Growing Potatoes In A Garden Bed Of Hay

My potato growing experiment in a garden bed with hay or straw.

Growing potatoes again. What I should say is, I’m doing another potato growing experiment. This time, basically, in a garden bed with hay (or straw). Let me explain why I’m trying to grow potatoes this way, how I’m doing it, and what I hope to accomplish.

Well, the ‘why’ and what I hope to accomplish are part of the same motivation. That is, the continuing search to find a way to grow potatoes the most efficient way possible (and, hopefully, easier).

I hope to accomplish more potato pounds per square foot (harvest) than other traditional methods. For example, if I end up with 5 pounds harvest per plant (maybe overly wishful thinking), I might harvest ~ 100 pounds in a 4×8 (18″ tall) garden bed! (Details below about how many I planted in each bed).

(I will update this post throughout the growing season.)

From a prepping and preparedness point of view, potatoes are one of the vegetables with the most calories. This makes them ideal for part of one’s ‘Survival Garden’..

I chose Kennebec potatoes as the preferred variety. I’ve grown them before. They store very well, and longer than other varieties (stored in a ‘cool’ ‘dark’ place). I’ve stored them over from October until the following April. Plus, like any other, you could choose to ‘can’ some of them too (which I intend to do with part of this years harvest).

How to Grow Potatoes in a Garden Bed with Hay

Like I said, this is an experiment. I’ll update as I go along this season. And if it fails, I’ll let you know that too..

Tall Garden Bed For The Hay

I built two 4’x8’x18″ garden beds using 2×10 PT lumber. I want them tall because we’re going to layer it with hay as the potatoes grow. The idea being that the tubers will expand and grow into the bed of hay – so we need the garden bed to be tall enough to hold a good depth of it.

Base Layer of Soil

I used the rototiller to turn over the sod where the garden beds would be placed. Pulled out the sod chunks (and rocks) and rototilled again.

After placing the garden beds (and leveling them – because otherwise it would drive me nuts), I used my handy dandy tractor to add and dump in more soil over the rototilled dirt. The objective is to get a good 4 – 6 inches of loose soil for the seed potatoes to root well.

Prepare The Seed Potatoes

About 8 weeks ago, I bought a bunch of Kennebec seed potatoes. A week ago (when I was ready to move forward with this project since the threat of frost is now behind us), I removed the seed potatoes from the bag. Those which had several good eyes with growth, I was able to slice them for additional cuts for the garden.

I waited ~ 5 days for the cut skin to scab / harden before planting. This helps protect the seed potato from disease and/or potentially rotting in the ground. With whole potatoes, just plant the entire thing. Ideally with growth pointing up.

sliced seed potatoes dried out for 5 days before planting
My Kennebec seed potatoes

How Many Potatoes in 4′ x 8′ Garden Bed

Are you ready for this? I planted 24 potatoes in each 4’x8′ garden bed. Three rows of 8. Yes, that’s a lot. But I believe it may be okay. We’ll see..

How I Planted The Potato Garden Bed

I scooped out each hole and dumped a bit of composted cow manure in the bottom of each hole. I’ve seen experiments on u-tube and this has apparently made a pretty noticeable difference for the rooting potatoes and resulting plant growth.

Add Cow Manure

I used a mixture of ‘Black Kow’ and some other brand of composted cow manure (from Home Depot). Although my neighbor is now raising cows so maybe next time I’ll just go over there with a shovel and my Gorilla Cart..

Cover The Potatoes

Next, simply cover the potatoes with soil. After that, I hosed it with some water.

Then, cover with a first layer of hay. My first hay layer was about 3 – 4 inches. I sprayed water on the hay too.

Add More Hay As Potato Shoots Grow Through

Growing potato plants in a garden bed of hay..

Here’s my plan.. When I see the new potato shoots growing through the hay, I’ll wait until they’re 3 – 6 inches above it and then cover it all over again.

The idea is that new shoots / tubers will grow out in that hay.

Important to keep the hay moist, but not soaked. I have a feeling that when the hay is fairly deep that the moisture will be more easily contained. Though glaring sun day after day may affect this. I’ll just keep an eye on it, and hope we get an average amount of rainfall.

I will update later when more progress has been made..

UPDATE: The potatoes grew through the first layer of hay and they look great so far. Looks like they’re 6 to 8 inches above the hay. I would have covered them sooner (maybe at about 4 inches), but we were away for a week.. Anyway, we added the 2nd layer of hay to cover them up. When they poke through again, yet another layer of hay will be added.