Saturday, May 14, 2011

Planting Potatoes the "Grow Biointensive" Way: Part 1

As I mentioned in previous posts, I am trying new method of growing potatoes this year. Over the winter months, I did my research on the garden philosophy of “Grow Biointensive.” The spacing for potato is 9-inches centers by 9-inches deep while double digging. No hilling is required. The rows are planted in an offset, or hexagonal spacing. The closer spacing helps maximize space and reduce water loss.

The potato section of the in-ground garden was layered with compost, tilled, and leveled off. A row was dug about 12 inches deep and the soil placed into a wheelbarrow.

A digging fork is used to loosen the soil in the trench to a depth of another 12 inches, which helps allow oxygen into the soil and permits the roots to penetrate easier.

I tried using a digging fork, but then opted to use our Mantis tiller. Held in place, it easily aerated the soil down another 12-inches. I double-checked with a digging fork to be sure.

Once the soil was aerated, fertilizer and compost were added and worked into the loosened soil.

The soil was really fluffed up by the Mantis, so I used a bulb planter to be sure the potatoes were planted 9-inches below the soil level. I used a 9-inch stick to check myself along the way.

Then the seed potatoes were spaced out 9-inch centers using the stick as a guide.

The center location of each row was marked along the edges with sticks so the next row could be measured out. The soil from the next row was used to cover the first. I tried to offset plant the rows, but found once they were covered, I had to guess the location.

Once the bed was planted, we added the reserved soil from the wheelbarrow, leveled it off, and laid soaker hoses:

The bed was then mulched with straw to help conserve moisture and keep the weeds down:

I didn’t follow the “Grow Biointensive” method exactly (double digging is HARD). I also didn’t use a digging board, which is recommended to help distribute your weight so you don’t compact the soil. We have one more potato bed to plant and I am thinking of modifying the method a bit further.


  1. Plant a few for me, OK? I have no room left for potatoes, while I'm overwhelmed with cabbages and broccoli! I didn't plan the new garden layout well, must do better next year. You are going to have a fantastic potato harvest. Nine inches is the optimum depth, according to our local farmers. Anything more actually decreases yields, so I pooh-pooh those who build their potato towers.

  2. Double digging IS hard. We had to break ground this year and since our soil is pretty much all clay, it was like trying to bust up rocks. After about a month of air rain and sun it loosened up but Hubby said "No more double digging" and went and rented a Mantis for the day. We really liked the good job that it did. Not sure we'll buy one as I'm thinking of moving more towards the "lasagna method" of gardening, but we'll see.

  3. That is the method I'm using this year. I had a bamboo pole that I marked with the row spacing and the offset spacing. So I just had to remember if I was on the green marks or the orange. It worked pretty well.

  4. Sounds like an awesome method to try out!

  5. Good luck with them! I'm still doing mine it pots this year. It worked okay last year. Not perfect, but okay.

  6. I have never heard of this method before. I use the straw mulching method with no hilling. It will be interesting to see how it works out for you.

  7. Granny: No room for potatoes? They do take up a lot of room. I am considering digging another bed for next year to work into the crop rotation. I hope this method works for me. I will be anxious until I see a sprout above ground.

    Tami: Luckily the garden was here when we purchase the property, and the soil has been amended through the years. I double dug the whole thing when we first purchased the property, but that was many years ago and I am just not that strong any more. We bought a Mantis cultivator three years ago and I don't regret it one bit. It is so easy to use and lightweight that even I can use it. We till the in-ground vegetable gardens once a year.

    Daphne: Laura also used a board with the spacing marked. I wish I had remembered this before. Ugh! Hopefully, I wasn't too far off.

    Meemsnyc: I think what I like the most is that there is no hilling with this method. The initial planting is the same amount of labor as the trenching method I used last year.

  8. Ribbit: I had a few seed potatoes left over that will be planted in pots. I've never grown them this way. It will be fun to experiment.

    Robin: I had not heard of this method either until I read Laura's success at The Modern Victory Garden. She used this method last year with great success. It was still a lot of work though.

  9. great post! i've never grown potatoes before because i couldn't part with the garden space they demanded. but, i inherited some French fingerlings and Yukon Golds this year, so i'm going to have to give it a whirl.

    Organic Gardening's last issue had a great story on the pros and cons of how to grow potatoes. after reading your post, i'm leaning towards your method. thanks!

  10. with my clay soil and not enough room for more raised beds I am using the grow bag method this year...I'll let you know how it goes

  11. I agree with Donna, that Maine soil makes me jealous. Nothing but good old Georgia red clay in my yard.

  12. Very cool! I've abandoned my planting method despite keeping it up on my blog due to it's popularity. If I plant potatoes again, it will be something like you do. I love how intensive you planted. I do wonder how well they'll come up with 9 inches of soil to bust through. I can't wait for the updates this year! Part of me wants to plant potatoes again for the variety of it.

  13. The potato patch looks great and good thinking using the Mantis to reduce your work. Double digging is indeed hard work..but the beds are so improved afterwards that you benefit for years to come. My patch planted about a month ago has potato vegetation popping up all over the plants are off to the races!

  14. Allison (a tastful garden): I read the “Raising Potatoes” article in Organic Gardening as well. Last year I used the hilled rows method on p43 and had great results. However, I didn’t like the messy look and wasted space. The rows were about 2-3 feet wide to accommodate mounds of soil in between that was used for hilling as the potatoes grew. This way there is no hilling and no wasted space.

    Donna: We have very heavy clay soil in this area as well. Luckily, my garden bed has been amended very well over the years. I did find some sandy soil beneath the garden while I was double digging. From what I have read on other blogs, grow bags seem to produce really well as long as they don’t dry out and rodents don’t get into the bag and have a party.

    Kris: I do consider myself very lucky. The gentleman who originally built my home gardened to provide most of his food. The in-ground gardens have been amended through the years and seem to produce very well. However, they are infested with weed seeds. The only way I can grow anything without having to weed every day is with using solar mulch.

    Sinfonian: I too am worried about the 9-inches of soil that the potatoes need to grow through to reach the surface. I guess we will have to wait and see :)

    Laura (Kitsap FG): Thank you so much for sharing your experience with this method. I think I am going to be a bit anxious until I see the plants break the soil surface. I hope they grow.

  15. Hope you have a wonderful potato harvest in your future! It's fun to try different ways of doing things.

  16. Sue: I am keeping my fingers crossed that the potatoes grow and do well.

  17. thanks all for the tater talk! grafixmuse, if you're willing, will you give us an update? (we're in the nc foothills)