Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Potato Towers

Growing potatoes is really easy and fun.  Freshly picked potatoes taste fantastic and have the most amazing texture.  (This is coming from a gal who hated potatoes growing up.)  There are many different methods for growing potatoes from straight into the ground, to using tires, cages, bags, garbage cans, and boxes.  In the past we’ve tried large pots and in the ground using the hilling up method.  The in ground method worked very well, but makes for difficult harvesting of young potatoes.  This year we are going to try using potato towers for our early and mid season potatoes.  Our late season potatoes are being planted in a raised bed using the hilling up method.

We googled “potato towers” and found a variety of styles.  We also searched YouTube for videos on “potato towers” and “potato boxes” and found a number of unsuccessful harvests and a couple of videos from successful growers.  The two biggest mistakes we saw from unsuccessful towers were letting the potato shoots get too tall before adding more soil and keeping the soil too wet.  Letting the shoots get too tall allows the shoot to convert to a “shaw” or leafy growth. When this happens it no longer produces potatoes along that shoot.  It is important to add more soil when the shoots emerge out of the soil.  Cover the shoots with an inch or two of soil.  The plant does need to photosynthesize at some point, so we may let some shoots get a little taller and develop leaves while covering up some shorter ones.  I highly suggest the following links for more information.   

We built 2 ft x 2 ft boxes using four 2x4's for the vertical legs and six inch wide cedar fence boards for the sides.  We attached one layer of cedar fence boards at the base.  One side got a second layer to add a little more stability.

We set the boxes in a raised bed with the bottom layer partially buried.  We then planted 6 potatoes in each box (2 per side).  We planted early & mid-season potatoes- a mix of Reds, Banana Fingerlings, and Yukon Gem.  In trenches behind towers we planted late season varieties- Russets and German Butterball, as well as, the extra Reds and Yukons.  We covered the potatoes with a few inches of soil and then layered some pine needles on top to help acidify the soil. 

When the potatoes grow out of the soil an inch or so we’ll add some more soil and continue this until the soil fills that first layer of boards.  When we screw on the next layer of boards we will drill two ½ inch holes in each side where the two boards meet and try to train one shaw from each potato to grow through it.  This will allow the potato to photosynthesize (create energy) while the rest of the shoots continue to grow upwards and get covered with soil.  Once the entire box (four board layers tall) is filled with soil, we’ll let the plant grow freely to make a full leafy top.

When the potato plant starts to flower, we will be able to remove a lower board and reach in to grab young potatoes to eat fresh.  Later in the season when the top growth dies back, we’ll be able to remove all the boards and easily collect the remaining potatoes. 

Terry is practicing how he'll reach in and grab those young spring potatoes.

Storing Potatoes:
Last year we grew potatoes in one of a raised garden beds using the hilling up method.  We ended up just leaving them in the ground and harvested as needed.  This worked out very well except when I had to go out on an rainy icky day and root around in the dirt for dinner.  What was neat is that this Spring we found some little potatoes left in the bed and we got to eat our homegrown potatoes even though we thought we finished them off months ago.

Basic Growing Tips:

  • Buy Seed Potatoes from a nursery (they should be disease free)
  •  Feed with a 1-2-2 ratio Organic Fertilizer
  •  Use well-drained soil, you can mix in composted leaves, pine needles, straw
  •  Use acidic soil (this will prevent scab); add pine needles or coffee grounds
  • Keep the pile of soil near the potato box to make for easy filling
  • Do not overwater or the potatoes can rot

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