Are you looking for a simple way to grow potatoes in raised beds? Learning how to grow potatoes in straw makes planting, growing, and harvesting potatoes simple. All you need are seed potatoes, a bale of straw, and a raised bed to dedicate to growing potatoes for the next few months.
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I’ve grown potatoes in grow bags and in raised beds, but both methods had challenges. The potatoes grown in bags grew well but the grow bags dried out quickly. On the other hand, harvesting all of the potatoes grown in raised beds proved next to impossible, and I was pulling potato sprouts out of that bed for the following year.
Growing potatoes in straw proved effortless and productive. Use these eight steps to plant, grow, and harvest potatoes in straw.
8 Steps for Successfully Growing Potatoes in Straw
1. Plant at the best time for your climate
Typically, in cold winter climates, plant potatoes after the last frost date when the soil is at least 50°F. Planting when the ground is too cold may cause the potatoes to rot. Harvest potatoes before the first fall frost.
2. Gather supplies for growing potatoes in straw
You’ll need a straw bale (hay has seeds, avoid it if you can). I purchased one from a local farm supply store and brought the straw bale home in the back of my minivan.
Next, you’ll need seed potatoes. Look for certified disease-free seed potatoes from online retailers or garden centers for the best results.
- In short-season areas (such as the low desert of Arizona), plant “early” and “mid-season” determinate varieties of potatoes.
Determinate varieties are faster-growing potatoes that produce one smaller harvest quicker (60-90 days) than indeterminate varieties. Varieties to try are Yukon Gold, Purple Viking, and All Red.
- If you have a longer growing season, choose indeterminate (“late season”) varieties of potatoes.
Indeterminate potatoes grow a larger crop with multiple layers along the stem and take between 110 and 135 days to produce. Late-season potatoes continue to set new potatoes along the stem until they are harvested, or until frost kills them off. Indeterminate varieties to try are Russian Blue, Canela Russet, and Ramona.
3. Prepare the seed potatoes before planting
Sprouted seed potatoes have a better chance of growing rather than rotting in the soil. If your seed potatoes haven’t sprouted yet, try following these steps:
- Place the potatoes in a warm (75℉ / 24°C) dark location for 2-3 days.
- Next, put the seed potatoes where the temperature is between 60-70℉ (15.5-21°C) and where they will be exposed to light (a process called “chitting”).
- Once potatoes have sprouted, cut them into pieces if potatoes are larger than an egg. Ensure each cut piece has 2-3 eyes.
4. Prepare the soil
Choose a location that gets at least 6 hours of sunlight. It is important to rotate where you plant potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants each season. All are members of the nightshade family (Solanaceae).
Potatoes grow best with soil that has adequate calcium, potassium, and phosphorus, and a slightly acidic pH of 5.0 to 6.0.
Excess nitrogen in the soil leads to green growth above ground and can delay the tuber growth below ground. Check your soil with a soil test and amend your soil if necessary.
5. Plant the potatoes
- Plant one sprouting seed potato every 10”-12” (25-30cm). If you are using square foot gardening, plant one potato per square.
- Nestle the potato in the soil, no need to bury it.
- Cover the entire raised bed with a thick layer (about 6” (15cm)) of straw.
- If you use watering grids, put the watering grids on top of the straw. If you don’t use watering grids, you may want to lay sticks on top of the straw to hold it in place.
6. Care for the growing potatoes
Green sprouts should grow through the straw within a couple of weeks. Cover them with another thick layer of straw when the leafy growth is 6”-12” (15-30cm) high.
If you are using watering grids, carefully pull back the grid (trying not to break the growing foliage). Add the straw and then put the grids back on top of the straw. (The grids have the added benefit of holding the straw in place.)
Water the potatoes deeply through the straw. Aim to keep the straw and the soil below evenly moist. I usually water about once a week.
The potato sprouts should appear soon through the second layer of straw. Allow the foliage to grow.
7. Let the sprouts die back before harvesting
As harvest time approaches, the plants will begin dying back. Once this happens, turn off the water to the potatoes.
At this point, it’s a good idea to check on the size and progress of the potatoes. Dig down and harvest one. If the skin rubs off easily, it won’t store as long. Leave them in the ground for an additional two weeks following the dieback of the plants.
The extra time in the ground allows the skin to dry out and toughen up, making the potatoes less prone to bruising and better suited for storage.
If you don’t want to wait, you can also harvest potatoes at any point of development as “new potatoes”. New potatoes do not store as long, but the higher moisture content, thin skins, and lower starch mean they are delicious!
For determinate potatoes, check 60-90 days after planting. For indeterminate varieties, check 100-120 days after planting.
8. Harvest and store the potatoes grown in straw correctly
Harvesting straw-grown potatoes is simple:
- Cut back foliage.
- Pull off the top layer of straw (add to other garden areas or chicken coop).
- Sift through the lower straw and the top layer of soil. Most potatoes will be in the straw, on the soil’s surface, or just under the soil.
- Brush loose soil off the potatoes; don’t wash them.
After harvesting the potatoes:
- Don’t leave them in the sun too long. Light exposure turns the skins green and can burn the potatoes, and creates soft areas that will rot.
- Potatoes store best in cool (not cold), dark conditions with high humidity.
I don’t have a root cellar, so I brought the potato harvest inside. Right now, they are stored in a black garbage sack (to help trap some humidity) in my coolest closet. I’ll check on them regularly and use them over the next few weeks and hopefully months.
Because we have two short growing seasons here in the low desert of Arizona, I separated my potatoes into larger ones for eating and kept the smaller ones to use for seed potatoes in the fall.
The trick will be to keep the seed potatoes cool enough to discourage sprouting over the summer. Fingers crossed that it works because finding seed potatoes in September has proven tricky.