We grew a few different kinds of potatoes this year and in different ways. Recently we harvested our red potatoes which were grown in the most interesting way. This harvest was done with just my bare hands and I didn't even get very dirty! Here is one of the plants pulled up with the tubers underneath:
These were grown in a small cinder block raised bed. The growing medium was not dirt. It was a soil-less mix of peat moss, rice hulls and other organic material. Since this medium is so loose, you can harvest these potatoes by just reaching into to mix.
It is pretty hard to show you what I mean in words or pictures, so here's a first for GardenDesk - a video!
It really is that easy. My favorite thing about harvesting in this way is that it is easy to steal away new potatoes any time while they're growing. I didn't get a video of that earlier in the year, but below is a good simulation. Ignore that the plant has died back. This technique worked the same way while the plants were growing.
I just reached in every so often and took a new potato without harming the plant.
So if this mix is so great, why isn't my whole garden like this? First of all, it is a bit expensive. More importantly, The mix dries out quickly and is really hard to keep watered while the plants are growing.
I actually found this mix last year and thought maybe it would be good to have many beds like this. Before buying too much, I conducted a side-by-side test comparing this mix with my regular raised bed of garden soil, compost and peat. I grew one tomato plant, one pepper plant and four cucumber plants in each 4 foot square bed. Here were the results - this first picture is early in the season:
At harvest time, it looked like this:
My normal soil is on the left, the soil-less mix is on the right. Both sides yielded about the same amount of produce, but the new mix dried out too much. I think you can tell that the cucumber vines in the back were a bit smaller. So last year I was a bit disappointed with the new mix.
This year I began dismantling the cinder blocks but ended up keeping the new mix side of the bed. I planted the potatoes on a whim and now this mix has new value to me. I think I will reserve it for root crops from now on. Maybe I will move it into the greenhouse.
These reds are oh so delicious! For only 4 feet of growing, I can't complain with the amount we got, and harvesting as shown in the video is so easy. Forget the pitch fork! What fun.