Which mulch for potatoes, pine straw or hay?

anney(Georgia 8)January 19, 2008

Still planning various parts of my garden, and this question's about my potato patch.

I have easy and cheap access to pine straw here in Georgia and hay at a slightly higher cost, not much.

I'm thinking of putting a 3' tall chickenwire "frame" inside one of my 8x4 raised beds (maybe make one of the long sides removable to get to new potatoes) and fill the whole area with pine straw or hay as the plants grow. I lean toward hay because I believe it breaks down more quickly in the soil, but I also lean toward pine straw because it's cheaper.

Any thoughts about which would be better?

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I heard straw works really well

    Bookmark   January 19, 2008 at 4:25PM
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All of them work. Pine straw offers the less competitive plant ( weed) problem. Hay the most depending on the type of hay. Small grain straw will give wheat,rye, or barley plants.

    Bookmark   January 19, 2008 at 7:33PM
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susandonb(NC 7)

Why would you mulch taters when you have to keep hilling them up as the plants get bigger? Do we mean after the last hilling. We gre taters for the first time last year and we hilled them three times?

Susan in NC

    Bookmark   January 20, 2008 at 9:28AM
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anney(Georgia 8)


You don't have to hill them with soil. You can hill them with anything, like compost, straw, even black plastic that covers the potatoes that develop above the soil, anything that keeps the sun from them. The potatoes are separate from the true roots.

The roots grow down into the soil, and potatoes develop above-ground from "stolons" that grow from the lower stem. That's why the plants must be hilled with dirt or compost. You're covering the potatoes developing above-ground.

There are several ways that potatoes are grown: You can grow potatoes in the ground, in stacks of straw or mulch, in black plastic bags, in garbage cans or to stacks of tires. Potatoes can be a fun and easy crop to grow.

Field growing: This is the conventional way most potatoes are grown. Generally, the seed potatoes are planted about 12 inches apart in rows that are spaced 2 to 3 feet apart. The seed pieces' are planted about 1 inch deep, then covered with additional soil as the sprouts develop.

Straw: For centuries, Scandinavians have grown potatoes in stacks of straw or other mulching material. Potatoes are planted above ground in the straw, and as the vines begin to grow, additional straw` or mulch is mounded up around the base of the plants. This results in a yield of very clean potatoes. New potatoes can be harvested easily even before the potato vines mature completely.

Under plastic or in plastic garbage bags: Garden soil or a commercial potting soil can be used to grow the potatoes in the bags, Fold over the top half of the bag, fill with soil, and plant a certified seed potato that has been cut in half. The plastic bag can be set above ground wherever it's convenient. Punch holes in the bottom of the bag for drainage.

You also can plant potatoes under black plastic. Cut open a piece of the black plastic, and plant a potato piece. The potato tubers will develop as they would in the open ground. However, the tubers that develop close to the surface of the soil are shaded by the black plastic and should not develop the green inedible portions that often are found on other tubers. The black plastic also will aid in controlling weeds.

Garbage cans or containers: Old garbage cans, or wooden or fiberboard-type containers are suitable for growing potatoes, if they have adequate drainage. You can conserve space by growing them in this manner. A word of caution, though: The plants tend to dry out more rapidly when grown in containers, so additional watering will be needed. Otherwise, you're likely to end up with misshapen tubers.

Potatoes can be grown in tires. There are two different methods of growing potatoes in tires. One way is to stack three or four tires, fill them with soil and plant two to three seed pieces about 1 or 2 inches deep in the top tire. The black of the tire absorbs and radiates heat, and there usually is a heavy yield.

Another method is to put a tire on the ground, fill it with soil and plant the potatoes within the tire. Plant two seed potatoes, whole or halved, about 2 inches deep. Once the potatoes have developed 3 or 4 inches of foliage growth, a second tire can be put on top of the first, Fill in with more soil, always leaving at least 2 inches of leaf growth above the soil level. Continue to fill as the plants grow. Once you've filled in the center of the second tire, continue the stack to a height of three or four tires. Keep in mind you must always leave about 2 inches of foliage showing.

Last year, we grew potatoes in eight stacks of tires, using eight different potato varieties. Each tire stack averaged 11 pounds of potatoes: Some readers have reported yields of up to 38 pounds per stack. Others have reported poor results, averaging as few as one or two potatoes per stack. Over-watering or the use of too much high nitrogen fertilizer could be the reason for poor yields.

The reason you can grow potatoes successfully in this manner is that potatoes develop on stems above the roots. Of course, it's for this reason that mounding or mulching potatoes is recommended so highly.

Some of the potatoes that we grew in tire stacks were not harvested until January of this year. So the tire stacks also provided an ideal place to store them throughout fall and winter.

    Bookmark   January 20, 2008 at 10:52AM
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gardenlen(s/e qld aust)

g'day anney,

first up for me what is pine straw? where is it derived from?

i use the green type mulch hay's and sugar cane mulch as they add nutrients as they decompose.

ordinary straw say from wheat or barley whatever doesn't do that but it takes longer to break down, over here another reason not to use it is it is very expensive and hard to get (drought). we don't use cages just build up the mulch over and around the spuds to a height of about 20"s.

yes susan, there are more way than one of doing many things and growing spuds is just one of them, we have pic's on our page of how we do ours.


Here is a link that might be useful: len's garden page

    Bookmark   January 20, 2008 at 1:51PM
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anney(Georgia 8)


Pine straw is pine needles that have fallen from the trees and have dried, and there are millions of pine trees in the state where I live. They make very aesthetically-pleasing mulches for flower beds and landscape borders.

I forgot to say that I'll line my "potato cages" with vertical carboard strips before putting in the mulch to cover the potatoes. We have lots of field mice in the summer, and since they nest in all kinds of places, I'm hoping the cardboard barrier will keep some of them out of the mulch. I once delved into a half-empty bag of growing soil on the deck and came up with a handful of baby mice, blind, pink, and wiggly! Startled the dickens out of me!

    Bookmark   January 20, 2008 at 2:11PM
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Belgianpup(Wa/Zone 7b)

Just a passing thought on using grain straw. Many people dislike using it because it always has some seed left in it, and if you don't keep it deep enough, they sprout.

When I first started using grain straw, I did have some sprouts. The next year, I asked if I could open a couple of bales of straw in my neighbor's chicken yard. They loved it, manured it a bit, and spent many hours digging through it to find the leftover seeds. Then I gathered it up and mulched my garden. I think I had three oat sprouts, total.

If you've got chickens, put 'em to work!


    Bookmark   January 20, 2008 at 4:12PM
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shot(8 - GA)

anney, thanks for the info on the potatoes. Just what I was looking for as I plan to plant potatoes on or about Valentines Day. Made a 4'x 8'x 12" bed and filled it with good rich soil from where I use to feed the cows. Will plant the potatoes then use pine straw after they emerge. Have lots of pine straw readily available. Have never tried this method before so will be a new experience.

When we dig potatoes, my wife washes them with a hose with a pressure nozzle that removes most of the skin. She boils them until done then adds some corn starch, salt & pepper. All you need is some buttermilk biscuits and iced tea.....

    Bookmark   February 3, 2008 at 8:41AM
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gardenlen(s/e qld aust)

thanks anney,

i had missed your post 'til now.

over here anything from pine trees tends to make the soil/medium more acid in ph, so your pine trees don't alter the soil to more acid?

not sure that cardboard will keep the field mice out they may nibble through it?


    Bookmark   February 3, 2008 at 1:32PM
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anney(Georgia 8)


The soil in this state is acid anyway, usually below a pH of 6.0, and potatoes prefer soil a little on the acid side -- this site says a pH of 5.8-6.5. Corn has thrived in the area for years where I'll put the potatoes, so I assume the soil is more alkaline from the addition of lime over the years.

I think it will be fine.

    Bookmark   February 3, 2008 at 1:50PM
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Pine straw takes long time to bio-degrade to be usefull mulch.They are slightly acidic too.

    Bookmark   February 3, 2008 at 6:03PM
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sandygator(8b N. Fl)

I too am planning on putting potaoes in for the first time ever...actually, it's mt first real garden at all. *grin*
I truly know nothing except remember my Dad saying they had to be in the ground no later than Valentine's day. I have pure sand soil (drainage will NOT be a problem)and have 2 specific questions...maybe 3. I remember about pulling dirt onto the plants every couple of weeks. But do I start them in a hill or on a flat bed? And should I mix in fertilizer as I do my initial tilling? I am starting a compost pile, but as yet have only a bit of hay and a cup of coffee grounds. What type of fertilizer? (I knew it would be more than 2 questions)
I want to have a beautiful productive garden like my Dad did, I wish he was still here to teach me everything his Dad taught him. I am willing to work hard!
Thank you so much in advance for your advice.

    Bookmark   February 5, 2008 at 11:28AM
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