Note: Several readers have requested posts on topics that have already appeared here – this is one of those posts that has been updated and republished.
Since originally writing on how to grow potatoes using this method, we’ve made a couple of changes that gave us much better yields (see “Growing Potatoes: The Lazy Bed Method – IMPROVED!”), so I’ve incorporated those options into the method outlined below. Potatoes are such an easy and rewarding crop to grow, I hope everyone gives it a try.
The traditional method of planting potatoes involves digging a trench, placing seed potatoes in the trench, mounding soil around the potatoes as they grow, weeding, and finally digging the potatoes at harvest time. In the original “lazy bed method”, the seed potatoes are simply placed in contact with the soil, and are then covered with a thick layer of straw, hay, or leaves. This method worked for us, but didn’t give us great yields. In the modified method, the seed potatoes are planted a couple of inches in the soil and are covered with mulch after the potatoes have sprouted through the soil. Whichever method for “lazy bed” planting is used, the potato plants grow up through the mulch while the tubers form within the mulch (original method) or soil (modified method). This eliminates both mounding and weeding after sowing, allows for closer spacing, reduces the chance of scab, and allows harvesting at any time. In short, it’s a lot easier for the home gardener; hence the “lazy bed method”.
Preparing the Garden Bed
To use the lazy bed method, prepare a rectangular garden bed that’s a convenient width to reach across (mine are four feet wide) and as long an area as you wish to plant. It should be a convenient width to reach across so you can easily harvest early potatoes by reaching into the mulch or soil. If heavy rains are a problem in your area, raise the prepared bed slightly to permit drainage.
Place your prepared seed potatoes (see Potato Planting Preparations) cut side down, twelve inches from the sides/ends and each other in the bed. So, for example, in a 4 x 10 foot bed you could place three seed potatoes across and nine down the bed for a total of twenty-seven plants. After the seed potatoes are in place, press them in firmly (for the original method) or bury them a couple of inches into the soil (for the modified method). The potatoes should them immediately be covered with straw, hay, or leaves (original method) or mulch should be added after the potatoes have sprouted through the soil (modified method). The mulch covering should be loosely spread but should be twelve to eighteen inches deep. The loose mulch will pack down gradually, and you want to make sure it’s thick enough that the potatoes never show through. If they do come in contact with sunlight, they may green and become inedible. It’s also difficult to add mulch once the plants have come up through the mulch, so make sure it’s thick enough from the start.
That’s All There Is
After planting, and as the tubers mature, you can reach in and sneak new potatoes any time, but there’s really no other work needed until harvest time (other than being on the lookout for garden pests). Notice in this method, weeding is not mentioned. The mulch is so thick it smothers weeds and makes growing potatoes nearly effortless.When it’s time to harvest potatoes grown using either Lazy Bed method, it couldn’t be easier. Wait until the potato vines are completely dead (that means the potatoes aren’t getting any bigger); then, just pull the mulch off the potatoes and pick up the harvest (see photo above). It’s important to dig down into the soil a bit to make sure you’ve gotten all of them, and if using straw as the mulch, check the straw for any hiding there. We never quite get them all though; there are always a few volunteers next year. The potatoes should really be harvested as soon as the vines are dead to minimize the chance that bugs or rot will damage them.
After harvesting, let the potatoes dry for a few days (in the dark) – this allows the skin to toughen, and then move them into storage. Potatoes that will be used within a month can be stored at room temperature; but for long term storage, the temperature should be approximately 40°F, relative humidity should be between 85-90%, they should be kept in total darkness, and there needs to be good ventilation. If potatoes are kept in these conditions, they can last up to 6 months. However, light exposure will make them green and inedible, higher temperatures will cause them to sprout, and inadequate humidity will cause them to shrivel.