Squirrel's Garden

Blogging the highs and lows of my attempts at allotment gardening

Location: Sherwood Forest, United Kingdom

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Potatoes Under Straw

This year I grew several varieties of potato in order to decide what performed well in my sandy soil and which suited our palate best. (I only had 5 tubers of some varieties just to try them)

I decided to grow my potatoes under straw which was very daring of me as I was very cynical about placing them on top of the soil instead of planting them in the ground. These needed to be planted later than usual as the soil needed to be somewhat warmer than for planting. I was even more cynical when everyone around me were regularly earthing up their spuds and mine had failed to even show. By April all my 1st and 2nd earlies were lying in their straw beds fast asleep as all my neighbours tutted and shook their heads feeling sorry for me whilst theirs basked in the April sunshine showing a promise of being ready for the table in another month or two.

I chickened out and planted most of my maincrops in the traditional manner, only risking a couple of rows under straw.

Once they did spring into life it was hard work getting enough straw to keep covering them, rather like earthing them up with straw. The floods made straw hard to get hold of and later made getting enough grass cuttings difficult. However I found many neighbours were only to glad to drop their bags of mowings on my drive rather than take a run to the tip.
One row was eventually capped either side with black weed suppressant membrane with the grass only being put on the top ridge.

There were to be some surprises for me in this venture. Firstly my straw crop were less affected by the torrential rains of this summer, they did not succumb to blight so easily, they were less bothered by slugs, or other pests that mine/ and my neighbours, ground planted potatoes suffered with. Also because the straw gives a much more even night/day temperature and moisture control there were no growth cracks such as that suffered by many traditionally planted spuds.

This was a real joy. I peeled back the straw to find a wonderful nest of clean potatoes waiting to be picked off the top of the ground. No digging, no backache, clean potatoes, very few weeds, loose friable soil and lots of stuff for the compost afterwards.
The pictures at the end of this post shows the potatoes in their various stages of growth. I will certainly plant this way again.

Here is our personal decision about flavour.
Potato Tasting

International Kidney Nice but nothing special
Did not perform well under straw
British Queen Performed very well under straw, many tubers to each plant. However many tubers mis-shapen
OK boiled but nothing special perhaps still too young as they are an early main crop
I lifted more of this variety at the end of June. This time they were much more mature, nice white potato, which made very nice mash.

Swift Very nice boiled and tossed in butter.
Also lovely cold or cold sliced and butter fried
Fair performance under straw

Mayan Gold Very golden with a buttery taste,
First picking picked as new potatoes
Roasted in skins – Delicious
Grown in buckets, lots of small tubers

Rocket Extremely nice flavour, Kept shape boiled
Like a nostalgia trip.
Performed very well under straw

Maris Peer Performed very well under straw lots of large well formed tubers.
Very nice flavour. Lovely tasting chips but would not crisp.

Kestrel Excellent jacket potatoes, nice flavoured creamy white flesh.
Lovely chips, crisp outside and fluffy inside
Lovely mash, kept shape in boiling giving white creamy mash.
Seems to be a good all purpose
Performed very well under straw lots of large tubers to each plant.

Charlotte Performed very well under straw lots of large tubers to each plant.
Waxy, pleasant tasting potato when boiled. Nothing outstanding.
Winstone Performed well under straw, but seemed more susceptible to slugs. Tubers varied in size from salad sized to very large baking size. Splitting occurred on some of the larger potatoes
Excellent mashed potato also lovely jacket potato

Orla Performed well under straw. Good sized potatoes. Some slug damage but slugs are prevalent due to wet weather.

An excellent blight resistant potato with a superb flavour. Nostalgic
It boils well and holds its shape lovely new potato hot or cold.

Nicola Fantastic performance under straw. Approx 20 tubers per plant of good sized well formed, ovoid tubers. The yield is at least 56Lbs from just 5Lbs of seeds.
Excellent as a boiled potato.

Markies Low yield under straw but they did go in late.. Little sign of the damage suffered by others in the bed that I have lifted so far.
Nice new boiled potato taste despite it being mid September

Cara. Grown in the ground but the 1st row was small and full of wireworm. 2nd two rows much better. Some large tubers but there are many very small ones too.
Not too impressed with flavour but have been told by a potato grower that this variety needs to mature in storage for the flavour to develop

Sarpo Axona. Grown in traditional way, very strong growth with no blight problems despite those surrounding the row succumbing and still flowing mid-October. Large tubers with some sand scab and slug damage.
Firm dry flesh that proved to be an excellent potato for chipping also boiled well and made nice creamy mashed potatoes.

Sarpo Mira. Produced very well under straw with good sized tubers that were smooth skinned. Grew well into October by which time there was a little slug damage but not as much as for those grown in the ground.
Excellent baking potato, nice dry potato for roasting too.


Blogger Melanie Rimmer said...

This is fascinating. Thanks so much for this. I'd love to try it, but I guess I'd have to pay for the straw. That would be the drawback.

2:20 pm  
Blogger lilymarlene said...

Thanks for posting all those details about your results. Very useful info.
I grew Nicola this year, in the soil, and we were very pleased with them.
My maincrop were Desiree, and we dig them up as we want them. I'm not into unnecessary jobs, and they'll be perfectly happy underground until we need them.

9:48 pm  
Blogger Matron said...

How wonderful to hear about this growing method. I have read about it but it is so good to hear about it first hand from someone who has actually done it. I had imagined that they might be a bit green if the light was not excluded under the straw.

7:28 pm  
Blogger sheila said...

Thanks for the comments and I am so glad it is of interest to others.

12:44 am  
Anonymous biskit said...

Congrats on cracking blogsite. Spud comments top drawer. Very useful taste judgements. Planning a straw system myself, now I know it's not as daft as the old boys' on my allotment site make out. Mayan Gold gen particularly pleasing as got some on the way for next year. All the best.

6:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Shelia, Can you tell how you covered the potatoes when you planted them.I have just planted some on top of the ground and I just scattered the straw over them. I was wonder if the sun would penetrate the straw.
Thanks Sean

8:28 pm  
Blogger sheila said...

Hi Anonymous

I scattered around 4 inches of straw over the potatoes, adding more as they grew as if I was earhting them up with straw. Once the danger of frost was over I allowed the leaves to stay in the light but tucked more straw around and under the leaves.
The final depth of straw reached around 10 inches.
The first year I covered the straw with grass clippings to exclude the light, however it was hard work begging sufficient clippings to do the job. In subsequent years I haven't bothered and have had no problems with green potatoes.

8:48 am  

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