Potato digging party

Hand-digging potatoes: All together now...

It’ll be hard to top THIS one for extremely labor-intensive tiny farming involving lots of peeps! Here, Libby, Lynn, Andie, and Mel hand-dig potatoes for tomorrow’s farmers’ market. The taters happen to be Gold Rush russets, and they’re in fine form, with a little wireworm damage (surface blemishes or tiny holes) to only a few. We’re right at the end of the first (of three) potato areas of this year, 600′ (183 m), evenly divided between Penta, Chieftan and Gold Rush.

So, what’s with all these people, digging together in a cluster, with just one bin? A little inefficient, pehaps? Well, not really. When there’s a lot of folks happy to mix it up with the dirt, tackling a single task all together can work out! We only needed about 70 lbs of each variety (that blue bin full). With the moist-but-not-mucky soil, pulling plants and scrabbling around was quick and easy. BIG POTATOES helped. Working close together wasn’t a problem because we had so little area to cover. Each bin got filled in maybe 15 minutes. Satisfying!

In the photo, you can also see how relatively good shape we’re in with weeds. The bit of grass growing back is in separate clumps, all the runners haven’t started to reach out and hook up. Further up is a section of more heavily overgrown onions. But that’s actually doing well as well: the onions were thoroughly weeded twice, and hoed a couple more times, so what you see is mainly grass from the last three weeks (without much shading out from the onion plants, everything else grows fast!).

Anyhow, when we tackle the main potato patch, around 2,000′ (609 m), methods will change. But we’ll still be digging in the dirt…!

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9 Responses to “Potato digging party”

  1. Jessica says:

    Usually when I read your blog, I’m sitting at a desk, in an office, under fluorescent lights (well, they’re usually off since I prefer the natural light from my window, but you get the idea), and I wish I were out there digging in the dirt, too! I have to get my growing fix on the weekends. I have a potato question though. This was our first year growing potatoes, and the plants got massive — much leafier and above ground than yours look — the they  eventually cast huge shadows on their neighbors. Are we not hilling them up enough? Are we not planting them deep enough? Forgive my ignorance on this one; just want to get it right next year. And thanks for your blog!

  2. Now THAT’S a party, no stockings, no heels, no make up…can I come??? Kim

  3. No need to excuse your weeds, Mike!  That’s a very low level of weeds given it’s the first year you’re cultivating and the crazy amount of rain we’ve had this summer.  I’m not sure if it’s the same near you but early August Ottawa was hitting seasonal records for rain.
    Combined with that and the fact that I just moved from our place last week, the garden really got away from me this year.  I had some impressive weeds trying to disguise my garden by the end!
    Chris

  4. pete anderson says:

    Hiya.
    A few years ago I decided that the corporate world was not for me. I will admit that I was able to aquire a modest nest egg so I cannot be too sritical, I suppose. But I was tired of the 9-5 routine. So. I retired at 55 (I am now, lets see) 56. It is wonderful how time fades in importance other than when do I ensure my wood supply? A little backround is in order. If I get too wordy just say goodbye.
    So my plan involved buying 40 acres of land in central Minnesota. I figured I’d need at least 40 acres, but I might settle for twenty, or even ten! Whoo boy, what an education! I ended up buying five beautiful acres near Askov, MN. I was all set to make this summer a garden summer when I got a lesson in chainsawing trees. Broken leg. Ouch. Next year, though, look out!
    I and my Dad built a 26′ X 45′ pole barn, put in a subfloor, walls, etc. It is now my home. Your photos of gardening are inspiring to say the least. Keep up the fine lifestyle. Happy Trails,
    Pete in the scary woods.

  5. Stephen says:

    Hi Mike,
    Do you mow down the plants before digging the tubers? If so, how long before harvest do you normally do that?
    We did that with half of our potato rows this year, but many of the potatoes from those rows had quite a bit of solanin spotting on them.  I think this was because the tubers didn’t have any protection from the plant foliage.  We did have them mowed down for several weeks, too.
    happy harvest.

  6. Mike (tfb) says:

    Jessica: You don’t say if you’re getting potatoes! I only know about the plants I’ve grown, which were all in this same region, they get to 2-2.5′ high. I don’t imagine size matters much on its own if the plants are healthy. It’s whether you get potatoes of a decent size! There are lots of ways to grow ‘em. I’ve tried everything from 8″ trenches, to putting them on top of newly tilled soil and walking on them to push them in (that was an odd experiment). It all works. Keeping them hilled is the important thing, building up soil around the base of the plant as they grow. At the very least, you want to keep the potatoes that have grown covered with a couple of inches of soil so they don’t get exposed to the light and turn green. Like, check after heavy rain, because soil can get washed away and expose the potatoes. If this year’s worked out OK, you can experiment with improvements from there. And search for something like “growing potatoes” on the web, there’s tons of stuff, especially photos and videos. Research is always good, and makes growing more fun. Hope that helps!

    Kim: Luckily, it usually is like a casual day-party in the dirt! Or maybe more like meeting for coffee… :)

    Chris: Yeah, I’m slooowly getting used to ACCEPTING a certain amount of weeds as a part of the organic garden. Like, it used to be all-or-nothing in my mind: I’d IMAGINE weed-free as the ideal, and kinda block out seeing the actual weeds-gone-crazy parts until I could get to ‘em. After these few years, I guess I see it all more in terms of levels, I seem to notice more what and how much instead of all or nothing. Less critical, I guess. And I do like cover over bare ground anyhow (except for freshly worked up beds about to be planted!). Maybe you know what I’m getting at… :)

    Pete: Sounds like you’re living the dream – every moment is the whole of everything!  :)

    Stephen: We generally just pull the plants and scrabble around. We never use a digging fork, it takes more time and potatoes tend to get skewered. This is as hand-harvested as it gets! I have mowed, but only when a section is really overgrown, and the plants have died out and dried up to the point where they’re hard to find in the cover (it can get that weedy!). Also, for a variety of reasons, mostly time and hard ground, we don’t do that much hilling, which of course reduces the yield.  What I do do is check for coverage as the potatoes are getting bigger, especially after rain, and make sure that there’s a minimum of soil covering them to keep them out of the light. Kinda mini spot-hilling. As you’ve noticed, once you’ve mowed, they’re really exposed, but when the plants have started died back, they don’t give useful sun protection either. Overall, I’ve found it’s the usual: timing and hilling, as best you can!

  7. Mark says:

    My girlfriend just told me she used to love digging up red potatoes in northern Pennsylvania when she was six or seven. Looks like it is a good way to get a bunch of people together for an afternoon harvest.

  8. Christopher Blunt says:

    Quite a few years back, in Michigan, I had a fairly good sized home organic garden.  For a few years I grew potatoes by simply scattering the seed potatoes on the ground and covering them with a thick layer of straw.  At harvest time the potatoes were imbedded in the straw and I just had to pick through the straw to get at them, and they were completly unblemished. 

  9. Therese says:

    Would like to know about using straw mulch. We have used it for 2 years and find it does NOT decompose quickly enough. The problem is next spring, we have to rake it our of the garden before tilling…otherwise it tangles in our tractors tiller making a mess.  Is this an expereince others have?

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