How to Hill Potatoes

potato
Potatoes that need to be hilled
Potatoes that need to be hilled

Potatoes are very easy to grow but to really maximize your yield, you should hill your potatoes.

What does that mean? It means gathering dirt up around the base of the plant and creating a hill for the plant to grow out of. The tubers (the bits we eat) only grow underground, so increasing the amount of the plant underground = more changes for the tubers to grow.

Step 1 – Plant potatoes

It should go without saying, but you should be actually growing potatoes before you can hill them.

Step 2 – Starting hilling when potatoes are 6 inches high

Hilling too early isn’t really an issue, but waiting too long can be a pain. The vigorously growing plant can start to fall over.

 

Step 3 – Create a cage

Creating a cage means that you can create a column of  dirt for the potatoes to grow in. Maybe we should call it ‘columning potatoes’ rather than ‘hilling potatoes’?

Hilled and caged potatoes
Hilled and caged potatoes

Step 4 – Hill the potatoes

Carefully place soil around the base of the potato plant and work up. I have worked with pea straw and haven’t had much success. When the straw gets wet and is in a pile, it can start to rot and get mouldy. Potatoes are prone to infections so keeping anything that could bring mould into play is a priority.

Step 5 – Wait for more growth

The potato plant will keep growing and putting out tubers. This means that you’ll quickly find yourself with a potato plant that will require more hilling about about 2-3 weeks.

Step 6 – Harvest while the plant is alive

Using this method, potatoes at the bottom of the hill are going to reach maturity earlier than those at the top. And while soil is a very good spot to store potatoes, you can also harvest them is you get the urge. Carefully dig in to the base of the hill until you find enough for dinner. You should wait until at least 3months after planting before doing this.

What do Flowers on Potatoes mean?

potato

If you’ve grown potatoes before, you’ll notice that sometimes you get a bunch of little flowers on the top if the potato plant. This is a good thing.

Flower production requires lots of energy. As a general rule, flowers on veggie mean that the plant has enough energy (acquired from nutrients in the ground and rain) and all things are going according to plan. In tomatoes in means that fruit production has started, but in potatoes it isn’t the fruit that we are interested in eating. So what does the flower on a potato plant even mean?

It means that the potato plant is now growing the tubers under the ground that we are interested in eating. The stem and leaves above ground have largely finished growing. The potato at this stage needs lots of water to use to grow the tubers so flowers on your potatoes means more watering.

Flowers on my PotatoesHeat can be a factor in tuber production. On days when the temperature is above about 100 degs, the plant will stop putting energy in to the tubers so make sure that you shade your spuds to ensure maximum yields.

Another technique to ensure you get lots of spuds is to “hill” the potato. And the time to do that is when the potato has flowers. Hilling potatoes is simply piling up more dirt around the base of the plant in order to give more ground for the tubers to grow under. I’ve used pea straw in the past but have found that when it is wet, it can encourage mildew and fungus, especially because of the extra watering that needs to happen. Use dirt, but NOT manure or anything that might “burn” the plant.

Peppers that last for five years

Peppers
Over wintered Capsicum plant. Spring should see new growth and more food!
Over wintered Pepper plant. Spring should see new growth and more food!

I left my peppers in over winter and they survived. Indeed, they were even producing a little fruit for most of the time. . .at least until the first frosts of the year moved through and killed the leaves off. The plants are still alive and I’m very hopeful that new growth will start shortly. How did this even happen and what’s next?

I gave them a lot of love over spring and summer. This meant water, mulching, rotten chicken poo, and shade. Checking the soil around them now, there are lots of worms and it has that certain ‘good dirt’ feel about it. I also applied Sulphate of Potash frequently, I thought too frequently, but it seems to have worked out fine. I gave them as much shelter as I could from the frosts, and they live in a warm part of the veggie patch.

The plants have a woody stem which means that they are well established. And if they are well established that means I should be getting capsicums sooner rather than later and it is free! According to a few wise gardening heads around the traps, if I can keep give them a lot of love, they should be productive plants for 4 to 5 five years.

Companion Planting Beans

beans

Runner beans are probably the easiest thing to grow in your garden. They sprout very quickly and provide nitrogen fixing. They can clamber up poles and harvest very quickly.

Plants the benefits from beans are any that require lots of nitrogen to grow. So good companions are brassicas, like cauliflower.

Corn benefits from the nitrogen and also provides a trellis for the bean to climb up. Start the corn about one month ahead of the beans though. Corn grows slower than beans and needs to the head start so that quick growing beans have something to climb up.

This is our companion planting guide to beans.

US-BeansCompanionGuide

Companion Planting for Tomato

tomato

Tomatoes are the most common plant to find in a home veggie garden. What should you grow next or near to them in order to get the best results?

Companion planting is art as much as it is science. The point of companion planting is to find plants whose properties of smell or chemicals that they release into the soil benefit or retard development in their neighbours and by neighbours I mean within 30 inches  from each other.

I’d be interested in what experiences you have had with companion planting tomatoes. Some people will disagree which side of the ledger beetroot should be on or even beans belong here.

This infographic is a tomato companion planting guide which shows you 9 good and 9 bad companions for your tomato plants. Basil has been shown to increase yields by 20% (according to this paper) but the basil plant also benefits from being close to tomato. And of course they are natural companions in the kitchen as well.

USTemperate-TomatoCompanionGuide