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…
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