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Hilling potatoes

Hilling potatoes

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Want to know the secret to getting maximum yeilds from your potato crop? JUSTIN RUSELL has the solution.

To hill or not to hill? That is the question. Spuds, I mean. The question might not be quite as profound as Hamlet’s soliloquy, but if you’re a potato fiend like me it’s an important question nonetheless.

The answer, more often than not, boils down to one thing. Time. If I’m not completely run ragged at this time of the year, I do like to hill my spuds, either with soil or a thick layer of mulch. It’s good practice and does result in fewer potato exposed to the light (which turns the skins green and toxic) and a much improved yield.

The reason for the increase is that new potatoes form above the original seed potato. So the more soil or mulch you can pile around the growing stem (known as a haulm)the more potatoes that will form along the stem and the broader the smile on your face when it comes time to dig.

The simple way to hill is to stand on one side of the potato row and use a rake or chip hoe to drag soil toward the haulms from the opposite side of the row. Switch sides, and drag soil from where you were standing previously. Leave about five to 10 centimetres of haulm exposed to the light.

If you apply mulch instead, make sure you water the spuds deeply beforehand or lay down some irrigation hose to keep the plants watered. Then bung on a thick 10cm layer of sugarcane, straw or lucerne. Pile it right up to the stems, again leaving just a short bit of haulms exposed at the top. In a few weeks time you can add another layer if you like, further increasing the potential yield.

I guess the answer to my original question is clear. To hill or not to hill? Definitely hill. Eating your way though piles of delicious homegrown spuds through winter is a truly revelatory experience!