One of the core themes on One Straw is growing Real Food in Real Spaces – namely suburban yards. To that end we are focusing more and more on Yardening. And in small scale agriculture (by that I mean something between gardening and farming) the focus is often on yield per plant, or yield per sq ft due to the space constraints. Last year I tried two separate experiments with potatoes: Potato Towers and Straw Mulch Potatoes. The towers were an unmitigated failure, as they have been for virtually everyone that I know of that has tried that method. The sheet mulch potatoes blew me away. 30# of spuds from 8 plants in about 60 sq ft – with a yield over 30:1. Very, very impressive considering a 10:1 yield is considered a pretty good yield. I am very pleased to say that our household has crushed that record!
Last year I built a raised bed for our 2 children. Its 3×5 and a full foot high. To guarantee them success, I filled it with the best soil I knew of – the 10 year old farm soil at a friends place where I farm. This soil was made – 10 years ago it was a 2000 sq ft of leaves stacked 4′ thick. Chickens were run on these leaves for several years, then as the composted down, 2 hogs were run over it for several years. Then it was left fallow for 3 years to mellow. 3 years ago we shaped up the compost into a very large bed with a skid steer and I began growing there. Essentially it is the richest, deepest humus layer I have ever seen – 24+” of compost. Its insane. That soil, and the desire to recreate it at our home, is why I make 5-15 yards of compost a year.
The kids had a great garden last year, but this year my son asked if he could grow a potato. I was for it, and together we planted one Red Pontiac seed. Over the past 3-4 months, we have watched in amazement as this potato plant grew to immense proportions. It got so large that we needed to cage it to allow him to grow his kohlrabi. This plant flowered for over 5 weeks in 3 different blooms – very strange. Now I can’t say if this is typical of Red Pontiacs, as this is the first year I have grow them, or if this plant had gone rogue. But the end results were incredibly impressive:
- 26 total potatoes
- 3 spuds over 1# each
- 9 pounds, 13.5 ounces total
- Yield of 63:1 !!
The kicker is that we really didn’t do anything special with it – no crazy mulching, no special manures, no drip irrigation. It has been a mild summer, with lots of rain. This was an issue in the field so much that I lost 50% of my market crop, but the raised beds apparently loved it. the only conclusion I have so far is that RICH SOILS equate to RICH HARVEST. My yields from this field at the farm are always the best, but never like this since the potato was under our attention 7 days a week for weeding and TLC. But even then, it wasn’t babied -I think my son watered it 2 or 3 times. I hit it with some chicken manure in March as I incorporated the 3″ of straw that I mulched the bed with over the winter. It also got some lawn clippings around the tomatoes, but nothing crazy. No other inputs, but OMG the harvest!
I really like these little 3×5 beds. We have access to a salvage yard that has hundreds of these 3x12x16′ Douglas Fir boards from an old warehouse. They are full of nails and are half falling apart, but are only $18 each. With an hour pulling nails and sanding them you have a super solid bed – they are also the boards I built my Compost Bin of Dreams from. After this little feat that my son pulled off, I am tempted to try to run 1 or 2 beds for a year to see what I can do in them in a 12 month period – they also fit perfect under my Low Tunnels. Spinach->Beets -> Potatoes (with Lettuce growing until they pop up) -> Carrots sounds like a plan to me. I bet I can break 200#’s of produce in one of these in 12 months.
Who’s with me?
Be the Change!
Filed under: sustainable agriculture