No Dig Potatoes, Parsnips, …

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    Hi Charles,

    I noticed in your recent video with comparison of strips 1-to-3 that even the strip that was “opened” by pushing a fork in and wiggling, without even turning the soil, performed less well than the soil that was completely undisturbed.

    I have a number of crops that cause significant disturbance to the soil! I can’t get my Parsnips out without considerable excavation, and (maybe I shouldn’t …) I plant my seed potatoes into the soil somewhat, and then earth up only using compost – but in order to harvest them I pretty much wind up “proper digging” the whole bed.

    Very heavy clay here, perhaps in years to come it will be beautiful, friable, loam … but, sadly, not yet.

    I’d appreciate any thoughts and advice you, and others, may have.



    I have heavy clay here in NW London and the first few years I dug out potatoes like you. This year, year 3 of no-digging, I popped each tuber in a hole dug with a trowel, then mulched from July with comfrey cuts (I have around 20 plants, some more vigorous than others), plenty so tubers pushing up were not exposed to light.

    When I harvested, I pulled the plants out by hand and then harvested tubers using my hands. Although the odd one took a bit of removing, 95%+ just came out easily. We did have a lot of rain from mid July which may have helped. I harvested Desiree late August and Sarpo Mira at the equinox.

    The yields were 2.5 – 3lb per tuber, spaced in a 40cm*40cm grid, which was around 20lb per square metre. Almost no disease, maybe 5 of 300 good sized tubers had minor slug damage. No scab at all this year.



    Nice potato account Rhys, bravo.
    Parsnips do need some soil disturbance but I would not call it digging, more levering. It’s a fair point kGardener that parsnips do cause some damage, I have yet to grow ones that pull out, has anyone please?


    Don Foley

    Hi kGarden
    I use a hand Fork to gently lever out Parsnips, Garlic and Potatoes. I plant only early Potatoes. They are in raised beds planted at least 6″ deep at 12″ eachway. I plant the tubers deep in order to avoid/minimise earthing up. I have found that earthing up on my wood sided raised beds results in a lot of the compost being washed onto the surrounding paths. The downside of this method is that the crop is well anchored and doesn’t pull out easily.
    Next season I plan to plant more shallow and will add temporary extensions to the bed sides when earhing up. Its a little extra work but should result in little soil disturbance when harvesting this crop.
    I can’t think of any answer for the Parsnips. As with the Garlic I will continue to use the hand Fork to assist in gently levering these out. Its really minimal disturbance anyway.



    Useful feedback, thanks all.

    >> I have found that earthing up on my wood sided raised beds results in a lot of the compost being washed onto the surrounding paths

    I started with “lazy raised beds”: excavating the paths between the beds by 6″ or so, and piled onto the beds, until I could afford the boards. The shoulders collapse a bit during the season, and can’t easily be planted right to the edge, but it did me OK for the first half dozen years; on my heavy clay soil the main benefit was that the sunken paths improved the drainage of the beds. When I added the boards that was on top of the soil, by my calculation excavating the 18″ wide path, 6″ deep, and spreading it on a 4′ wide bed only adds 2.25″. Then garden compost regularly added, so I am fortunate in not being close to the top of the boards

    >> I have yet to grow ones that pull out, has anyone please?

    Dan does on his allotment:




    I can get parsnips out by putting a spade in one spit deep three sides of the root row, then pulling the root upwards, but i agree it is about the hardest out there to remove. This year carrots have come out much more easily, so maybe parsnips will be the same?


    tidy beard

    This my third year of no dig as well, on a heavy clay soil. I planted first and second earlies 4 inches deep in three rows along a 5ft wide bed. The bed had been top dressed with 2 inches of home made compost the previous autumn. I earthed up by adding more compost along the rows to form ridges. I was able to harvest by pulling up the plants and using my hands to collect the tubers. I also found that the odd one needed help from a trowel, but it was a very easy harvest with very little disturbance below the compost. I then levelled out the bed with a rake and planted my leeks. When I was still digging I could hardly get a fork into the ground at harvest time it was so dry and hard. I find now that it is nearly always moist under the top dressing.



    I have grown about 50 tubers of Charlotte and Kestrel under black polythene, pushed into a few inches of compost. I had a fabulous crop of pots with very little slug damage and very dry tubers compared to my neighbouring allotment holders who had muddy tubers in July and August.



    I grew sarpo Mira and blue Danube under mypex ground cover.planted 4″ deep and left them to themselves. No earthing up. In the Mira I got huge crop which they are known for. Not as much in Danube type. Both were compared to drills that were earthed up. I’ll be continuing with this method next season. I’ve incorporated lots of horse manure onto the soil.
    It’s so much easier on the back without having to dig or earth up. When harvesting I simply use my hands to pick out the spuds.

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