This guest post is by Sean M and entry in our non-fiction writing contest
This year after being fresh back from out West and not having income for nine months. Me and my wife decided it was best to become more self-sufficient. So we decided it best to at least have a garden to eat from this summer.
Being new to the small, urban garden thing I had my work cut out for me. So we researched viable vegetables. We came up with zucchini, tomatoes, potatoes and onions to start. All give a nice yield but the potatoes and onions require considerable space. So I looked into some alternative growing methods for the potatoes.
First we started with boxed planting (raised gardens). We made nice homes for peas, peppers, eggplant and zucchini using this method but realized it would not suit potatoes at all.
We decided to go with the potato tower plan. First, dig a nice, deep hole about three feet by three feet. Add some compost and turn the soil until loose. Add peat, blood meal and bone meal. Heap the soil high in the middle and then make it as level as possible as far out to the edge of the mound as you can make it. My hole was about two feet deep with the mound coming out of it about a foot and a half.
Second, the seed potatoes should be purchased from a grower not the grocery. Or you can use seed potatoes from your own stock. I went with some Eastern gold seed potatoes. Cut the seed potatoes into squares around the eyes of the potatoes. Make sure that you cut back about two inches from the eye to ensure some strong growth once planted.
Third, make some depressions in your soil and add your seed potatoes. Make sure to cover the seed potatoes entirely with soil. Three inches or so should do it. Fourth, get some long furring strips (1 x 2). Six feet should do it. Sharpen the ends and drive these into the earth surrounding your potato mound. Place them fairly square or at least at equal intervals from each other. This is important because depending on what medium you use to enclose the potato tower it will need equal support once it gets up high.
Fifth, if you went with a circle design you should have six long lengths of furring strip sticking out of the ground. If you went with the square you should have about four. Depending on what you use to enclose the tower the support structure will have to change.
Sixth, I am using heavy gauge cardboard from Costco. I am using it because it is plentiful in my home, good for the soil and free! To support this simply use twine to go around your stakes in the ground connecting them all fairly tightly together. Make a nice few runs around the tower. I used a dozen circuits and spaced them three inches from each other. Cut and tuck the cardboard in a weaving pattern through the twine. You should have a rough looking cardboard tower once done.
Seventh, once you have watered the seed potatoes you should have some sprouts in a couple of weeks (I did). Let these sprouts grow to a height of eight inches. Once they have reached the desired height cover them with straw. Lightly go around and weave the straw in at first then barely cover the plants with it. Be careful not to hurt the plants. You should still see the green of the sprouts and they should not be weighed down.
Eighth, Wait a week and the sprouts should be up another eight inches or so. Add more straw and tuck more cardboard into the twine raising the tower up in height. Repeat these steps until you have a tower about four or five feet in height. Water the straw lightly everyday. It should not be dry but not soaking either. Around late summer you should be able to reach in and pull out some fresh, unseasoned potatoes depending on growing season.
Looking around the Interwebs I have discovered that there are many ways to make this potato tower. How you decide to build it is your choice. I think how I have built it is the cheapest and most effective based on what I have been reading and seeing.
I will go ahead and state that the traditional wooden box tower that many seem to be using are not getting the crops they boast. Many commenters have seen that they either get one pound of potatoes using the wood tower with soil all the way to the top or nothing but long sprouts with only the original seed potatoes as a crop. For the amount of money wood costs this clearly is not the way to go. My thoughts are that they are packing the dirt too tight or not allowing enough space for the plant to grow with adequate drainage. Airflow may also be a factor along with size.
Some people use chicken wire and soil and this seems to work much better then the box method. Maybe it is the additional airflow and not being able to stack them so high that helps. Less soil means less weight and less weight means less compaction so that may be the reason why chicken wire works better. But again, the price to make something that yields little more that the traditional method seems silly to me.
The straw method that I am going with seems to have the best results. A nice, large nutrient-rich base with light straw to coax the plant to a decent height, yield (according to the reviews and comments) the best results. There have been reports of a hundred pounds from one tower. Others not so high but still fifty or so pounds is a nice yield for something that requires little skill, money, and time.
That’s all I have for now. Please post to field any questions you have or anything I may have missed. Thanks, Buuurr in Ohio…
This contest will end on August 7 2012 – prizes include:
First Place : 1 Year Subscription to AlertsUSA, 1 Radiation Safety Package consisting of the following; (1) NukAlert Radiation Monitor and Alarm (5) Radsticker Peel and Stick Dosimeters (1) Box Thyro Safe Potassium Iodide. All courtesy of AlertsUSA. A $150 gift certificate for Federal Ammo courtesy of LuckyGunner Ammo. And a British Berkefeld water fillter system courtesy of LPC Survival. A total prize value of over $700.
Second Place : A six pack Entrée Assortment courtesy of Augason Farms, a Nukalert courtesy of Shepherd Survival Supply and a WonderMill Grain Mill courtesy of Kitchen Kneads. A total prize value of over $550.
Third Place : A copy of each of my books “31 Days to Survival” and “Dirt Cheap Survival Retreat” courtesy of The Survivalist Blog dot Net and “Kelly McCann’s Inside the Crucible Set” courtesy of Paladin Press. A total prize value of over $200.
Contest ends on August 7 2012.