We’ll get to my four year old bed in a minute. My potatoes are beginning to grow in their “barrels” – hoops would be more appropriate. They are three 1/3 plastic barrels cut from a leaky 50 gallon water barrel and two of those tubs with the rope handles used for toys and such from the big box store with its bottoms cut out of them.
The First step was to place the potato seeds into the barrels with a little potting soil and a lot of grass clippings – easy to accomplish in the spring. The potato seeds began pushing the grass clippings up and off themselves reaching for the sun within a few weeks.
The second step to this potato production hack is to begin to fill the barrels up to 4″ below the level of the top leaves with alternating layers of soil and grass clippings. We know where to get the grass clippings, but the soil was a bit of an issue initially. I could cut into the swamp and dig out mucky soil, damaging tree roots and such, or I could plant a half row of potatoes and use the other half for the soil. This worked out extremely well! (The third step in this process is to repeat step two until it’s time to harvest.)
By the season’s end the soil gets spread back out and (if I can schedule it in) a cover crop holds it until the frost, when the ground up leaves and the last of the lawn clippings top it off for the winter. It’s not like the soil gets “used up” in this process, just transferred. The holes where the soil is currently missing is filled in with fresh compost and grass clippings (note: the bear has a sweet tooth and dumps my composter regularly, so I’m now separating fruits and burying them in a fallow bed while the rest goes in the voids under the yard waste. It may take a little longer for the material to compost, but by season’s end it’s pretty well broken down. (see https://vimeo.com/52725424 for a similar way to compost)
So – this four year old bed? It’s a hugelkultur bed I’d started as many years ago. I buried a lot of rotting logs as well as new falls from the ice storm we’d had with a minimum amount of soil. Over the years we found that squash liked it and many other plants did not initially. This year was it’s turn to be the potato bed. The thornless raspberries and weeds had quickly grew over the bed this spring, but when it came to weeding – it was like pulling a rope out of moist sphagnum moss. The soil was so soft and gave so easily even dense root systems lifted out and a light shaking freed most of the remaining soil. Some of the harder wood is still under the soil, but most of it has become a rich chocolaty loam. This bed and the lasagna bed that had most of the clippings and other compost layered onto it are quick to weed and easy to plant.
The question remains though, what to do if the potatoes grow wildly beyond the confines of the barrels? Share your ideas in the comments below!