Potatoes have become one of my favorite things to grow in wood chips.
Growing potatoes the traditional way is labor intensive, you have to dig trenches, and then hill the potatoes a couple of times as they grow. You end up moving a lot of dirt.
With wood chips you move the chips aside to dirt level. I usually make a small depression in the dirt so the potato has good contact. Place you seed potato in the hole, cover with chips and your done! I use standard spacing of 8 to 12 inches apart.
The beauty of wood chips is that they form a lightly locked mat that lifts as the potatoes grow. You never have to hill. Another benefit of wood chips is if you want to sneak a few new potatoes, they are easy to get to.
In cool climates according to Paul Gautschi, you can harvest and plant in one pass. He has been using this method in northern Washington for years. In hot climates like Madera, CA that does not work so well. The potatoes re-grow and suffer in the hot weather. This year I will be growing a second crop under 50% shade cloth. I will let you know how that works.
Harvest is easy, all you need are your hands and a rake. Pull the potato plant up and out, then dig though the loosened chips to find the rest of the potatoes. The Potatoes come out nice and clean. Smooth the chip back out with a rake and your done. Easy!
If you save seed potatoes (and you should) I pick out some of the nicest ones about 1 to 1 ½ inches across and place them in a double paper bag, that I then place in the refrigerator. This does a good job of retaining enough moister, but still allowing them to breath until planting time next spring.
As you can probably guess from the name of this Blog, I’m a big fan of wood chips. My preferred type is Ramial Wood Chips. The raw material for these chips consists of the leaves, twigs and branches, preferably deciduous, including small limbs up to 7 cm. (23⁄4 in.) in diameter. It is processed into small pieces by running the material through a chipper.
When looking for a source of chips, the more green leave and shoots the better. The leaves will break down quickly, giving your garden a kick of nutrients. Time of year matters, try to get your chips in spring, summer,and early fall when leaves are still on the trees. Any type of tree or shrub will work, but you don’t want a load of all bark or big solid wood chips. Bark works great for flower beds to keep weeds down, but for Vegetable gardens they take too long to break down.
The best sources for chips are:
- Tree trimmers for the local power company. When you see them in your neighborhood, ask them to dump their truck at your place. They are usually happy to do this, it saves them a trip to the land fill.
- Local tree services. You can find them in the phone book, or keep an eye out in your neighborhood.
- Recycling center. If your lucky enough to have a recycling center in your area, where green waste is dropped of, chipped and composted.
A word of caution. When you get someone to dump a load for chips, these piles can be quit large. You may not want it dumped in your drive way, if you have to go to work the next morning. If you have the access, and ground permitting (Chip trucks can be quit heavy) have them dump next to your garden.
Unless you have front end loader, my preferred way to spread chips is to use a pitch fork and wheelbarrow. A pitch fork (see Tools page) is by far the best tool I have found to attack that huge pile of chips. I dump each wheelbarrow load so that each little pile just touches the next, the go back with a rake and smooth the whole garden out. This should give you a covering about four to six inches deep once they break down.
Wood Chip Gardener is a new Blog about using wood chips as mulch in Vegetable Gardens, and Orchards. I also hope to explore Shade Cloth in hot climates, vegetable gardening tips, seed saving, and food preservation. There will also be the occasional chicken come scratching through our garden. Every yard needs chickens.