Growing potatoes in raised beds is by far our most successful potato growing method to date, requiring minimal effort for exceptional yields. Each 4 x 8 foot raised bed produced 50 to 60 pounds of potatoes, without fertilizer, irrigation, or weeding.
We’ve been growing potatoes (or trying to) for the past decade on in our wet clay soil. We’ve tried conventional growing methods, heavily amended garden plots, growing in hay bales, planting in trash cans, and just about every other potato growing method you can imagine.
Though we have harvested potatoes, the yields were pretty unimpressive until we tried growing potatoes in raised beds.
This year, we put in 24 raised beds, each 2 feet deep to ensure deep soils and good drainage. Our native soil is heavy clay, and only about 8 to 12 inches deep before you hit hardpan.
Crops tend to rot in the ground in wet years, and there’s never enough soil depth for long-season crops to establish well.
While a dozen of the beds are in our fenced garden, there just wasn’t space for all we wanted to plant. The other half of the beds are scattered around the house and have no protection from deer.
Strawberries, lettuce, and other tender crops were planted in the fenced region, but deer mostly ignore garlic, onions, and potatoes.
That means we’ll be able to grow plenty of potatoes in the unfenced beds around the house without having to worry about deer, but it also meant we didn’t have a dedicated garden hose for our potato beds.
This past year was a record dry year for Vermont, and we didn’t get rain for 60 days straight mid-summer. (Usually, we get a steady inch a week…)
Still, our potatoes produced well without any irrigation.
We planted four beds total, each 4 x 8 feet in size, and harvested 240 pounds of potatoes. That’s a yield of 50 to 60 pounds per bed, without irrigation, fertilizer, or weeding all summer. Planted and then forgotten, and with very little rain.
I can’t wait for a “good” garden year with steady rain!
(To be fair, Vermont is exceptionally humid and our native soil stays quite wet even in dry years. I imagine some amount of water was wicked up from the ground, and I don’t recommend trying to grow potatoes in a drought without irrigation in most places.)
Planting Potatoes in Raised Beds
We filled out beds with 2 parts screened topsoil, one part compost, and one part peat moss to help lighten otherwise heavy soil. Potatoes also like soil that’s mildly acidic, so a bit of peat moss helps both lighten heavy soils and adjust pH. It also helps retain moisture, which no doubt helped us with this dry summer.
I dug two trenches down the bed, each about 10-12 inches deep.
We happened to have 4 pounds each of 4 seed potato varieties (for a total of 16 pounds). I planted one variety in each bed, and I’ll be honest, that was overkill.
Four pounds of potatoes barely squeaked into each bed, with 7 to 8 plants per row and two rows.
We didn’t cut the potatoes at all before planting.
I’d imagine you could plant around 3 pounds of whole potatoes comfortably, or 1.5 to 2 pounds of potatoes properly cut before planting. That’d give the plants more space, and likely yield around the same amount.
I dug each potato down slightly further, meaning they were planted at around 12 inches deep.
After planting, I covered each potato with 4 to 6 inches of soil. Once the first sprouts were about 6 inches tall, I pushed over the rest of the soil to completely level out the bed.
Pushing over that soil after they’d sprouted was the last time I tended these potato beds in any way. That tiny bit of “hilling” took them from an original depth of about 6 inches to 12 inches deep, and helped to support the growing potato plants.
They grew quite tall in the end, but I didn’t hill them any further.
As it turned out, 2020 was a crazy year and there wasn’t much time for tending potatoes. We were never able to get an irrigation setup for these beds, since they were so far from our fenced garden.
The potatoes were on their own…and they did just fine.
Harvesting Potatoes from Raised Beds
The actual harvesting was a bit easier in some ways, and I didn’t have to stoop to pull the potatoes out of the soil.
The problem is, it’s hard get a potato fork into soil without stepping it in. I actually had to crawl up onto the bed and stand on the side rail to get my foot in position to step the potato fork deep into the soil.
These seed potatoes were about a foot deep you remember, and most of the harvestable potatoes were 6-12 inches deep.
Since we planted 100 days to maturity storage potatoes, these were harvested in the fall after the plants had died back. The potatoes were very large, some as big as 10 inches long and 6 inches wide.
Absolute monsters, perfect for long term storage.
(I did plant a few rows of new potatoes in other beds, and harvested those early just as the plants were flowering. They did equally well, and produced spectacular fingerlings.)
We cured these potatoes and then stored them in our basement in stackable bins with easy front access. They’re down there alongside our storage apples, in a homemade apple storage rack, and countless other roots, tubers, cabbages, and ferments.
In total, we harvested 240 lbs of storage potatoes from 4 raised beds, and perhaps 30 pounds of fingerlings as young new potatoes during the summer months.
If properly cured and stored, potatoes will easily keep 6-8 months (assuming you get the right storage variety).
If you’re curious about potato storage conditions, this article covers the basics.
Overall, I’m really happy we’ve found a productive deer resistant crop for our unfenced garden beds. We’ve since put in more, and are hoping to do a rotational system with other deer-resistant crops.
At this point, those 4 original beds are busy growing garlic through the winter months. Other unfenced beds will be planted with ginger in the spring, which we’re able to grow outdoors as an annual even with our short growing season.
With a few floating row covers, I’m hoping to mix salad greens and hardy greens like kale into the rotation. We only have limited fenced garden space, but over the next few years, we have plans to put in around 20 beds scattered around the house without fencing.
Row covers, and grow tunnels will hopefully function as “mini fencing” and allow us to grow tender greens that the deer won’t steal. We’ll see…
Looking for more gardening tutorials?
- How to Grow Green Beans
- How to Grow Garlic
- How to Grow Peas
- How to Grow Chives
- Planting Asparagus
- Transplanting Strawberries
Which varieties did you plant? I’m partial to the taste of Green Mountains, and found that they did better in the grainsacks vs. in-ground trenches. So the raised bed approach is on my list for this year.
This year I planted the “classic keeper’s mix” from Fedco seeds and it included:
In the past I’ve grown Green Mountains and Yukon Gold and a number of other varieties, but this year (2020) everything sold out quick except for this particular storage mixed pack. Luckily what I wanted was the keepers anyway, so it worked out!
Ashley, can you give us some storage varieties? Also, how do you keep the mice out of your stored vegetables and apples? One year I had to throw out all my apples because the mice ran all over them. ) :
I look forward to your reply. Thank you! ( :
You know…I get that question a lot. Believe it or not, we don’t really have problems with mice in our basement. It’s a solid concrete foundation with solid walls on all sides that don’t leak or have really any access holes. Occasionally we’ll have a mouse in the kitchen, but I keep traps behind the stove and in all the nooks and crannies, so they don’t last long.
We do, for whatever reason, have plenty of mice in our detached garage though! No food out there, but we can’t seem to keep them out. Go figure…
Oh, forgot to tell you what varieties!
This year I planted the “classic keeper’s mix” from Fedco seeds and it included:
I too grow vegetables in 4ftx10ft x2ft raised beds. In a climate so different from yours. I live in Zone 2B. in Prairie Canada. We get very little moisture so have to water regularly. One thing I do is top up the beds every year with compost and new topsoil.
I also have to look for Colorado potato beetles and it is very important to rotate your crops for 3 years too.
I really like your site and will check it out regularly.
A ll the very best.
We have a bit of trouble with potato beetles this year too. I put my 5-year-old on patrol with a bucket of soapy water and she went to work every day on her beetle scavenger hunt. The beds mean they’re right at the perfect height for my kids, so they did a great job of keeping them beetle-free.
We have grown potatoes both in & outside of raised beds. However our HUGE problem is voles. We lose a substantial number of potatoes to these vermin who can reach them both from above ground & under ground. We have used repellents with some success but not enough to make it worthwhile to grow potatoes anymore. Any suggestions?? We love our own homegrown potatoes!
I have not personally dealt with voles but I was able to find this article that may help. Just scroll down the page to the question “what’s digging tunnels in our yard?” https://www.oregonlive.com/hg/2018/02/how_to_fight_tunneling_voles_t.html
In North Florida, we grew taters under leaves in a trench. This will not work in clay but may work for some of you. Plant the tater eyes at the bottom of the trench and fill the trench with bagged leaves saved from autumn. Composted sawdust also works well but will not give you the cook’s dream of a clean white tater. Keep adding mulch as the plants grow. We used a variety identified at the feed-and-seed as a Hastings chip potato but 90% of the nation’s chip crop is grown in Hastings, FL. They bore a striking resemblance to a Yukon Gold but they were a white variety.
When you harvest, look out in case a critter is hiding in the mulch. I’ve only found one, but it was a huge snapping turtle!
Oh my, that was quite a surprise I bet. Thanks for sharing that tip with us.
Where did you find the crates that you use to transport your harvest in? They seem to be of the ideal size and handy for harvesting.
I’m not sure where these specific crate came from but you can definitely find similar ones on Amazon.
Hi Ashley, Love your blog, especially as I live in Vermont (Champlain Islands, but I also have thin, clay soil). I have a question about backfilling the growing sprouts: as they grow, how do you cover them with soil and avoid snapping off the growing sprout? I’ve never grown potatoes before – always been a flower grower, but you can’t eat too many flowers!
It’s really very easy and the potato sprouts are pretty hardy. You just want to gently push the soil up around the base of the plant leaving the top leaves exposed. You can use a rake, a hoe or even just your hands.
Got it, thanks! I thought I had to cover them up, so I was afraid the soil would break them. Duh. – Did I tell you that I have only mostly grown flowers and shrubs? 🙂
No worries. We all have to learn somehow. I’m sure you could teach some of us a few things about growing flowers.
I’m a potato inspector from Canada…. One trick to beat the potato beetle situation is to plant late and break the potato beetle cycle. While most of my conventional growers plant the second week of May.. I have an organic producer who can’t use chemicals and plants his at the end of June into early July and as a result has very little bug pressure. The difference in yields are minimal.
That’s great! Thank you so much for sharing.
Curious as to when a harvest would be if planting at the end of June or into July? …..October?
It will depend on the variety. You just need to look at the specific variety to see how many days to maturity and then count from the time of planting to find out the general harvest time.
Ashly,Impressive results! What kind of wood do you use for the beds and do you have any problems with mice getting into your produce in the basement?
There are several different options to use for wood in your raised beds. Cedar, cypress, and black locust are great because they are very resistant to rot and decay. Pine isn’t as resistant to rot and decay but it more affordable and available. You can also consider hardwoods such as oak or redwood however the availability is more limited and the price will be much higher.
No experience in this; however, it would seem if you could design your raised bed so the one long side could be lifted out, then the harvest would be much easier. You could just rake them out with a hoe-fork.
I plant in a country setting with lots of wild life. I do not fence my garden. When plants start producing I just go around
and sprinkle cut up purple (sometimes called Sweet) onions and sometimes some cut up garlic under my plants. Varments can’t recognize the food and so leave every thing alone. i do this once a week.
Wow, that’s good to know! We have deer in our yard daily, so I’ll try it!
I want to plant my potatoes in the fall in raised beds in Colorado at about 9300 feet. Any suggestions on how to keep them warm enough not to freeze? Alternatively, can you tell me how to save my fall crop so that I can use it to plant in the spring? Buying seed potatoes is crazy expensive. Thanks!
Depending on the variety you should be able to store them until spring. A root cellar situation is best but if you don’t have access to that, you can store them in the coolest, darkest part of your house.