How Not to Grow Potatoes

My bright idea this past season was to grow potatoes in potato towers that I would fill with straw as the plants grew taller until ultimately the tower would be filled to the top with straw and visions of beautiful potato tubers developing throughout the straw.
tater towers
This method was great for keeping the chickens out of the plants, well, except for the chicks from my Easter hatch. Those little buggers jumped on top of the full towers and demolished 2 of the planters. Silly birds, don’t they know potato plants are not good for them? Yeah, not my flock of city chickens.
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On top of that destruction, some pest thoroughly enjoyed the greens on the other 2 planters. Of the 4 planters, 1 really thrived, the tower was topped with a large mound of blooming potato plant. So I had great hope for the pounds and pounds of potatoes coming out at harvest. Of the first 2 planters that were destroyed, the Klondike Rose, I managed to harvest a couple handfuls of potatoes total, not the sustaining kind of harvest I was hoping for, but they were still organically grown and in our garden. A handful of potatoes is better than nothing, and they were delicious.
spuds
The other 2 towers were planted with Yukon Gold potatoes, the first of these 2 towers yielded about 6 pounds.
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Now we were talking. This wasn’t even the most vigorous tower and this was good harvest! When it finally came time to harvest the final, fullest tower, I was chomping at the bit to see the masses of golden potatoes that were no doubt coming out of this tower. What I discovered when I pulled up the plants was the largest family of slugs!!! Right smack in the middle of the potato roots and tubers was a softball sized mound pile of the largest, fattest slugs I have seen in So. Cal. It was just gross and disappointing since the reason they were so fat and happy was the all you can eat buffet of fresh, organic potatoes, my potatoes!!
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So here is what I have learned. The towers are a great idea, I am not giving up on growing my taters in towers. Here is what I did – When starting the planters I laid straw in the base and up the sides a bit, like a nest. Then I filled in about 6 inches deep with organic garden soil and planted the seed potatoes. As the potatoes grew I filled in with just straw, leaving the top 4 inches of plant exposed. I did this until the towers were completely filled to the top. The straw was not very decomposed which I think caused the problem, aside from the chick demolition crew, the fresh straw was too lofty, it allowed the movement of the slugs and did not retain even moisture throughout the tower. I found the potatoes growing in or just above, the soil in the bottom.
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How I am going about this next round. I am going to try for a fall harvest of spuds, this time I am going to use the straw as the “walls” of the towers to hold in the soil that I will use to fill in around the plant as it grows. I will use a single plant in the center instead of 4 or 5 plants per tower. My thinking is that the moisture will have a better balance throughout the soil giving the plants more nutrient rich area to hopefully fill with more potatoes. I’ll keep you posted on round 2, well 3 really since my fist attempt was a late fall planting that was destroyed by a week of hard frost last November.

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6 thoughts on “How Not to Grow Potatoes

  1. I had a very similar experience with towers – while they might be pinterest-pretty, I dont really find them all that practical. I think it might be to do with the moisture levels – potatoes hate wet feet. I use a raised bed for mine, which I wrote about on my blog http://bit.ly/1taxY5n

  2. Just a thought on when to plant your potatoes-generally speaking it takes 14 weeks for potatoes to each maturity. If you want to save your potatoes through the winter count back from your average last frost date 14 weeks. Last thougt, although there are wonderfully cute ideas floating around pintrest and facebook-the old tried and true methods are old tired and true because they actually work. Is that little harvest actually worth all the time and work you put into it?

  3. I was not pleased with my tower experience. I HAVE read that there are better breeds of potatoes that work with towers as opposed to others. Growing down as opposed to out or up? Not sure I will try again, but still experimenting! 🙂

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