Thursday, April 7, 2011

Towering Piles of Potatoes

Posted by Jason

I wanted to share two alternative methods of planting potatoes that I experimented with today, down here at the Regenerative Design Institute in Bolinas CA. A potato tower and a Hugokultur.

Planting potatoes straight in to the ground works great for most people, but down here in California there is a major gopher issue. So you either have to be smarter than the gophers or use poisons (definitely not organic) or traps.

I would like to believe that I am smarter than a gopher. After all, I went to college. My co workers here on the farm also have the firm conviction that we will not let these ground burrowing rodents destroy our root crops. So we have endeavored to create two different methods of potato cultivation.

The Hugokultur (pronounced Hoo go kull toor) or Hugo Culture or just Potato Mound was a method that I read about in Gaia's Garden, by Toby Hemenway. Its way of composting twigs and brush and growing vegetables simultaneously. Or as we say in permaculture, stacking functions. The idea is that you get a pile of brush (small branches etc) and throw some compost able materials on top and plant some potatoes in it.

I began by clearing out an area of the garden that had been overgrown. I pulled up the weeds and put them aside. The area was about 15 square feet. Then I put down some wire mesh to keep any underground invasions ( I am taking no chances). Then I placed twigs and branches across the mesh about a foot thick. I stomped on the pile to compress it a bit. Then I threw on all the uprooted weeds on top of the pile. I proceeded to water the pile to the consistency of a run out sponge. Then I shoveled on some soil and some compost. Then I planted the potatoes in the the pile.

I have read, but not yet proven, that you can plant your potatoes earlier than normal using this method. This is because the pile starts to compost and creates heat that warms the potatoes and helps them along. The decomposing matter will also give a slow feed of nutrients over the course of time. I hope it all goes well.

The pile of twigs and branches

The finished mound ready for the potatoes

The other operation undertaken was a potato tower. Why do just one method, when you can try two. Its pretty simple. I had some help from my co workers Brandon and Patti. We found some old fencing, that was just a couple different kinds of chicken wire and made them into a large tube about 5 feet high and 3 feet in diameter. Then we folded the bottom under and secured it, to make sure the gophers would not be able to access it. Pretty simple structure. You could probably make it out of some poles and light gage chicken wire as well. The potatoes need to be able to send leaves out of it but the holes can't be so big as to let the soil fall out.

So we put some straw on the bottom and then about a foot of soil and compost mixed. Next we placed some potatoes on the soil. Then we added another layer of soil and compost. Then we placed some more potatoes. Then more soil. The idea is that potatoes can grow out from the sides of the tower. This a great way to grow more potatoes with less space and its easy to make.

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