Friday, June 7, 2013

Hilling Up

This is my first year growing potatoes - a real impulse experiment.  When I was at the garden center buying bulbs and seeds in early spring, I snagged a seed potato at the checkout counter.

I asked Potato Queen for planting advice (who better, right?).  She recommended slicing up the potato a few days before planting and letting it cure for a few days.  She also said she's too impatient to do that, and her potatoes come out fine.  So, with good intentions of doing the right thing ... I didn't.  My potato had about a day to sit, cut up, before I had to plant the pieces.

Five tater pieces, two eyes per, went in the ground between the lettuce seeds and the onion sets (also something new this year), near the parsley.  If potatoes, onions, and parsley are good together on a plate, they must be good together in the ground, right?  And the lettuce was there, too, because it was the only bit of garden I'd gotten prepped, pea patch excluded.

I waited.  Taters sprouted - hooray!  Then they grew - hooray!  Then it was May and they were getting tall. 

I'd heard of something called "hilling up" that I'd have to do.  When I saw my brother-in-law-from-a-root-crop-farming-family mid-May, I asked when the hilling needed to start.  "Oh, when they're about ten inches tall or so."  Oops.  Mine were already at a foot.  Time to get hilling.

One thing I hadn't considered about this hilling thing:  I would need dirt.  OK, I knew I would need it, I just hadn't planned where to get it.  Or quite how much I would need.

I started digging around my ugly compost bins.  They are in an area that used to be veggie garden until it got too shady, so I figured there would still be some good dirt around.  There was, but not nearly enough.  So I turned to the pretty compost bins, full of lovely black gold.  Would straight compost be too much tor the taters?  Well, I was out of dirt for blending, so on it went, straight from the bin.

Look at those hills!  The next question was:  how far to bury them?  Semi-expert opinion said leave about six inches showing.  OK, more compost.  Just one problem:  the plant farthest in the back is taller than the others.  I made his hill slightly taller, but couldn't go high enough without all the dirt sliding down onto the neighboring onions.

I did the best I could, but it seems potatoes need a lot more horizontal space than I'd planned.  I tried transplanting the lettuce that had been growing to the left of the potatoes, but none of it survived. The parsley (last year's, and starting to flower) also had to go.

Turns out the plants loved the compost, and grew like mad.  Now whether they're producing any spuds underneath, I have no idea.  But by the first of June they needed hilling again.  More compost.  I emptied one bin and started scraping up spillage from the patio.  Oh, and did I mention it was 95 degrees on the first day of June?  I hope these taters appreciate the labor of love.

I scrounged some patio pavers and a cement block and built a wall between the potatoes and the onions.  It was the only way I could get the hills high enough.  The plant in back is still the tallest by far.

Now I wait.


  1. Those hills look fabulous! I'd love to grow my own potatoes. I use straight compost for my plants all the time. They love it! :o) When I'm craving a creamy homegrown spud, I'm coming to your house.

    1. Thanks! The plants are certainly loving the compost - I just hope they're making taters, too.

  2. I hope you get a lot of taters. You are really doing a lot to get the dirt.

  3. Have you got any blossoms yet? I have a few, but my few exploratory reaches into the ground haven't revealed any spuds. You're doing much better on your hilling than me; thanks to our various medical issues around here, we didn't get to it till the plants were at least 18 inches tall! But once you've done it once, I don't think you have to do it anymore. The goal is to just make sure the taters growing on your root system are completely covered so that they're not exposed to the sun and get green and poisonous. (I also use my compost, but I've read you can use straw, too, which would certainly be lighter work.)