Potato growing has got to be one of the vegetable gardener’s favourite pursuits. Digging for potatoes, however, is less popular, especially among those of us with bad backs. In fact, I gave up growing them altogether at one point, purely because I wanted to stand upright for the rest of the year.
Enter the Cardboard Box method! This allows you to still grow potatoes, but without the deadly work of digging them out of the ground. Additionally, its a lot of fun and a great way to use your old packing boxes.
Advantages of the no-dig method:
There's no fork damage! No longer will you spear the most golden, wholesome potato through the heart while digging it out of its soily home.
- It is a good way to clear weeds on the ground.
- As the potatoes grow, you don’t have to keep earthing them up - just add more mulch
- If you've had potato eelworm, cardboard + no-dig will protect your crop (somewhat)
- It'll probably make the best-looking potatoes you've ever grown. Not scabby potatoes and with a smooth and clean outside.
- Those tiny, and sometimes large, volunteer potatoes that get left in the ground to sprout next year totally disappear.
- Over-enthusiasm used to mean I'd eat a meal with potatoes just bigger than peas. Now you can simply check the potatoes by lifting up some mulch, then putting it right back where you found it. No wasting a whole plant.
- The mulch breaks down to add organic matter to the soil.
Step 1: Select Your Potatoes
The best potatoes are just starting to sprout, and have small green shoots. A potato will get softer and a little squashy, this is how you know it is using its energy to grown shoots. Pick these to plant. YOu can a
Step 2: Find and Clear a Spot in Your Garden
Pick somewhere with plenty of morning sun. An advantage of cardboard box potatoes is that you don't have to dig! Just clear an area in the garden about a foot wide.
Step 3: "Plant" Your Potatoes
With your hand or gardening tool, dig a very shallow hole, around an inch deep, for your potato to rest in. Here it is around half a finger deep. Making sure you position the sprouts up, rest your potato in the hole. Push some dirt around the sides to keep it snug, and wish it good luck. Water it plenty at this step, as it will stay moist under the mulch for a long time.
Step 4: Select Your Cardboard
The ideal cardboard is a used packing box. These have no ink, printing or staples. Open the box so it can be folded around the potato, to make its home. The purpose of this cardboard is to hold all the mulch in place as the potato grows in its lifetime. The real advantage of cardboard potato farming becomes clear when you lift off the cardboard box at the end of the growing cycle, and there are the potatoes! No difficult digging required.
Step 5: Set Up Your Cardboard Farm
Wrap the cardboard around the potato. Giving it equal room on each side. Fold the box so that is makes a triangle, with two sides overlapping. This ensures it will hold together and keep all the mulch in place as the plant grows.
Step 6: Pin Down the Cardboard
Place some old bricks or a similarly heavy object that won't get blown away by wind or rain, on the lapels of the cardboard box. Put an object on each side of the cardboard enclosure, to pin it down to the ground. this helps to seal in the moisture and keep the temperature more stable.
Step 7: Complete Your Cardboard Box Farm - Add Mulch!
The ideal mulch is dry grass clippings or straw, but whatever dry plant matter you have on hand works. Place about 6 inches of mulch over the potato. This simulates being buried underground. Give it some water and your potato farm is now fully up and running!
Step 8: Water Periodically, and Add More Mulch.
As the shoots start to peek through, top it up with some more much. This encourages the potato plant to grow a longer vine which gives more potential for potatoes to shoot. Once the mulch base is around 10-12 inches thick, let the potato plant grow all the way out.
A disadvantage of the no dig cardboard box method is that the potatoes tend to try out quickly. So remember to keep watering the plants periodically to keep the mulch moist.
Step 9: You Now Have a Cardboard Box Potato Farm!
Harvest when ready, which is usually around 20 weeks from "planting". Here’s where the cardboard box method is really useful, as you can check the crop without breaking a plant. Just pull back the mulch a bit. If the potatoes are aren't very big, replace the covering carefully and let them grow for a week or two longer. You could even pick some potatoes from a plant and leave the others to continue growing.
When your potatoes are ready to harvest, just remove the bricks and cardboard and shuffle through the mulch to pick up your hard earned, fresh potatoes.