How to Grow Potatoes in Straw (No DIGGING!)

, written by Benedict Vanheems gb flag

Growing no-dig potatoes in straw

Love your potatoes but not so keen on the digging part? Growing them in straw is very straightforward to do, your plants will be just as healthy, and it makes harvesting so much easier.

Straw does away with much of the digging associated with traditional methods of potato growing. Planting is simple, while harvesting requires less effort. It does a fantastic job of suppressing weeds, helps keep the ground cooler in hot weather, and will eventually break down to contribute to soil structure and fertility.

Prep Your Soil for Potatoes

Normally potatoes plants are ‘hilled’, when the soil is drawn up against the stem in order to create more space for the tubers to grow. This also reduces the risk of them making their way to the surface and turning green in the light. But straw can give exactly the same results with less of the work.

You’ll still need to prepare the ground first. Remove any weeds and, if you haven’t already done so, consider adding some well-rotted organic matter, such as garden compost, to the soil. Break up any large clods to leave a more even surface and rake it level.

Potatoes are hungry plants, so it’s hard to over feed them. For this reason, I also scatter over some chicken manure pellets or an organic potato fertilizer just before planting time.

“Chitting
'Chit', or sprout, your potatoes to give them a head start

Chit Your Seed Potatoes

Use purpose-sold seed potatoes, which are guaranteed to be free of any disease issues, giving you a clean start at least! After a cool winter you’ll get better results if you sprout, or chit, your potatoes before planting. Just support them so the majority of the eyes – these dimples here – face up, then leave them in a bright, frost-free place to sprout for anywhere up to six weeks ahead of planting. You want the sprouted parts to be up to an inch long. This primes them to grow, earning you a head start.

I prefer to plant my seed potatoes whole but there’s no harm in cutting each seed potato in two, so long as each piece has at least one eye, though preferably more. Allow the cut to heal over and dry for a couple of days before planting.

“Planting
Nestle your potatoes into the soil before topping with straw

Planting Potatoes the No-Till Way

And planting couldn’t be simpler. Just push the potatoes into your prepared ground at their usual spacings – about one and a half foot apart each way for maincrop potatoes, and a little less than that for early varieties. Simply nuzzle them into the soil so they’re supported and don’t topple over, and that’s it.

All positioned. It’s now time to cover them with the straw, breaking and fluffing it apart as you go. Aim for a depth of around two to three inches, that’s 5-8cm. Stop the straw from blowing away by laying sticks, canes or a temporary mesh over the top. Once the straw’s laid, give it a water to dampen it. The straw should help to keep soil moisture relatively consistent.

“Watering
Water the straw to settle in into place

If you’re unsure where to source straw bales, they’re often listed on websites like Gumtree or Craigslist, or just try asking around. I got my straw – which I recycled from an earlier project – through a call out on social media. You can use hay in place of straw if it’s easier to find. Check that your straw or hay is organic or at least cut from pasture that wasn’t recently treated with herbicides. All sorts of horror stories abound of crops becoming severely damaged or even killed as a result of herbicide residues. You have been warned!

Your potatoes need very little ongoing care. Pull back the straw occasionally to check the soil moisture and water if its dry. Water through the straw, aiming to keep the straw itself consistently moist too. It’s important to make sure that the potatoes are always well covered so no light gets in.

Once the foliage reaches about six inches or 15cm above the straw or hay add another layer deep enough to leave just the tips poking through. They’ll soon put on masses of leafy growth to cover the entire area.

“Harvesting
Potatoes grown in straw are easy to dig up

Harvesting Potatoes in Straw

Start harvesting the smallest, or ‘new’ potatoes, as the plants come into flower. Then lift potatoes as needed. When the foliage starts to die back it’s time to dig up the rest of the crop. Plants may come away from the ground easily if you grip them firmly at the base of the foliage and pull straight up. Otherwise use a fork to carefully encourage them out.

The straw that’s left behind will have already begun breaking down to nourish the soil. Leave it where it is, rake it up to redeploy as mulch elsewhere, or retire it to the compost heap.

I can’t wait to tuck into the first of my potatoes – a prized treat if ever there was one! Growing them in straw worked beautifully last year I have to say, but I’d love to know how you get on with this method too, so don’t be shy in sharing your experiences below.

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Comments

 
"I just did this today. It's my first time planting potatoes, so fingerlings crossed ;-)"
Jenna on Sunday 25 April 2021
"Hi Jenna. Keeping fingers and fingerlings crossed for you - I'm sure you'll do just fine! :-)"
Ben Vanheems on Sunday 25 April 2021
"I've always grown my potatoes in straw beds with success. Until two years ago. Some little critters easily buried in the straw and took bites out of 75% of the potatoes. Moles? Chipmunks? I don't know. Doesn't matter. Last year I planted just 5# in the soil and didn't have any problems. Now I'm hesitant, because I'd really rather use the straw method..."
Carol on Friday 30 April 2021
"Hi Carol. It seems there's a bit of pot luck. I was lucky last year and had no problems, but I'm aware small creatures, including mice, can be an issue some years. "
Ben Vanheems on Tuesday 4 May 2021
"Nothing was mentioned about seeds in straw. Having to pull new growth in the potatoe beds to remove the wheat or oats growing."
Mike on Friday 11 June 2021
"Hi Mike. Sorry to hear this. You can get the occasional sprout, but usually it doesn't amount to much at all. It sounds like the straw you have got has a lot of seed heads in it."
Ben Vanheems on Saturday 12 June 2021
"just dug first potatoes because I needed to get a weed outa there -- but no potatoes in the straw, only in the dirt. Then I wondered if I need to put drip line on top of straw rather than on top of soil and covered by straw? "
gen on Saturday 7 August 2021
"Hi Gen. If the straw is quite dry then, yes, it may be best to put your drip line so that it also wets the straw. This way the roots and tubers will be more inclined to grow into it. "
Ben Vanheems on Sunday 22 August 2021
"I like to do a bit of both. When claiming new ground I put out newspapers over non-rhizomatous grass then spuds and bulk grass clippings then straw. When growing in an established garden bed I have found I get too many slugs that enjoy making holes in the spuds so need to bury the spuds in a bit of soil first then use straw over that. I always get side tracked with other tasks and forget to add more straw but they do ok anyway! Ones in straw are always lovely and clean:) I just might need to add a reminder in my planner!! "
Alison on Saturday 11 September 2021
"Hi Alison. It sounds like you've a good balance there. The potatoes in straw do come out nice and clean don't they. :-)"
Ben Vanheems on Monday 13 September 2021

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