Vertical Gardening for Small Spaces
This weekend marked another gardening first for us – growing potatoes in a tower…or two actually!
This process is for those who don’t have tons of land like my sweet friend Marie over at the Lazy W. I am so envious of her bounty of space and bevy of quirky animal characters. The latest in her farm antics has been moving their sweet buffalo Chunk to a new home. Talk about never having a dull moment!
Anyway we are urbanites and therefore have to conserve space so we are planting potato towers and I’m going to show you how we did it!
The best potato crops are produced when the daytime temperature is in the 60° to 65° F range, and when night temperatures are below 57° F so our weather is perfect right now! Potatoes will not like a hard freeze, but the beauty of these towers is that you can throw a tarp or large garbage sack around these if danger lurks and they will be just fine!
First let’s talk potatoes. Your best bet is getting certified seed potatoes. They are insured against disease. You can typically get them at any seed or feed store or even at Home Depot. In some cases you can use store-bought potatoes but many are sprayed with a chemical agent to retard sprouting so …yuk and I’d advise buying seed potatoes!
We are doing two towers because we want to harvest different sizes -fingerlings, and larger red potatoes, so for the larger potatoes, we’ll let those grow a bit longer.
The eyes, or places where potatoes sprout, are what are going to grow your new rhizomes (a fancy word for sprouts). If you have larger potatoes like the ones we did in the picture above, you can cut them into 2-4 pieces, leaving two to three eyes or so per piece. It’s also best to cut them a day or two before and let the cut side dry to protect against disease or rot.
Incidentally we are fantastic at sprouting potatoes in our pantry so if that’s any indication of our skills, we should do wonderfully with actual dirt!
Get some heavy-duty chicken wire or fencing. Loop it around to make a “tower” circle about 2 1/2-3 foot in diameter and use wire or zip-ties to secure it together every several inches. Place it in an area that will get at least 6 hours of sun and put something under it to make sure you provide drainage. Mr. Wonderful put some small rocks under ours. Next up, line the bottom with 2-3 inches of straw, push more straw up the sides of the wire caging and then layer in 5-6 inches of good composted soil that will drain well. The straw should form a barrier to hold in your soil.
This is where you’re going to plant your first layer of potatoes. Some folks plant one layer, wait for it to sprout up, then add the next layer of soil and keep doing this with the same bottom layer of potatoes. I opted for the all-in-one method so I don’t have to anything but water them.
Add in your cut or whole potatoes making sure to place them at the edge of the soil with the eyes or sprouts facing out toward the hay.
Then add five to six more inches of soil to completely cover the potatoes.
Did you know that letting potatoes grow above the dirt makes them turn green and yukky? Make sure as they grow they never see the light of day!
The potato is going to feed on the starch of the potato piece it’s growing from for the time being.
Now you need to layer in some more straw.
Then add five to six inches of dirt. and keep on going.
We did five layers and our towers are about three feet tall. You don’t want really taller ones so water can get to the bottom easily.
When you get to about a foot from the top, you can plant one last layer and add a potato to the middle because this layer will grow upward.
Cover it with another layer of soil, again five to six inches.
And that’s it!
Give it a good first watering. Potatoes like even, consistent but well-drained watering. Failure to do so will produce bumpy potatoes! Potatoes should get one to two inches of water per week.
And let that baby grow!
IF all goes well, we should see the emergence of leaves poking out through the straw between one and two weeks. The sunshine will feed the plant through the leaves and the excess energy travels down and forms tubers or …you got it, potatoes! Between 2-5 weeks we should see a lot of leaf growth and thickening and then it will stop and flower.
Somewhere within 5-6 weeks we should hopefully see some flowering on the leaves, which means that something is happening underground, aka potatoes are growing!
Potatoes can take a variety of number of days according to type to complete their growth, but apparently the sign that they are ready to harvest is when the “tops” or leaves start to yellow or die out.
If you prefer to weave a rebar or two into your cage, you can actually pull the towers up a foot at a time and harvest the bottom layers of potatoes in stages or simply wait until they are done and pull up the entire tower and all your potatoes will tumble out the bottom.
I will keep you updated on our little potato tower project over time!
Follow our Potato Tower progress for How to Plant Potatoes in Towers #2 – click here!
See us harvest our Potato Towers and how it worked in Potato Towers #3 – click here!