Growing Potatoes in Towers



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.

Tips:

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.

Join over 13,225 subscribers and get the latest articles, news, reviews and features directly into your inbox - never miss an update. It's all FREE!
Subscribe via Email

 Subscribe via RSS

Comments

  1. Sean M,

    I was happy to read you’re using straw! My poor garden area has had some challanges and I’ve had to be a bit more resourceful. I couldn’t get the hills as in past years so I decided to pack straw around them and hope for the best. Your article is encouraging, maybe I will get some taters this year!

  2. Nice article, thanx for input………I have a large garden, hence the hours & $$$$ necy for my success are demanding……..one must spend lotsa time 10 months of the year, acquire knowledge ( the MOST vital aspect of gardening) & STICK WITH IT! Ya gotta weed, ya gotta feed, ya gotta water or your results are lessened. But I have NEVER known cabbage to taste sweet, except from my garden!!!!!!!!!

  3. JP in MT says:

    Thanks for the thoughts. We are getting our resources together and plan to start a small garden in our back yard next year. Rough ground, bad soil should make this an interesting project.

  4. Instead of straw I used leaves from last year. Guess my big mistake was using store bought potatoes that were sprouting. I thought what the heck. Instead of throwing them away I would see what would happen. I had maybe 15 potatos that were srprouting so, I buried them in the leaves. Not too many survived. I really didn’t attend to them. I was intent on letting them be, to survive on their own. When I dug into the leaves I had one potatoe about 3/4 inch across. Ha! Ha! Ha! It was funny.
    I heard that people planted tomatoes with potatoes. I bought seed potatoes, two pounds and am giving that a try in a 4x8x6 box.
    Will post results when time comes. Another experiment I am doing is planting store potatoes around in my garden, Interplanting with other plants to see how this works. Will post this too when time comes.

    • charlie (NC) says:

      Tom,

      your problem is likely not from using store bought potatoes. A potato is a potato. Yes the seed potatoes you buy at the farm supply have been treated but the others will work. I’ve grown potatoes for the last 2 years using potatoes from my kitchen.
      I’m trying a tower myself this year but here’s a twist on the one I have. I built the tower over a potato plant that came up volunteer from a potato I failed to find when I dug my potatoes last year. I happened to notice it growing in a corner of the garden that had potatoes last year but not this year and I started tending it. The potatoes I planted this year were grown and picked weeks ago. This volunteer plant is still growing away.
      I’ve dug into the dirt with my hand and there are potatoes on the plant.

      I read a few years ago that potatoes could be perinials. Now I believe it.

    • sw't tater says:

      Potatoes and tomatoes can cross pollinate , and you have the ability to get both on one plant when planted togather..so before you pull up the potatoes check the tops and vice versa….I don’t now about saving seeds from them, if they would germinate or if they would not…topatatoes…

    • charlie (NC) says:

      Tom, get some “garden sulfur”, cut your potatoes into chunks, let them dry a while spread out in open air. Then dust them good all over with the sulfur and leave them spread out in the air to dry. Now you have your own “seed potatoes” from your kitchen. They will grow with or without the sulfur but the sulfur is beneficial. I don’t remember the details. Search online for it.

  5. Sean,
    Very nice! It is always exciting to see folks get into gardening, learning and experimenting. Some of the best ideas and new ways of growing have come from folks just like you who are willing to try new ideas and improve on old ones.
    I grow my potatoes in the ground with straw on top. Same concept, but I have space. It has worked the best for me so far.
    Keep up the good work and continue to grow.
    Thanks for sharing your research and experiences.

  6. Ive seen several very ingenious ways that people have come up with to grow things in small spaces . Its amazing how large a yield you can get from such things . One was using chicken wire and a pallet to make a vertical planter . Very cool .

  7. Prudent says:

    Question Burrrrr in Ohio: I have three bushel tubs with potatos up about 24inchs already. Is it to late to rebank the shoots for another layer of spuds?

    • Buuurr in Ohio says:

      It depends on the growing season in your area. Mine are up quite a bit since I wrote this post so who knows? It really couldn’t hurt to try one of the three. Bank them up with straw lightly for two days or so. The shoots should burst right out of there in that time and you can gauge if it will be worthwhile for you. It really does happen that fast if they are going to do it or not (at least for me it did), so it couldn’t hurt to try with one.

      I just came in from adding more straw and more weaving. The concern I have is will the plant give enough energy to produce spuds because the shoots are heavenward every time I add more straw. They grow three or four inches a day.

      This is an experiment for me so I don’t really have any concrete answer for you. I am sorry.

    • charlie (NC) says:

      I think the potatoes will tell you the answer. I believe as long as the vines are green you can keep it going. When they start to die off it’s time to dig them. I’m not 100% sure of that with the towers as this is my first experiment with them.

      • Buuurr in Ohio says:

        You may be right, Charlie. My aunt said she doesn’t pick her potatoes until after the shoots have been dry for a week or so depending on the frost. She said that if you pick them sooner they don’t get a ‘skin’ and they won’t keep in a cellar.

        • charlie (NC) says:

          Yep that’s right unless you cure them. That involves storing them well ventilated at a certain temp for a while but I don’t remember the particulars any longer. We used to do it on the farm but that was nearly half a century ago.

          I planted some potatoes in the last week of Feb. this year. Those vines were dead and dried up by mid April and I dug them. It was just a few hills so they went for immediate use.

  8. I tried a similar tower method last year with little success. Used leftover cattle feedlot panel pieces to make a square 4′ high tower and filled with straw. Some potatoes slightly below and on the surface, but not enough to warrant purchasing all that straw. I feel a loose soil tower would work better.
    It is an interesting idea, and for those of you wondering… New potatoes form on nodules between the seed potato and the flower blossom… So that’s why soil apparently isn’t strictly required, and also why you should hill potatoes at least 2-3 times.
    This year, I’ve gone back to a tightly packed 30′ row and I plan on harvesting alternating / every-other plant as needed for eating through the season and thus freeing up space for the neighboring plant to continue growing right up to the end of harvest.
    Saving your own seed potato is cake.

  9. Hawkeye1944 says:

    Would like to have seen a photo of your towers

  10. Islandgirl says:

    Thanks for sharing your gardening adventures Burrr. We can learn so much from one another. I grew a respectable bunch of potatoes from potatoes laid on loosely turned earth and covered with layers of hay in the heat of northern Texas years ago.

    I read quite a bit about gardening and have learned that it’s best to use certified seed potatoes to prevent the incidence and spread of potato blights. Have you gotten potatoes with dark spots in them from the store once in awhile? In NC there is an early potato blight this year that also can affect tomatoes. They are both members of the nightshade family. It’s a good idea to rotate the location of these veggies in our gardens to prevent the carry over of any blights.

    Now I want to get my hands dirty! lol Best of luck with your gardens to everyone.

  11. Here’s what I’m doing from my blog. http://gardenforyourlife.blogspot.com/2012/03/potato-bins.html

    • Buuurr in Ohio says:

      Yeah. I have seen that before, Ken. The issue is with that is that you have to buy soil for it (unless you have super loamy worm dirt or compost to put in there) and it can get quite expensive. Regular topsoil is far too heavy and dense and from what I have read causes a lot of compaction.

      Your idea looks great. I will try those rings next year with straw.

      • Yes I had to buy garden soil, but I need it for my garden addition too so I buy it in bulk. It has lots of sand and organic material. I fertalize with poop from my quail coop and they love it!

  12. Cool Article! I have seen the other methods of building the potato towers by adding layers and layers of dirt in trash cans or barrels, but have ot seen this method using straw! I will have to give this a try next year! THANKS.

  13. Papa Squirrel says:

    In researching potato towers I read somewhere that the type/species of potato is important. Some potato plants will only produce one round of potatoes, whereas a tower depends on a plant fruiting multiple times. Late-season potatoes seem to be the best types to use, since they will continue producing “fruit” throughout the season. Early-season potatoes only set fruit once and won’t work in a tower set-up.

  14. Kelekona says:

    I think this is one where I’m going to have to poke around the web about for pictures, especially since we have chicken wire laying around.

  15. Great article, does anyone know if the beginning of August is too late to start potatoes in South Texas?

  16. I am a visual person. Anybody tell me what this should look like? Furring stick, tower, cardboard, square????? I am not joking. I cannot do it if I can’t see it.
    Can anyone help me out here? I know it’s too late to plant potatoes now but can’t I plant them in the fall?

    Thanks to anyone who can help me….
    Gran In Oregon

    • Carbine74 says:

      I have done the tower thing with the concrete reinforcement wire. Just make a hoop around each hill and fill with straw as the potatoes grow thru it. Allows for air and easy watering. When harvesting just pull up the wire and pick up the fruit.

  17. Buuurr in Ohio says:

    http://plangarden.files.wordpress.com/2010/10/tatertowerjuly18.jpg?w=500&h=534

    Note the furring strip in the upper right corner of the picture. This guy has used chicken wire instead of cardboard. You would need more of those strips for a cardboard construction at first but you can take them away later when the thing settles. Hope this helps.

    • Thank you for your help. I didn’t see a photo on the site. Thank you for your information and photo.

      Ms. Riggs

  18. Encourager says:

    We have had such lousy potato crops for the past 3 years. Two years ago all our tomatoes and potatoes caught that late blight. Last year, ugg. Lots of work for tiny potatoes.

    So THIS year, we did it different. We have sandy soil, actually it is called sandy loam but I think the loam part are the rocks. We dug about a 12″ deep trench (as deep as the shovel head), layered composted manure, Epson salt (light sprinkling), blood meal, bone meal and mixed well with some of the sand. We put the seed potatoes in the trench and covered them with about 3″ of soil. As soon as the plants were 4″ high, we pulled down more dirt from the mounds on both sides of the trench, leaving just the tips showing. We did this until the trench was almost filled, but we left a bit of it so when we watered, the trench filled up and then soaked down well. We have just covered up around the plants with straw, mainly to keep the weeds down. I have never seen such dark green potato plants! They are now blossoming and are loaded with blossoms. We make sure we water the trench very well – in this heat, every day. I think that is the secret. We never watered them anymore than the rest of the garden, and it was not enough. Will let you all know what the harvest is!

  19. Pineslayer says:

    An old-timer friend told me that he used a barrel to build up the tower adding any mulch that he had laying around. Then he cut holes around the outside of the barrel, letting the shoots grow out to gather sun. When harvest time came, pull up barrel, gather up and reuse the barrel year after year. I like the idea. Will it work for sweet ‘taters?