Pumpkin Soup

a weblog with an allotment attached

1 May 2009

Earth up! Earth on up! (Like a potato machine)

Earthing up potatoes – who knew there could be so many options? Soilman recently posted about his potatoes and asked his readers whether they earth up in one go or bit by bit. Judging by the comments, there is a wide variety of earthing up practice out there.

I mention this because I had been wondering the same thing myself – Soilman rather stole my thunder (but I won’t bear a grudge). Last year, while I was pleased enough with my potato yield, my joy was tinged with a certain amount of shock when my friend achieved far better results than me. You will understand my  frustration when I tell you that she got her seed potatoes from me (spares), shoved ’em in the ground a bit late and kept asking me what to do with them. So that would be my complete novice, knows nothing whatsoever about growing vegetables friend who achieved far better results than me. Given that both lots of pots were grown using my expertise (I use the word only loosely), how come she managed to harvest more from a single plant than I got from an entire row? Was it only beginner’s luck?

The answer (I am sure) is all in the earthing up – she did hers bit by bit, over and over and over again. Me? I did a couple of – if I’m honest – cursory scrapes of soil around the emerging plants. I wondered about this, but could find no reference in any of my many gardening books to earthing up affecting yield, it’s all about avoiding green, poisonous tubers.

Rightly or wrongly, I think there’s more to it than that, so my potato plans for this year are somewhat different. I’ve planted fewer rows (11 as opposed to 13), but the conditions are different. I have dug very deeply into the beds, even removing a fair bit of the soil/compost and storing it in bags for a little while. As they grow I have been earthing them up regularly, perhaps three or four times so far, adding soil and compost from the stored bags (so much easier than using what is in the bed itself) and now moving onto new bags of well-rotted manure.

It may be my imagination (or just optimism), but the plants seem much more vigorous than last year and I am hopeful of a better harvest. I also suspect that this method might actually allow me to grow the plants slightly closer together in future as I don’t have to allow for the scraping/digging of earthing up from the bed. Watch this space.

Filed under: Harvest — Clare @ 11:17 am


14 responses

  1. Daphne

    I’m growing potatoes for the first time this year. I did a little research on it and it seems potatoes form off of the buried stem of the potato plant. So if you keep burying the stem, there will be more potatoes formed. Here in the US potato bins are all the rage. Some people make bins and keep adding soil, up to about three feet of it. They claim lots and lots of potatoes per square foot that way. I’ll see if it works this year or not.

    (01.05.09 @ 12:49 pm)

  2. Dawn

    Perhaps you just had superstitious tubers who resented their placement in 13 rows?

    (01.05.09 @ 1:05 pm)

  3. Clare

    Hi Daphne – yes, I knew that was how they were formed and that’s part of why I wondered about the continual earthing up. I know people who have grown their spuds in towers/sacks and got a lot out of them too. Good luck with your potatoes this year!

    Hi Dawn – : D

    (01.05.09 @ 1:44 pm)

  4. mlc

    Good luck with your potatoes. As Daphne said potato bins or towers, or sacks are all the rage here. I’ve tried the sack method, but only grew 5 plants. They were pretty productive. This year, I’m back to 4 rows in the garden with three different cultivars. Interestingly, although they were planted on the same date etc, the cultivar(Red Pontiac) with the reputation for being the earliest came up about a week ahead of the other. Kennebec, the keeper is just peeking out now.

    (02.05.09 @ 12:30 am)

  5. Paul

    I’ve been trying to earth up little and often too, the problem I’ve found though is that I’ve been kind of running out of loose soil between the rows meaning I’ve had to dig some out or nab some from elsewhere on the plot which is a pain and has put me off lately… Perhaps I need a new system next year lol…

    (05.05.09 @ 12:50 pm)

  6. Soilman

    I’m sure the gradual method DOES bring more/better spuds. Unfortunately I have no proof whatsoever – only my own anecdotal (and wildly subjective/unreliable) data. How about we do a controlled dual-blog trial next year, ie we both do half/half using the two earthing-up methods with the same varieties of spud??

    (05.05.09 @ 1:01 pm)

  7. Chris Adams

    Potatoes do not produce new potatoes below the level of the the seed potatoe. Earthing up increase the area that the potatoe can send out tubers to create more potatoes. So the more you earth up the greater the yield

    (12.05.09 @ 3:43 pm)

  8. Tessa at Blunders with shoots, blossoms 'n roots

    Great post! My only experience with potatoes is growing the by accident! I was making a new bed, throwing kitchen scraps on an area, and Viola! potatoes (and some onions and such)! I never planted anything in this bed, even this year. I never watered, weeded or anything else. Hubby kept asking me ‘What are these?’- I’d say ‘Don’t know, but they look like something, so leave them!’- later while weeding I dug up one by accident and what do you know- red potatoes! Best fried potatoes I’ve ever had :)

    My plan was to ‘accidentally grow them this year too- so we put our potatoes peelings here and there in the garden- we’ll see what happens!

    (19.05.09 @ 7:49 pm)

  9. SquareFootHammer

    If we remember that potatoes are from the same family as tomatoes, and we know that ‘earthing up’ tomatoes (by planting them deeply, or on the side, or just by adding more compost as they grow) creates more roots, then the same must be true for pots?

    As Chris has already stated, this must (and does) have an impact on the amount of roots (and therefore tubers) that you get from a plant. So earth up, and earth up big!

    (08.06.09 @ 12:12 pm)

  10. Violaine

    Bravo vous avez été cité dans le dernier numero de Coté Ouest !
    A bientôt sur nos blogs …

    (08.06.09 @ 2:06 pm)

  11. poustinia24

    Being a first-time grower (!) I earthed my early potatoes up to about a foot in height and then seemed to be running out of spare earth between rows to be able to continue.I made the mistake of partially covering two smaller plants with a bit of soil and they stopped growing and the underneath had rotted. If there a leaves now growing from the level of the soil and above is there any mileage in re-starting the earthing-up process or have I missed the boat so to speak ?

    (12.06.09 @ 11:46 am)

  12. allotmentblogger

    Fascinating debate! We did badly with potatoes in towers this year, but the earthed-up ones seem to be okay. Himself tends to only earth up twice in the season while I do less earthing each time but probably earth up four or five times in a season. It’s too late this year to do a comparison, as we’re already harvesting our earlies, but we’ll have a competition next year!

    (22.06.09 @ 2:12 pm)

  13. penny gibbs

    As an ex-brummie, living inBrittany I was going to tell you that you are featured in the magazine Cote ouest but Violaine has beaten me to it!. So I’ll just tell you that because of the inordinate amount of rain that falls here my potatoes[pink fir apples, purchased at Ashwood nurseries and shoved into the ground late] are enormous!

    (25.06.09 @ 3:22 pm)

  14. P S

    Hi. Not many resources around on yield comparison and i know there can be many variables. Still, wondering how did you do this year on the earthed up potatoes? For other people out there, this was my first time and my experience using 2 normal potatos (bought from a local harvest), huge bin bag, earthing up and every 2 or 3 weeks added more soil/compost mix up to leave only 6 inches of stalk. I planted somewhat late in may and dug them in august when the leaves started to die back. The bag was 90cm high and the final plants were huge with lots of foillage about a metre above the bag!! I got 5.300kgs of good looking potatoes, some very good size, and about a third good for salads! :)

    (21.08.09 @ 6:41 am)

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