How to grow potatoes with a potato tower

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I like to grow and eat potatoes, the problem is they can easily take over a plot of land and more than likely you will be growing potatoes in the same spot for a few years (not very good crop rotation) when one or two stray spuds don’t get harvested and a plant pops up the next year.

One great solution to this problem is a potato tower, this is a structure that keeps your potato plant and potatoes contained to an upright structure which can consist of many materials.

Recycled Tires

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Fencing

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Wood

I decided to go with the classic approach and build mine out of wood.  I took four pieces of 1”X1” pine and cut to approximately 2.5 foot lengths.  Side note: Just for the record I did not use tape measure for the construction of this potato tower.  I then took two lengths of untreated/unstained cedar fencing and cut them in equal pieces.

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Added a couple of screws to attach the cedar to the pine and kept doing this until I had a really cool upside down table without a top.  Now you could pull out a level/square and pretty confident this will not be plum or true in any way…but it really doesn’t matter just holding some dirt and potatoes.

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As for the location I found this great spot which grows weeds very well and not much of anything else.

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After some minimal weeding and an laying down a layer of weed blocking fabric I plopped down my structure and added a few inches of rich compost.

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To give the potatoes a head start I added a couple cups of bone meal, mixed well and added nine potatoes and topped with a few more inches of compost.

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Now here is where the tower part comes from, as the potatoes greenery grows more than 3 inches above the surface you screw in some more cedar fencing to increase the height nearly cover with compost and repeat until you are tire of doing this.  The theory is that your plants will grow potatoes over this entire height giving you many pounds of potatoes.

Important Tip:  Any early setting variety of potato will produce all its potatoes at once so you will only get potatoes on the bottom six inches or so of your potato tower.  So this technique only makes sense for later setting potatoes, here are a few to consider:

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UPDATE #1 (4/1/2012): Based on many of the comments on the mixed results of the success rate of this technique, I have decided to do a side by side N=1 experiment to see how my yields compare with 18 inches of soil versus 12 inches of soil using the same size and construction of a potato tower.

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17 Responses to “How to grow potatoes with a potato tower”

  1. Heiner Says:

    The limiting factor in an average kitchen garden is sunlight and the ability of plants to collect sunlight.

    This growing concept requires you to bury the leafs of your potato over and over again. So the plant will never be able to use her full “sunlight collecting” potential. That’s why most experiments show a (much) bigger harvest in normal grown potatoes (both per plant or per area).

    BTW: Sorry about my English ;-) I tried to express my view in more detail here in German.


  2. jess Says:

    I tried this method over four growing seasons with 20-30 different varieties of potatoes. I found that it was extremely expensive, both money and time, for the yield that it produces. It’s a good idea in theory, but doesn’t seem to produce results in reality. I decided this method is a combination of us guessing at how potatoes actually work and wishful thinking — for example, we think that if we mound them more often, they will continue to produce tuber-bearing lateral roots, but in reality the potato has a short part of its life that actually produces lateral roots. I also came to believe that the constant mounding reduces the canopy of the plant, which makes it impossible for it to build up enough energy to store in the tubers. In any blog entry I’ve ever seen promoting the success of this method, the photos are obviously fake/staged.

    But good luck! Even if the method isn’t as successful as some will claim, harvesting is very easy and I had low-incidents of disease or pest activity with the potato towers.


  3. monique Says:

    I have a question. I’ve always wanted to grow potatoes as well, but don’t have the space (renting). What are you doing for the backside of your structure? Will you be able to add a board there as well to avoid having that dirt up against your house?


  4. The Cheap Vegetable Gardener Says:

    Heiner/Jess: You both bring up very good points. I too believe there is a level of diminishing return that can occur here. There is a limited time for the plant to gain energy from sunlight which is transfered to the tubers. My plan is a little more inspired from the Square Foot Gardening method of just adding 3-6 inches of additional soil to give the plant room to spread without taking too much time away from its energy potential. I also plan on documenting my success or failure on this post so stay tuned.


  5. The Cheap Vegetable Gardener Says:

    monique: I have boards on all sides of the structure. I did get smart and pulled the tower a little farther away from the side of my garage given I didn’t give myself room to screw in the next board above the existing one.


  6. jess Says:

    I am subscribing to the comment so I can see any future updates about this project. It’s a very interesting question to me, since I have read that potatoes produce the highest calories/square foot, which is critical to an urban gardener trying to feed a family. I do believe they are a very important crop to the small-space gardener.


  7. Scott Says:

    I have tried this about 3 seasons, and never got much production, outside the first foot. I have read about this technique far more times than I have heard success stories… :(


  8. Gaover Says:

    Tried this 2 years in a row. Not the best results. I will say that in the second year I did not go the full height and the results were better. Because of the height watering is one of the most important parts of the process in the beginning.


  9. The Cheap Vegetable Gardener Says:

    You guys got me curious so going to do a little side by side experiment to see if there are any significant differences in yields.


  10. hydroponics Says:

    I’m full of great ideas… or so people often tell me in an ironic way! Vegetables and Dracula, for example (and no, I’m not kidding!). What entrepreneurial ideas have YOU got for 2012.


  11. Container Gardener Says:

    I’m very interested in seeing your results. I’m trying to decide if this is a viable option for my container garden.


  12. Rob Says:

    I had a couple of good harvests with this method that I called the Potato Condo. Must be the urban in me! This year though I am going to go to grow bags, as I planted a nice rhubarb plant in my potato condo!


  13. cambree Says:

    This is a great idea! I just started planting purple potatoes this year in a container. Now I wonder if the container is not deep enough.


  14. Febe Says:

    I am thinking to try this one despite the growing environment in our area. We only have sweet potatoes and the process of growing is really different.


  15. Plant Seeds, Bulbs & seedlings for Sale » How to Grow Potato Says:

    [...] How to grow potatoes with a potato tower – The Cheap Vegetable … [...]


  16. Pat Says:

    This is probably a silly question however I am very interested in trying this.

    When you ad the next layer to you mean just soil? or are you adding another layer of potatoes?

    Are all the potatoes grown for the first layer of potatoes you plant?
    Thank you!


  17. The Cheap Vegetable Gardener Says:

    That would be just adding additional soil


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