Earthing Up Potatoes

Earlier in the year we started to clear the west side of the orchard as trees there were suffering beside the hawthorn hedge. We have plans for this space. Again, turning to raised beds as my disability gets worse with age and failing joints to build a new market garden and wave goodbye to the lawn. Yet in a last hurrah to open beds and the old vegetable garden that was once here (you can tell by the soil and the fact we planted it) we decided to plant some potatoes on Easter weekend. Now, several weeks later we are faced with this sight. So, this is me showing you all how to earth up potatoes.

Potatoes, potatoes growing, life on pig row

This is why potatoes have been given the moniker of the crop that cleans and clears the ground because you have to do all the work. You will plant them, weed them and then dig them up. It is you as the gardener who does all the work but nothing changes because spuds are not a low maintenance crop. If you don't believe me, don't water your's and see what you get. It really doesn't take long to earth up potatoes though, all you need is a small border spade and a rake. You can even use a draw hoe if you wish but if you have no idea what they are then grab anything that you can shift soil with. We have been told by one reader on our Facebook Page that her Dad called this process 'baulked up' (thanks for this, Sue). Sue goes on to tell us that she thought this meant 'banked up' but 'subsequently encountered it as an archaeologist, as it's the strip of earth left between excavation areas'. This sums up earthing up as you can never tell what you will find when you start digging. When we first started the garden we found a jar of lead soldiers and later containers of rusty screws in our potato beds. We have also found a lot of glass along the way. Country living often meant tipping what you didn't want in areas of the garden you never really visited. Earthing up is the process of 'building' 10 inch (approximately 25cm) hills over your growing potatoes, this does several things: it locks in moisture, gives you bigger spuds, gives you a higher yield, creates drainage and water channels in the baulks (the strips of earth between the potatoes), prevents sunshine from reaching the potatoes and turning them green (green spuds are poisonous, remember spuds are from the nightshade family and though the potatoes are edible, nothing else on the plant is). Drawing up the soil is relatively easy, loosen the soil between the potatoes with a spade and then gently toss over the green foliage that the potatoes have sent up.

Potatoes

Your aim is to create a ridge with some of the top growth still showing. You can see the ridge in the photo above. You need to do this on both sides, see photo below.

Potato growing

You can use a rake to do this, I do, I find it easier and it actually pulls up the weeds and makes it simpler for me then to discard them as they get tied up in the rake's teeth (tithes) and I can then bring them to me with no bending over. The whole job takes around an hour to go from an overgrown patch to a clean, cultivated potato patch. Now we have three ridges with gullies in between for us to pour water into as the crop grows (yes, I said pour, potatoes are greedy water feeders). I may have to earth up one more time, especially if we have a lot of rain fall and the soil is washed back into the gullies, but in a dry season I normally getaway with doing this once. The downside though of earthing up when you haven't done it in a long time is that if you don't wear gloves you end up with blisters where the rake rubbed. Ouch!

Blister

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