Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Conservation Agriculture Potatoes

By Sara:

Unfortunately for the students, in the practical class I had with the Berea College students, we planted our demonstration garden in October.  As a result, the potatoes were ready to harvest in December, while the students were away on vacation.  The good news is that they did get to see the garden as the potatoes were growing and could compare the size of the plants and how well they were growing.  And I took pictures of the potato harvest so I can share them with the class when they come back to school.

So, as a result of this situation, I harvested the potatoes, with help from Anthony.

It was a lot of work because we ended up with between 250 and 300 pounds of potatoes!  Even with Anthony's help, it took 7 hours to harvest all the potatoes, sort them, and divvy them up between the college kitchen and myself.  But on the other hand, since it has been really dry, the potatoes came out of the soil pretty easily and were quite clean.  Here is the empty field after harvesting:

And the final product from the three different plots:

You should know that there was absolutely no rain for the last 6 weeks that the potatoes were growing (that is half of time they were in the ground).  We did three different plots, each with a different technique.  I'm going to explain what each one was and tell you about the potatoes from each.  In the picture above, the plots go from left to right: 1, 2, 3, as described below.  Let me tell you about my observations from this experiment.  I was actually rather surprised at what happened. 

1. In the first plot, we did not dig up the soil, but only dug a trench where we planted the potatoes, with manure as fertilizer.  Then, we covered the whole plot with mulch.  As the potato plants grew, we added more mulch around them.  I was hoping that this plot would do the best because it would demonstrate the benefit of conservation agriculture.  But of course, I was nervous that it wouldn't actually be that good.  Well, it did turn out to be the best one!  The amount of potatoes was about the same as one of the other plots, but the potatoes themselves were bigger overall, with less worm damage than those in the other plots.  It was also pretty easy to harvest the potatoes because they weren't very deep in the soil, but just under the mulch.

2. In this plot, we also did not dig up all the soil and only dug a trench where we planted the potatoes with manure as fertilizer.  Then, we intercropped peas in between the rows of potatoes.  Unfortunately, sheep ate all of the pea plants, so we didn't get to see how intercropping could benefit potatoes.  However, it seems that it did benefit the potatoes to not dig up the soil.  The amount of potatoes was about the same as in the plot with mulch, but there were not as many big ones.

3. In this plot, we dug up the soil everywhere, then planted the potatoes with manure for fertilizer and heaped the soil up around the potato plants as they grew.  I was actually quite surprised to discover that this plot did the worst.  There were less potatoes than in the other two plots, they were smaller, and they had more damage from worms.  We would have to repeat the experiment again to see if the results would be the same, but in this case, maybe because there was so little rain, the "traditional way" of growing potatoes lost.

So, it was a good experiment.  Hopefully the staff of the college and the students will benefit from hearing about/seeing the results.  In the meantime, Anthony and I are eating like the Irish did before potato blight.  Except that we also have an abundance of avocados...

Later, when the students got back to the college, I cooked some of the potatoes for them.  The agreement was that if they cleaned them (cut off bad spots, etc.), I would cook the potatoes.  The students were a little dismayed when I told them not to peel the potatoes because they had never eaten potatoes with the peels on before!  But they were pretty small, so I told them it would be a good, new experience for them and the potato peels are more nutritious that way anyway.  After they ate them, Anthony asked what they thought about the peels and they told him that the potatoes tasted really good like that!


  1. These are great pictures, Sara! And some great stories that help us see some of the things you are experiencing in Kenya! Do they use Nice Cups in Kenya? What kind of cake did you steam?

    1. People don't actually use Nice cups (even though they're made in Kenya - they must mostly be exported to Uganda!) so I had to find a different one that was more widespread here. In Baringo, we made banana cake and maize cake (cornbread)

  2. Very nice. Good to see that conservation agriculture works.