Planting Potatoes- The No Dig Way

I got my potatoes planted today. Yay, the first thing in my 2010 garden! I decided to try a different planting method this year. If you remember, last year I tried two other planting methods: traditional mounding and deep hole planting. Neither worked well. Our red clay soil made it hard for the little potatoes to grow, so the mounding method did not work well at all. And the holes simply filled with water upon the first rain we got, and all of the seed potatoes rotted. I was not impressed with either method.

So, this time I’m trying a “no dig” planting style. It’s super easy! I’m *really* hoping it works!!!

Here’s how you do it…

potatoes planted on newspaper

Lay out a row of newspaper. Make it 3-4 layers thick. (Pick a non-windy day to do this, life will be so much easier, trust me!) This will act as a weed barrier.

If your potatoes are large, you can cut them so that there is an “eye” on each piece. Halve them, or quarter them; the smaller you cut them, the smaller the potatoes you harvest will be. If the potato is pretty small, you can leave it whole. I cut mine in half. Put the cut side down on the newspaper. Space them about a foot apart.

potatoes planted in straw

Next, cover the potatoes with about 12″ of straw or leaves. Make sure that they are covered well- if the sunlight reaches the potatoes they will be ruined.

Once the plants come up through the straw, you’re supposed to add another 12″ of straw or leaves. Continue doing this until the plants turn yellow and die back. Then the potatoes are ready to harvest! Simply pull the straw back and pick up your rewards.

Sounds easy enough, right? I’m so hoping this method works!

But my question is…

Does the soil underneath the newspaper have to be good? Cause, it’s not. I’m hoping it doesn’t matter. Do potato plants send roots into the soil, or do they just grow the little potatoes and the plant grows up? If you know, please fill me in!!

Kendra
About Kendra 1123 Articles
A city girl learning to homestead on an acre of land in the country. Wife and homeschooling mother of four. Enjoying life, and everything that has to do with self sufficient living.

25 Comments

  1. Kendra
    I lived in Az. The soil was lousy so I planted in raised beds. I live inAk now so I have part raised beds & a section of in ground planting.I have raised potatoes in totes, tires & in ground . I let them grow 3-4 ” tall then cover them with soil& leave about one inch showing.when they grow tall again I cover them again. I do this three times . You will get taters at each level. My ground here is not great so I have a load of planting mix brought in to amend the soil.i have done the straw planting also it worked great for my clay soil in Az. Got a bad bale & it was hard to keep weeds controlled but taters grew fine. Haven’t planted on just newspaper but I believe i would just wet the paper good & would toss on some dirt & and lay the taters on this. As an experiment I would do a row without the dirt. Cover with paper, dirt, straw or whatever. Just remember to keep it damp. Natha

  2. Kendra,

    I have never had luck with potatoes, ever. We have clay soil, too. This year I saw a different method on Pinterest. Take some wire fencing of some kind (I had some about 3 feet tall), form it into a circle. Using straw (sparingly) close to the outside and dirt on the inside, layer your potato seeds close to the outside of the circle. The straw is only to keep the dirt from running out the wire mesh. The potato plants will sprout, growing out the wire. I believe it is called a potato tower. You should check it out! Mine looks fabulous, and I plan to make more next year!

    • Michelle,

      Thanks for the tip! I actually tried planting potatoes in trashcans one year, which is a little like what you’re talking about. I didn’t have much luck, though. The best harvest I’ve had so far has been in traditional mounded rows, with lots of compost worked into the soil. I hope you have a great harvest!!

  3. Hi! I’m thinking about trying this method of planting potatoes this year. How did it work for you? What did you find about the soil? I’m wondering if I can lay the newspaper down in thick layers on top of grass and plant….w/o even having bare or plowed soil beneath. Do you think it would work?

    • Canningmama,

      It didn’t work well for me, but then again I didn’t use the best potatoes (discarded ones from market), and I didn’t put a weed barrier down, so it overgrew with weeds. I have heard others say that they just lay several layers of newspaper over grass and it works fine. I’m trying the traditional row method this year, and I also have several trashcans with potatoes planted in them as well. Still trying to find the best method for me!

  4. The straw shouldn’t blow away, I have used the Ruth Stout, No Work Garden method of gardening for years, it consists of using at least a foot of straw or hay as a mulch. The straw/hay strands work their way into each other like a tight lattice, oh you might have a couple of pieces of the straw/hay blowing around, but not as much as you would imagine.

    One thing that might happen, there are often seed heads from the straw/hay intact in the bale, once you lay it out and water it, in a few days to a week, the seeds will sprout, you’ll see them, just stick your hand in the straw/hay and give it a bit of a wiggle, that breaks up the tiny roots of the stray/hay and it kills it, you might have to do it a couple of times, but once they have all sprouted and you wiggled them to kill them, they shouldn’t grow any more.

    You can also “fertilize” the straw/hay mounds to get nutrients to your growing spud plants, just mix up a light mixture of liquid fertilizer and spray or pour it on your mounds, you can make up your own fertilizer or you can use a commercial one, just make sure you dilute it well with water, make it weaker than the instructions call for.

  5. Along with the usual row/hill method I have always used. This year I am going to take 4 old skids and stand them on their sides. Fill 6 inches of compost and soil, plant potatoes and keep adding compost and straw/leaves. Then when they are done, I am hoping i will be able to removed the skid from one side and a pile of potatoes will fall out. We shall see.

  6. Hi Kendra,

    I asked tonight and I was lucky enough to ask the “head” extension office guy in the state of WV…he said, “roots need to grow and pick up nutrients…where will they be getting their nutrients from?” He said the seed will only have so much nutrition for the plant, but then the plant will need further nutrition. He felt this would probably not work. I really wish I knew what kind of soil your example was. I’m almost guessing the roots will grow into the composting paper and then along the clay.

    Last year, we mixed our clay with a bunch of peat and manure. That broke it up a little. Every year we’ll continue to add organics. Eventually, it will get better. But, it is going to take years!

    Hubby also said make sure those potatoes are completely covered! If light hits them, that is when they turn green and then they are poisonous.

    Good luck! I hope everything turns out with them.

  7. I would like to try this, but I wonder if my chickens would scratch up the straw and unbury the potatoes? Do you have to wait until all danger of frost is past? I think our last frost date is mid-April.

  8. I’ll definitely be interested in knowing if this method works, also.

    We have very heavy clay here in WV. I would worry about the roots, too. The white potato is actually a modified stem not a root. So I don’t know if roots would make it down through the clay once it hit it. Which also makes me wonder if this method would work better with a sweet potato, which is a modified root. I’m going to ask the people at my Master Gardener class what they think tonight.

  9. Kendra,
    I tried to sent this comment earlier with now success, so hope this time it goes…

    We do not grow potatoes because my husband cannot eat them. We have enough potatoes that grow up in the compost pile to meet my needs and that from scraps the chickens will not eat.

    My dad used to dust his potatoes when he planted them with some sort of grey dust. Not sure if it was an innoculant or rooting compound, but you might be able to find some information at your local Agway or other supply store. My dad was a great gardener and always had huge, disease free crops, but he’s home with the Lord since 1995, so guess I’ll have to wait to ask him that one. I often wish he were still here.

    Where did you find this planting method? My potatoes grow out of the compost which it probably the same idea.

    Hope you have good success.

    Mrs. D

    I’m a little envious that you can plant already! Improve your soil with LOTS of composted manure and garden scrap compost. In a couple of years it will be awesome! We visit the local dairy farm on a yearly basis and load up manure from the corners of their manure bin after they have done spreading in the spring. The machinery they use to scoop up the manure doesn’t reach into those corners and so the manure there has been sitting for quite some time. It is great for the garden. Last year we brought in 4 truck loads all hand shoveled, so it was weed free and had great success in our sandy acidic soil. We hope to bring in a few more truckloads this year. Every year we will need to add more though, it never ends. Soon we will have rich dark soil and the more I talk about it the more excited I get.

  10. I stumbled on to your blog and then went back and read it all from the beginning. I then had my wife read it all because I like it so much. With that out of the way I have one question about the hay… How do you keep the wind from blowing it away??

  11. My garden still has 3 inches of snow on top of it. 🙂 I still have almost 2 months to wait until it will be safe (no frost overnight) to start my planting! You are lucky to live in a place with such a long growing season!

  12. I viewed a video by Homestead Blessings, The West Ladies, with my dear friend Delinda the other day. They were showing this method and I am planning to try it too. I am really excited about my garden this year.
    I am also using some old tires to make raised beds for my radishes, carrots, lettuce, and other small patches of vegetables. I am putting them back behind my garden area so they will not look tacky. Raised beds are great if your soil is bad, but they are costly to build. Just think, recycling with the newspaper and the tires. Hee Hee

    • Cathy- my husband actually finished building the rest of my raised beds today. I’m hoping my garden will be much better this year. The clay soil is horrible to plant in! Raised beds ought to do better. We had lots of scrap wood laying around, so it didn’t cost a dime. Next we have to fill the beds. I’ll do a post soon on how I’m doing that cheaply too!

  13. I have always heard that you should keep at least 2 good eyes per piece if you cut large seed potatoes. And you should let them sit for a couple of days so the cut can dry since potatoes suffer from many diseases.

    Also, you probably should have dug in some of your goat/pig/chicken manure under the newspaper.

    Potatoes grow from the seed tuber upward so if you keep mounding on top as they grow, then you will get more tubers in the mound.

    I plan to plant my taters in a barrel this year and keep adding soil or sawdust to the barrel for every 6-8″ of plant growth. We’ll see how they turn out.

    • Jason- I’ve heard that you should let them sit for a few days after cutting, too. But my mother-in-law was talking to a couple of old time farmer friends of hers, and they both said that they do not wait. So, I’m taking their advice. We’ll see. Good luck with yours! I was considering trying some in a trash can or tires… same idea, just to see what works best. I’ve heard good things about doing that.

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