Potato planting & harvesting - Russian style

Planting and harvesting potatoes using small-scale machines

Potato growing is evidently very important and common in Eastern Europe and Russia where they are a traditional food. Probably because they are easy to store, have plenty of food value, and grow well there.

This is the follow-up to my previous article Plowing With A Winch which described how they often prepare their gardens and small fields using a lightweight plow pulled by an electric or gasoline powered winch. It looks like it works amazingly well. Please take a minute to go check out that info first.

This article will take the "winch-powered gardening" theme a step farther by exploring the options for Planting, weeding, and harvesting potatoes with small machines pulled by a winch cable.

Thanks for reading!       by Greg Baka

potato planting machine spiked discs for weeding potato ridges special plow for harvesting potatoes


Section 1: PLANTING

The planting of potatoes is a bit trickier than you might think. Besides depth and spacing, you also have deal with mounding soil over the spuds (often called ridging or hilling), and decide if you will plant whole seed potatoes or cut chunks of potato.

The simplest method is to just open a furrow, drop the seed potatoes in by hand, then pull soil back over and shape it into a long raised ridge. The last couple videos in my previous article showed a middlebuster plow being used, and that is what would create the right depth of furrow. But that leaves a lot of manual work to pull soil over potatoes and shape into a ridge, so let's check some other options...

Simple method - for large gardens

This first video shows a potato planter that opens a furrow, allows seed potatoes to be dropped into place, then covers them with soil and shapes it into a ridge.

This machine could easily be converted to pull it with a winch. The blue portion would be attached to a pair of front wheels to form a cart. The seat could be switched so he faces forward. A long pair of handles out the back of the cart would allow the operator to tilt it up like a rickshaw and roll it back the opposite end of the field.

One advantage to a hand-fed machine is that it allows the use of cut chunks of seed potato, which is more economical for garden growers. An improvement would be to add some spacing indicators or "flags" to the wheels to let the operator know when to drop another spud.

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Could easily be pulled by a winch   The planting machine in this 2 minute video could be a wheeled cart that one person rides while another runs the winch. Due to the weight, it may be best to move the winch each time rather than dragging the cart back across the garden.

Complex method - for small-scale agriculture

This video shows a more automatic potato planter that opens a furrow, drops seed potatoes at a consistent spacing, then covers them with soil and shapes it into a ridge.

This machine could also be converted to allow it to be pulled by a winch. The red portion would be attached to a pair of front wheels to form a cart. Since no seat is needed, the operator could walk behind to steer. An improvement is needed to allow it to create a taller and broader ridge, like the blue machine does.

This machine does require whole seed potatoes. Loading just enough potatoes to seed a single row would allow the operator to pull an empty and lighter machine back across the field.

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Automatic potato planter   This machine does not require the operator to drop the seed potatoes by hand. That would leave the operator free to steer as the winch cable pulls it forward. But would be a more expensive and complicated machine.


Section 2: WEEDING

When potatoes are planted in long ridges, weeding gets really tricky. That's because there is so much sloped soil to deal with. And there is a narrow valley between each ridge. Potato farmers use pairs of discs set at the same angle and spacing as the ones on their original planting implement (see above). So they basically rebuild the sides of the ridges with each pass, and simultaneously kill the weeds.

The resourceful gardeners in the video below have taken this idea and run with it. Literally...

Simple method - for large gardens

These guys deserve a round of applause for the way they have really simplified the potato weeding operation AND for the nice clean design of their tool. I wonder if it could be improved by using the same handle in the rear that they do in the front, but extending it to the left instead of the right? This would allow each operator to walk in a valley.

As nice as their tool is, it would not work when pulled by a winch. The reason is that the winch cable would need to be run along the top of the ridge to pull it straight. The moving cable would shred the foliage of the plants and likely kill them.

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Very nice potato weeder!   Sure, the guys look a little goofy with the film speeded up, but what an improvement over manual weeding.

Complex method - for small-scale agriculture

To allow a winch-pulled machine to weed potatoes that are planted on ridges, the cable must stay in the valley. This prevents the cable from damaging the foliage of the plants.

Here is the link to the video of a spiked disc potato weeding machine   There is also a still shot of it at the top of this page.

The line drawing shows how this "spiked disc" potato weeder could be modified to weed one valley at a time while being pulled by a winch. It could easily be pulled back to the far end by tilting it down onto the rubber wheel.

sketch of potato weeder idea

Device to weed the valleys of the potato ridges



Now you will see the real reason that farmers plant potatoes in long ridges. It makes them much easier to harvest.

Since the ridge is re-created each season, the soil is fairly loose. And since the ridge is above the ground, there is not much soil to scoop up and sift out to gather the potato harvest. Add "loose soil" to "above ground" and it equals a variety of possibilities for easily harvesting the buried potatoes.

It is technically possible to scoop up and harvest potatoes grown "on the flat", but requires much bigger and more powerful equipment.

Simple method - for large gardens

Well, this series of articles started with a plow, and now it's going to end with a plow. Notice the angle and the "fingers" on this special potato plow. The idea is to break up the ridge, pull the potatoes up, and leave them on top of the soil for easy harvesting. The fingers on top of the plow (the metal rods) are supposed to allow the loose soil to pass through first so the tubers and dirt clods are the last to fall and therefore remain on top of the soil. There are more effective fingers on the potato plow in this other video.

This tool could also easily be pulled by a winch. Perhaps an old walking tractor or rototiller without an engine could provide the wheels, frame, and handlebars to bolt this harvesting plow and other tools to? Also see this video for a nicely designed unit.

Click speaker symbol for sound.

Harvest potatoes with a special plow   It appears to do a decent job, but due to it's narrow blade it may be leaving some spuds in the ground. See the article for a link to different style of potato plow that may work better.

Complex method - for small-scale agriculture

This video shows a larger, powered potato harvester - but it is the same principle as the smaller unit above. There is a curved scoop blade that cuts under the ridge, then the rods (like the fingers above) sift the loose soil through first and drop the clods and tubers on top of the soil at the rear. The rods shake and vibrate to get the soil to quickly sift through. The tractor's PTO powers the shaking action. This machine can be seen in detail here

It would be a tougher to use winch power to run a harvester like this, but not impossible. If the winch is slowed down, it has more pulling power, and the loose soil has more time to pass through the rods. Vibrating does not take much power, so perhaps the harvester could carry a battery and a DC motor, or a small gasoline engine just to do the vibrating.

One way or another, somebody has to pick up the potatoes and put them in a bucket. But that's a pretty rewarding job...

Click speaker symbol for sound.

A bit more efficient machine   The wider U-shaped scooping blade on this machine does a nice job of gathering the whole ridge to avoid missing any potatoes. The shaking fingers simply speed up sifting the soil out of the bottom of the chute. The soil would need to be pretty dry for this to work well.



Well, that "winds up" my articles on winch-powered gardening equipment. Click on over to the Article Index to see what other information we have.