This year I decided to try something different with my potatoes. Mostly because I have about three yards of composted leaves that I need to do something with. With potatoes what you have them planted in is as important as what kind of nutrients that you have for them. The method that I am trying is called the Stout method, named after the old-time popular organic gardener Ruth Stout. Perform the Stout method on great soil and expect great yields of delicious potatoes. But try the technique on old worn out and unimproved ground and get ready to learn some patience and gain some humility. Potatoes are heavy feeders and they will respond dramatically to good fertility and tilth. Your yield will suffer to the extent that the soil you plant in lacks proper fertility and water. The one thing about potatoes that I have found over the years is that if you fertilize heavy with a manure based compost you will get scabs on the potatoes. The scabs don’t cause any problems but they make peeling potatoes a pain. Stout’s deep mulching technique will help you build wonderful soil fertility plus conserve water. In the meantime, working some organic fertilizer (fish meal works great) into the soil while you are building the organic matter and fertility will pay big dividends with any method of growing potatoes.
To start the garden bed off this year to prepare for the potatoes I added a 3 inch layer of leaves across the top of the garden plot and then tilled it into the soil. This part of the garden has only been planted once with corn last year, before that it was just a grassy spot on the side of the fence. It is lacking a lot in organics inside the soil. Even after tilling the leaves in I could tell that it was still a heavy river clay section. It will take several years of adding leaves and mint compost before it is up to where I would like to see it. But with the leaves it still adds a lot to the soil. Using the stout method you put the potato start on top of the and add a 2-3 inch layer of mulch on top of it. This keeps moisture in and adds nutrients to the soil as the potato grows. I changed the method a little bit. My tiller made some nice furrows in the soil so I put the potato in the bottom and added 3 inches of leaf mulch on top of them. As they grow and develop I will continue to add more mulch to them.
Updates: 3 inches of mulch was not enough. Many of the potatoes had brown areas inside them after harvesting. This tends to be a sign that the potatoes had got to hot during the growing season. They were extremely easy to dig up though. None of them were very large either. Normally I get a few up to a pound in size. All of them were a quarter or smaller in size. I think next year I will plant them in the dirt and just add a thick layer of mulch on top. In addition a side fertilizer of some kind that will add potassium to the soil will help with the small size.