it is at full height, and I'll complete a second and last "hilling" around the plants. After that all I have to do is water the bags if Huey hasn't been kind enough to help out with some rain every couple of days.


Lanie at Edible Urban Garden said...

Thanks Jamie. I change the way I grow potatoes (and hill) every year. Strangely my potatoes have yet to emerge....must dig around and see what is happening to them, as they should be up by now. Your post was a good reminder.

Jamie said...

Hee hee, curiosity got the better of me a few weeks back, too, Lanie, and so I dug down around one. LOTS of activity, about to break the surface so I did a super-hurried "cover-up" of soil, and a few days later all the shoots appeared. I hope I didn't ruin their childhood or anything ...

Sarah said...

Hi Jamie!I'm passionate about garden planning and design - I work in this field -, I found your article by chance and I think it's so interesting. How did you learn all these things? When did you start your gardening activities?

Jamie said...

Hi Sarah

I've called my blog garden "Amateur" because I know I am that ... just an amateur. No qualifications, I make lots of mistakes, I have no formal training, and I just do my gardening and my blog out of my love for gardening. (And I am also "amateur" because I don't accept ads or payments on my blog, or freebies, nor do I do free plugs for anyone, anytime. I'm a non-profit, loss-making, uncommercial blogger).

I started gardening when I moved here 23 years ago, and I learned most of what I know the hard way.

However, that's not the complete truth, as I worked on a gardening magazine, 'Burke's Backyard', for 14 of those years, and I learnt a lot from the many real gardening experts on the magazine (ie, Don Burke, Elizabeth Swane, Cheryl Maddocks, Geoffrey Burnie, and Jennifer Stackhouse – all of them are amazingly knowledgeable people, each with their own specialty, and all of them taught me so much).

My job there was "sub-editor", which means I am a professional spelling, grammar and writing person. I'm a professional writer, that's all. So my gardening knowledge when I started out was close to nil, and I guess I picked up a bit along the way, but I am very conscious of the fact that I am just another ordinary backyard amateur gardener doing it all for the love of it.