Our little potato patch that I first wrote about in my spring garden update is no longer so little, guys!
This past weekend, my darling potato plants were surpassing the one-foot mark, and that could only mean one thing: it was time to “hill” my potatoes.
What’s “hilling” you ask? Well, it’s pretty simple. You take extra dirt, and you make hills over the bottom 3/4 of your potato plants. Seriously, imagine filling a sand pail full of dirt, then up-ending it over your existing potato plant. That’s hilling.
Perhaps more interesting than “what,” though, is the “why.” The way potatoes grow, the roots will keep shooting off additional tubers just below the ground level. The more dirt you pile up around them, the more room they have to grow, which means the more resulting spuds you can harvest.
Beyond that, hilling potatoes also helps to keep the tubers protected from sunlight, which can turn potatoes green and make them taste bitter.
We’re also trying an experiment this year: instead of traditional hills, the hubby also built small boxes to create “potato towers.” Essentially, this lets you use less extra dirt, because it restrains the circumference of the base of your hill. Looking online, others have also tried hilling potatoes via burlap sacks or even using up-side down planters with the bottom smashed out. Basically anything that lets you keep the classic hill shape will work.
One final advantage: hilling lets you easily sneek-a-peek at your potatoes from the side to see if they’re ready to harvest. Otherwise, you’d be stuck guessing and having to dig up your whole plant on a gamble.
It definitely feels counter-intuitive to cover all that potato foliage you spent the past few weeks growing, but trust us: if you want a good potato yield, you should hill potatoes at least twice per growing season. Happy planting!
Edited To Add: After harvesting, we found that the potato plant we put in the potato “tower” out-performed the ones with free-form hills! In this photo, our one tower potato plant produced the spuds on the left, while it took THREE free-form hilled plants to produce the potatoes on the right.