This year, we are growing potatoes with a vertical growing method. This is a wonderful idea for urban gardeners, gardeners with small limited spaces, and for easy and efficiency. In addition, potatoes will store for a long time with a vertical growing method.
Regular potato planting requires a lot of space as the bushes can get quite large. And you will need to harvest and store in a dirt pile in a root cellar or other similar method. But the vertical method becomes like a root cellar.
We wanted to share a few ideas with you and then the method that we ultimately picked and the reasons why!
Photo Credit: Curbly.com
1. Growing Potatoes in a Tires – We actually first heard about vertical potato growing from an acquaintance that was telling us about her vertical potato tower. Basically, she takes used tires and starts with one. Plants the potatoes and then when they start to grow and sprout, add the next tire and another level of growing potatoes. We also know many that don’t wait and plant all levels at one time.
The benefits of this method are a well insulated vertical garden that allows you to keep and store the potatoes all year round, including winter, and then just get out potatoes when you want.
We were very intrigued about growing potatoes vertically after this as we were going to be taking up a large portion of our yard for these potatoes. However, we personally decided that tires weren’t the best option for us as we are looking to grow an organic garden and had concerns regarding the petroleum or other materials leaching from the tires.
2. Square Box Vertical Potato Tower – This is another version of this method! I actually found a great source and plans on growing a square wooden potato tower from the Seattle Times. This article explains much of what the benefits are to this method of growing. They also provide the plans, but here’s an idea and image for you.
Photos from Seattle Times article.
There are obvioulsy many benefits to this form of growing potatoes. You can “rob” the potatoes (sounds so awful, but it simply means harvesting potatoes from the bottom up), they can stay in here for storage in warmer climates and colder climates can easily harvest and then store in a garage.
So we were set to make this for our garden this year. We didn’t have any recycled lumber for this project. We pretty much just use recycled lumber for non-food growing projects since we don’t know what the wood was used for and want to maintain an organic garden as much as possible.
So we headed to the lumber store and tried to figure this project with the price of varying lengths (that we could cut down to size) and after an hour and a half in the home improvement store, the best scenario we could come up with still put us at a $60 box. This was more money than we wanted to spend, so the Seattle Times article wasn’t lying when they said a drawback was the expense.
3. Chicken Wire and Straw Tower – this particular tower is very easy to build – basically, it takes no building skills. It is pretty affordable and it is very practical.
The idea here is with a bit of chicken wire, rebar or stakes and straw, you can build quite the potato tower.
Well, this was the option that we chose as it has the benefits of being able to “rob” the potato plant, be insulated for a longer growing season, is affordable and very easy to put together!
So let us share with you our potato tower. You can plant potatoes as late as August 1st in the U.S. as they are harvested in November and can sustain cooler temps.
What you need to build this:
- Chicken wire – we just bought some chicken wire, about 6 feet in length. There are hundreds of options. We also grabbed chicken wire that was 5 feet high, which we didn’t need. This was our first time doing this and so we weren’t sure how tall it needed to be. But we planted 5 pounds and we only used about 2-3 feet. So you can adjust the height accordingly. The shorter heights of wire are cheaper.
- Rebar or stakes. We used four and we got the heavy duty plastic stakes the replicate the metal rebar versions. Again, there are hundreds of options, but we wanted to be sure that our tower was very sturdy, so we bought a more heavy duty stake. We bought 6-foot stakes as we wanted to be able to stick the stakes far into the ground, again it ended up being more than enough and so a shorter stake would have saved us money. But we would suggest having a stake that will be about 1 foot taller than your fence so that you have room to stick it in the ground a foot.
- Straw for the circular insulator ring that you will create. We would recommend buying chopped straw. You are going to have a time of it trying to deal with non-chopped straw. It can still be done if that is all you find, but it will be a bit more work.
- Then you will need soil and your potato “seeds.” Potato seeds are basically potatoes that have lots of eyes on them.
For the soil, we actually decided to use Mel’s Mix, the same mix that is used in the square foot garden boxes. We decided on this vs. regular potting soil because the creator of sq. foot gardening has determined that this is the best soil mixture for successful growing in small areas as it contains the nutrients needed without full exposure to the ground. So since this is like a small area container gardening, that’s the soil we used.
As a reminder, Mel’s mix is 1/3 compost, 1/3 vermiculite, 1/3 peat moss all mixed together.
How to build your tower:
Find a spot on the ground or in the garden to place your tower. It will only be a couple of feet wide. We chose a spot in our garden bed, that currently houses 6 garden boxes and a sandbox. We told the story of this large garden area a couple of years ago, but in a nutshell, we covered the whole garden bed in landscape fabric and then placed the garden boxes and bark all around. This was perfect spot as the landscape fabric is a weed barrier and so by placing our potato tower here, we can accomplish 2 things – prevent weeds getting into the tower and prevent the potatoes from attaching and planting in the ground. You can even just use a square of weed barrier/landscape fabric on the spot you want to plant. Also, cardboard, old wood board or any other barrier will work just as well.
The rest of the steps:
- Create a circle from the chicken wire with the ends over lapping slightly.
- Then thread the stakes/rebar through several of the openings on the chicken wire.
- You should end up with a circleish shape.
- Then hammer the stakes about a foot into the ground to secure it in the ground to withstand wind/weather.
- Once it is in place, then you need to start making your straw layers and planting the seeds!
- Start by covering the bottom with a bit of hay, then create about an 8 inch high circle all around the interior of the tower. Basically, try to shove the straw to the sides in a circle formation, then go back with your hand or shovel and make a well to push the rest of the straw to the sides.
Side view of first level of straw.
Top view of first level of straw.
- Add the dirt in the center to be just under the layer of the straw.
Side view of first level of dirt.
Top view of first level of dirt.
- Add a layer of potatoes. You can plant a handful of potatoes per layer. Usually along the sides every couple of inches and then 1-3 in the middle.
Top view of first layer of potato seeds. These are organic “blue” potatoes! YUM!
Cover the potato seeds in a layer of dirt before starting the next layer!
- Repeat the layering until you have planted all of your potato seeds.
- Then drench the tower in water. I basically created a pool on top. Potatoes love water.
Then keep up with the watering and watch your potatoes grow.
When it is time to harvest, you can simply inch up the chicken wire on the secure stakes and inch it upwards so that you can reach in the tower from the bottom to “rob” your potatoes.
That’s it! This solution was easy to do, affordable and hopefully quite effective!
What ideas do you have for growing potatoes in small spaces?
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