Earlier this year, I wrote about my potato setup and the idea that using bins should result in higher yields in less space. While the plants themselves flourished, I’ve been less than impressed with the output, yet again. All told, we brought in a total of 20 pounds of potatoes, from seven different bins. I was hoping for a minimum of 25 pounds as a worst-case scenario, so being short that 5 pounds is a little disheartening. (It’s better than the 10 or so we got last year – that was awful.)
So what went wrong? As I emptied out the bins, I noticed a few things:
Dry soil. Even though I worked on the soil over the previous winter, and added more compost in the hilling up process, there still wasn’t enough organic matter in the soil to hold a lot of moisture. The plants clearly used up the nutrients on making foliage, instead of focusing the energy underground.
Lack of roots on the vines. Typically, when we ”hill up” or bury the potato vines, roots will form at each node. The potato plant then grows additional tubers on these roots, which is how hilling increases yield. Even though my bins were more than 2 feet deep, I wasn’t seeing a lot of roots on the stems – in some cases, none were present on the stems at all.
Cedar roots. The bins were located on the far side of my garden, in between a couple of mature cedar trees. As I dug out the potatoes, there were fine tree roots in among the potatoes. I don’t know if it’s just a matter of the trees taking nutrients and moisture, or if cedar has properties that would have inhibited the growth of the potatoes as well.
Lack of insects, worms and/or bugs in general. With the exception of one pocket of pillbugs, I was surprised that there were hardly any worms or other soil-dwellers in the bins. This leads me back to the lack of moisture/organic matter observations.
Because I was already wondering about the cedar trees, when I found some sprouting grocery store potatoes in my possession, I decided to plant them in a 5-gallon pot. Situated on the other side of my garden, I used the same soil/compost mix for planting, but they got a little more sunlight and definitely more water. The result: Almost 2 pounds of potatoes, in less space and time. They’re on the small side, but if I’d have left them in the pot longer, they would have continued growing. I dug them a little early, because I wanted to compare the yield against the bins.
I’m still sifting through the information, but I think I’ll give the bins one more try next year – just in a different location altogether, and definitely with more compost and water. If next year doesn’t yield better results, then it’s game over for the bins and we’ll go back to growing them in the ground and hilling them up like we used to.
All told, while I didn’t get the piles of potatoes that I was hoping for, I did get enough to store for the winter. We’ll probably end up buying some at the store when the holiday dinners roll around, but what we have will work for the two of us. I did, however, gain more information and insight into what the potato bins need, in order to be successful next year.