Saturday, April 1, 2017

Farming: Potato Grand Plan

OK, so I'm making a battle plan for planting the potatoes. I write up this sort of thing because I can't get at the farm right now and I want to do something!

  • Cut the seed potatoes if they need cutting. Do this the night before, to allow the cut edges to dry.
  • Buy 36 feet of 4 foot wide weed barrier.
  • Buy enough insect netting to cover 36 feet by roughly 8 feet.
  • Buy three bags of...uh...whatever the brand name of my preferred compost is.
  • Make sure I have a box of my preferred brand of dry organic fertilizer.
I pause here to note that this infrastructure will quite likely cost more than the resulting potatoes will be worth.  

This is alleviated by the fact that the weed barrier can, judging from my past weed barrier experiments, probably be reused for five years or more. (The warranty should tell me how long I can use it, but the warranty requires me to cover it with mulch, and, no.) I'm hoping that leaving it out to freeze will kill any disease that might pass from year to year; if research tells me that it won't, I have other uses for the weed barrier, though that does hamper this as an ongoing technique.

I don't yet know how long the insect barrier can be reused, but I also don't know if I'll need it or not in future years, so it might be a one-time experimental expense. It's not really insect barrier in this application, but cat barrier.

Anyway, this time I just want to see if I can create a "patient garden" method for growing potatoes without having all that loose soil to weed. Later, I'll focus more on making it a cost-effective method.

OK, moving on. Keep in mind that all the extra work is intended to prevent weeds once, rather than fight them all year.
  • Lift one side of the existing weed barrier on a continuous strip of six beds. Fold the barrier to one side of the bed, exposing the planting soil.
  • Ground-staple one side of the four-foot weed barrier to the other side of the beds, and one side of the insect netting over that. Fold that back so that the bed is still exposed.
  • Yank any stray weeds in the six beds.
  • Sprinkle fertilizer over the beds. One source says that since I grew beans in those beds last year, I should go lightish on the fertilizer.
  • Spread the compost over the beds.
  • Broadfork two beds.
  • Attack the two beds with a hand fork to mix in the fertilizer and compost a little better, especially in the center.
  • Dig a trench down the center of the two beds, 8 inches wide by 8 inches deep by 12 feet long, dumping the dirt to the two sides of the beds.
  • Place the potatoes in the bottom of the trench at a 9 inch spacing.
  • Cover the potatoes to a depth of four inches.
  • Collapse. If the collapse involves staggering home and groaning on the couch, put the weed barrier back over the bed to keep the cats from using it as a litter box, and pull it back again when returning.
  • Repeat the whole process from "broadfork" for the next two beds.
  • Repeat the collapse.
  • Repeat both again. Separating the work into two-bed sprints reduces the odds that I'll collapse prematurely and fail to plant anything. 
  • Yay! All six beds will be planted. 
  • Pull the four-foot weed barrier to its edge of the trench, and lightly staple it down here and there. It will be lumpy over the dumped dirt from the still-empty four inches of the trench.
  • Do the same for the existing six-foot barrier on the other side. This will have so much excess that I may need to formally fold it and staple down the fold in a few places.
  • Pull the insect netting over the whole thing and staple it down on the other side.
  • Done!
  • Collapse for a very long time, with extensive use of ibuprofen.
A few weeks later, when the potato plants are above the trench, hill up:
  • Fold all that insect barrier and weed barrier back again.
  • Yank any weeds from the tench that are too big to bury when I fill it in.
  • Fill in the trench and, if the potatoes are tall enough, hill up above it, leaving the little potato tops looking half-drowned.
  • If research suggests that it's a good idea, scratch in a little more fertilizer.
  • Pull the weed barrier up to the edge of the potato stems and lightly staple it down. This is the reason for the extra weed barrier width--it has to cover the hilled-up soil.
  • Cover with insect barrier again.
At this point, in theory, almost all of the soil is covered with weed barrier, and the potatoes are growing away underneath.

A few weeks later, try to find a chance to do a second hilling. This may involve stealing soil from another bed.

Then just wait. It occurs to me that when it's time to harvest the potatoes, I can follow the traditional advice of leaving them to dry on the ground for a few hours, because I can once again pull the insect netting over them.

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