This year I planted two tubs of potatoes (Yukon Gold). I harvested them yesterday and of the eight(ish) seed potatoes, I got a little more than five pounds of edible potatoes. Unfortunately, I seem to have overwatered the tubs, because there were also a few rotten ones – that would have brought the total up by another pound or more. Not a great harvest, but not bad either, all in all.
…there’s nothing that smells quite like a rotten potato. Of course, nothing rotten smells nice, but potato rottenness lingers in the air and if even a little bit gets on your fingers or gloves or garden tools, the odour sticks around no matter how much you try to wash it off.
Anyway, this year I tried something new with the tubs. At the beginning of spring, I raked off the little bit of lawn at the front. I’m not fond of lawns – in fact, I outright dislike them – so I freely admit my lawn in not well cared for. So there was a lot of thatch, especially considering there’s not a lot of lawn. The thatch mostly consisted of dead dry grass, moss, and old maple keys.
I’m told that lawn thatch is great for flocking/lining the sides of open (wire) hanging baskets, but I don’t do those. Most of it went in the compost, but I kept some in reserve for the potato tubs. Although one plants the seed potatoes in good soil or compost, they don’t need anything special when it comes time to mound them up – all they need is something that will exclude light but let in moisture and air. Preferably it is light and loose, not only to make digging up the potatoes easy, but so the potatoes themselves can push through easily and form nicely. You can use good soil, old manure or potting medium, compost, leaf mould, even dried grass clippings. It’s better to avoid using something that you grew potatoes in before, and definitely if those potatoes were in any way diseased.
So the tubs had about six inches of good topsoil in which the potatoes went. I figured the thatch might make good mounding up (filling in) material with, so when the plants got to the top of the tubs, I filled in with the thatch, mixed in with a little bit of old reclaimed sod (kept from previous lawn-removal projects). The soil around here is pretty heavy clay, and the sod wasn’t much better. I added some composting worms in the hope that at the end of three or four months, they might turn the thatch + clay into something nicer.
Lo and behold, it worked, kinda. The top couple inches didn’t break down – that stayed as thatch, probably because with the really hot year we’ve had, it dried out too fast. It did act as a mulch for the stuff below. And that stuff definitely turned into something better than it started off as. Of course it wasn’t lovely dark topsoil, or even brilliant compost, but I think it’s worth doing again. It’s just one more example of how you can use stuff you have to improve the garden without having to go looking and buying. Nothing goes to waste in nature.
Once the potatoes were out, I refilled the tubs with the same stuff, added a bit of compost from the bin, and planted some peas. I’ve never succeeded in getting a fall crop of peas, probably because I wait too long to sow them. Maybe this year. Next year I can use that stuff for growing brassicas or perhaps lettuce.