No Tillage Potato Cultivation

In March, Stéphane explained to us why and how he started growing Tillage Potato without tillage, in pre-compost mounds. He returns today to give us the first results of his experiment… A harvest between bitterness and hope.


Placing The Potatoes

The month of March heralds in Béarn the period when we can start planting the potato seeds without the risk of excessive frost. The technique of growing under compost makes it easy to establish the plants: it is enough to spread the pre-compost with the fingers (still decomposing) and the potato tuber gently slides in, germs oriented towards the top.


It takes a few minutes. By the way, we can notice that life is flooding below. Earthworms and other decomposers are in full swing. This is a most reassuring sign of the current and future good health of the growing medium.


In order not to consider the variety of potato solely responsible for the failure or success of the experiment, I chose to test four varieties: two early ones (Amandines and Cheries) and two other late ones (Charlottes and Bleues d’Artois). With this precaution I hope hereafter to be able to decide upon the efficacy of this method.


A Promising Beginning In Cultivation…

So I first installed the Amandine and Cheries plants under pre-compost. They were soon out, thanks to the very mild weather. Everything looked good. I waited a few more weeks to put the Bleue d’Artois and Charlottes plants under my second mound. And it was right after this second burial that my experience started to go wrong.


An Unfavorable Spring

Indeed, this spring, for the second year in a row, was very wet in the Southwest. However, moisture and covered ground is a favorite playground for slugs and other gastropods. And as many gardeners have experienced, these animals are a real nuisance to our vegetable garden when they are present in large numbers.


In my case, the term “too many” is even an understatement. No matter how I got rid of several hundred of them for good twice a week during night trips with the searchlight, I always found as many more on my next visit. So the result was final.


However, I had read that potato seeds were sometimes used as a natural slug deterrent. At home, even if it’s true that the slugs didn’t start with the potatoes, the dam was still gobbled up like all my other plants (beans, peas, lettuce, etc.).


The moisture was not constant during the 3 months of spring, but great enough to allow the slugs to feast on my first row of potatoes. Of the forty plants planted, only a few leaves remained on 10% of them. The others disappeared in less time than it took me to write my frustration here.


And A Disappointing First Potato Harvest

Suffice it to say that when I started picking my first tubers in early July, I wasn’t dreaming of gratin dauphinois or good homemade mash of good early potatoes from my vegetable garden.


I was just hoping to have the pleasure (with my daughter I had recruited for the occasion) of picking at least a few tubers.


The exposure was as I had feared: devastating. I haven’t taken the time to weigh the misery yet, I’m so disappointed with this first step. That will come when the time comes for me to be able to take stock of this first year of testing, because I keep the precious tubers dry in my garage, but I fear that a second phase of depression will overtake me when I see that the weight of the harvest is less than planting weight.


But There Is Still Hope

Fortunately, I am naturally optimistic. The second mound, where the other two varieties (Bleue d’Artois and Charlottes) were planted, seems to be behaving better than the first. Weed overgrowth is less and slugs did less damage as the various attack waves mostly targeted the front row.


I’ll come back to the various aggravating factors I noticed when evaluating this experiment, but for now there’s hope: there’s still about 2 out of 3 plants in this second row, and the first flowers have appeared even a few feet from Charlotte. Out of curiosity, I carefully inspected the pre-compost and managed, by lifting a little, that the potatoes of this row are there and that they are more numerous and larger than the first. Not too difficult, you might say, but at least it allows us to hope for a better harvest than for my beginners.


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