Garden blog – potatoes powered by leaf-mould!

Our garden team Simon and Daniel have had a busy year bringing the large kitchen plot back into use and have had huge success with fruit and veg. They have achieved this sustainably and promoted biodioversity, as well as trialling growing methods. Simon has written an update here on their efforts with potatoes.

Woodland at Wiston Lodge provides the garden with a wonderful resource. The many deciduous trees shed their leaves during the autumn. These are saved to break down over a period of months into a lovely rich material, which makes a great organic soil improver.

We wanted to compare results from growing potatoes in containers using leaf mould, versus growing them in the ground.

We tried a 50:50 mix of leaf mould, created from Wiston woodland leaves collected last autumn, and inexpensive recycled municipal green waste.

In mid-April we planted two large tubs (old plastic barrels cut in half) with potatoes – Maris Peer in one and Kestrel in the other. On a few inches of leaf-mould compost, we placed three potatoes and covered with compost. 

Each time leaves appeared, we covered them with more compost until the tub was nearly full.  Then it was a case of just keeping them watered and fed!

The plants grew extremely well – lots of green growth and lovely, scented flowers – but what about underneath?

We emptied the first barrel containing the Maris Peer potatoes as the flowers were fading, on 3 August. The potatoes were quite small but, from the three planted, we harvested just over 4kg.

A pretty good result, and we decided to leave the second tub longer. The plants were beginning to die down at the start of September, so we removed all the foliage but didn’t empty the tub until 13 September. The yield was better; exactly 5kg from the three potatoes originally planted, roughly 1.7kg per plant and similar to the yield from growing in the ground.

However, there was an advantage to tub grown. Whereas potatoes grown in the ground suffered some damage by slugs and rodents, those in the tubs had no damage at all. Not only that, the tubers came out very clean – the compost could simply be brushed off.

In total this summer, we have harvested approximately 100kg of potatoes so the tub potatoes represent around 10 per cent  of the crop. We will repeat the experiment next year.