Originally published by Kelly Allsup on April 10, 2018.
Whether you have grown potatoes for years or never grown a fresh potato in your life, growing them in a straw bale is an easy choice. Imagine pounds of beautiful fresh tubers that are crisper and tastier than any grocery store finds, all for less than the price of a bag of soil.
Growing potatoes in straw beds is not new, but growing them in a bale placed on a driveway or outside your apartment door is a novelty that can be mastered by following these simple steps.
1. Collect your materials: straw bale, water jug or hose, liquid fertilizer that contains nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium at normal rates for vegetables.
2. Set Out and "Cook": Lay your straw bale in full sun, with the cut side of the straw facing up. Do not break or cut the bale ties. Drench the top of the bale with liquid fertilizer. Keep moist with daily fertilizer applications over a two week period. Every three to four days, replace your fertilizer application with clear water. This is called cooking the bale.
In my experience, any combination of fertilizing and watering initiates the microbes to break down the bale in the middle. If you must skip a few days, the process will not be disrupted. My only failed cooking process was when I used fertilizers with low nitrogen content.
3. After two weeks of "cooking" the bale, purchase seed potatoes from a garden store or greenhouse. Cut large seed potatoes into pieces that have two eyes. These eyes will be where the plant sprouts. Plant pieces eye side up, six inches deep, 10-12 inches apart. Cover with a bit of soil.
I have planted up to six potatoes per bale.
4. Continue to fertilize bales every two to three weeks, and water bales when dry.
5. Harvest the potatoes after the vines have died by breaking up the straw bale.
6. Hold potatoes for a week or two at 65° to 70° F in a place where the air is not too dry, to heal cuts and bruises. If the skin of a potato is damaged during harvest, then it is the first tuber to dine on!
Growing potatoes in straw bales is popular due to the fact that it solves nearly every impediment today's home gardeners may face while growing: bad soil, weeds, a short growing season, watering problems, limited gardening space, and even physical difficulty working on ground level. Imagine freeing yourself of diseases and insect issues, weeding, and struggles with planting and harvest, just by changing where you grow your tubers!