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Growing Potatoes in Small Spaces Successfully

March 31, 2009

Over the years I’ve learned the hard way that potatoes can become invasive in the garden. Sure they’re pretty and they’re fairly easy to grow alongside other plants, but it can be tough to harvest every tiny seed potato from a hill. And, one little tater left behind can mean potato plants live on forever in a bed. Maybe this sounds like a good idea — a recurring crop with minimal effort, right? Well, the problem comes when they pop up unwanted all over the place and when their membership in the disease-prone solanaceae group means other tasty crops spoil rapidly. But, they’re a hardy food that stores well and grows relatively easily in poor soil with lots of neglect. Really, as long as you don’t get a disease problem, it’s hard to go wrong growing potatoes.

In my own garden, I continue to battle a waxy red potato weed that some gardener before me planted into a few beds. (You may have read my complaints about this in past posts.) It pops up now and again in some of my veggie beds, and it has wound itself into the bed against my west foundation. I live in an old house, and yes, there are some cracks in the foundation where the potatoes lie in wait. I call this my “apocalypse” crop. I won’t dare eat these tubers growing in what may very well be toxic soil, but I figure if some disaster comes along I may be glad to find something, anything, to eat anywhere I can find it. (Did I mention I just finished reading Cormac McCarthy’s The Road?)

Taking the Soil Temp in Potato Tower

Taking the Soil Temp in Potato Tower

So, to contain my potatoes and their potential disease, I’ve grown potatoes in containers for the past several years with varying levels of success.  This year I’m trying a new method I found courtesy of my seed supplier, Irish Eyes. They assert that starting with a single, strong seed potato up to 100 lbs of potatoes can be grown in a 4′ square area.  They provide several options for creating a small cage for the potatoes to grow in, including these easy to construct plans.

So, Bob put together four potato towers for our garden for this year. We modified the plans to add a compostable bottom that drains. I fear potatoes escaping into the garden beds. We’ve placed the towers in a few spots throughout the garden as ornamental containers. Today, I measured the soil temperature, which registered about 58F in them. Since potatoes prefer soil ranging from 55F -70F to grow, and since my seed was sprouting, I gave it a first shot planting Red Finn Apple, French Fingerlings and Yukon Gold potatoes — one variety to a tower. The fourth tower comes a little later in the season.

Potato Tower Ornamenting a Bed

Potato Tower Ornamenting a Bed

This year I’m also taking note and being a better gardener. I am not planting sprouty organic potatoes out of my potato drawer. I dropped a few bucks and ordered seed potato, which is grown specifically for the purpose of cultivating crop. I considered dusting the seed with sulfur to help deter fungal problems, but I decided to roll the decide without this application. I’m allergic to sulfur, so I’m taking my chances without it. Still, this is a good organic way to pre-treat your seed potato prior to planting.

And, a note on the term “seed” when it comes to potato. A potato seed isn’t a seed. Its a potato. Sometimes its a piece of potato cut from a larger potato. But, it is a potato, a tuber. It is not a seed. How’s that for confusing?

Interested in growing potatoes in a tower but not sure you’re up to the construction task? Get in touch to have a tower and all the fixin’s for your tower delivered to your garden!

6 Comments

  1. Sheila says:

    I’m planting potatoes for the first time this year. I had no idea they were so problematic! Thanks for the insight.

  2. Jen says:

    Thanks for sharing….I didn’t get it fully until I pulled up the plans. Very cool.

  3. Mike says:

    Great info, thank you for sharing.

  4. Russ says:

    I have built this EXACT tower this year… 2012…. I have four of them… on first level now with potatoes sprouting…. russets, reds and purple peruvian fingerlings… I am curious to know how your towers turned out… I recently read that you can only really use mid to late season potatoes as early season only set potatoes once…. so Yukons were not an option to me… I would love to know if you proved that wrong with your Yukons….

  5. Martine says:

    Ok, so you put soil, then add the seed potatoes, and then what? Could you give more details about the planting phase. I heard of layer planting. Is it what you do? or you plant only one layer of seed and the soil on top?
    Thank you, Martine

  6. Martine, There are many ways to go here. But, our best yields happened when we added soil, a layer of seed potato & another layer of soil. We let the plants grow until several nodes formed, then we added another layer of seed potato, attached another level of wood to the box and topped it all with soil — including the stems of the growing potatoes, without fully burying them. As each layer grew again, we repeated until we had fully built out the box. We ran out of seed potato before we got the box fully built, but that was fine. We continued to add soil and layers over what was already growing.
    Hope this helps!

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