This year I decided to experiment with potato towers.

july garden 10

I had read tales of harvests of mythical proportions, and the fact that they take up less space. But I was mainly interested in the ease of harvest, as last year I dug through half of a garden box, and still did not find all of the potatoes, as evidenced by all of the volunteer potato plants that came up this year.

There are a few methods to make a potato tower. There were two main ones that I was aware of. The first method had you planting a few seed potatoes in the bottom of the tower, then as they send up vines, burying the vines most of the way throughout the summer. This supposedly makes the plants grow potatoes all along the stems. This has the advantage of maximum output per seed potato.

The second method is to plant several layers of potatoes all the way up the tower, with the seed potatoes on the edge so that they send out leaves through the sides of the tower. This has the advantage of most of the work being done at the beginning of the season, with little upkeep other than watering throughout the summer. This is the method I chose.

I got it all set up at the beginning of the season. I used some four ft wire fencing because it was inexpensive and durable, and pushed straw up the sides to keep the compost in. I placed in seed potatoes in layers with compost. Then I left it, watering it about once a week, and harvested last week after most of the vines had died.

Here are the results:

 

Yield from the potato towers, minus a few

Yield from the potato towers, minus a few

The yield was pretty disappointing. That was the entirety of the harvest from the towers, minus about 6 potatoes the size of the dirty one in the middle. And this comes entirely from one of the two towers. The other, in which I had planted my blue potatoes, yielded not one potato.

Here is where I tell you what I think I did wrong. I didn’t water enough. You see, when you plant potatoes in a trench, only one side, the top is exposed to air. In a potato tower, all of the dirt around the potatoes is exposed to air. In a desert, like where I live, that makes for quick evaporation of any water in the tower. And potatoes love there water. In fact the tower that actually produced potatoes was the one that I left the hose dripping on all night at the beginning of summer. (Side note: you shouldn’t water too much, as my neighbor did, or your seed potatoes will rot. But potatoes do need quite a bit of water).

I think potato towers would work well in the following situations: Areas with high humidity/low winds (aka the exact opposite of here), people with limited space, people who are willing to be very consistent and thorough in their watering, people who like to experiment.

I think you shouldn’t do potato towers if: you don’t have a lot of water (we were under water restriction part of the summer), if you don’t want to experiment.

I will be doing potato towers next year, experimenting with the method of planting one layer at the bottom and piling on dirt as the season progresses. But I will also be planting potatoes in a traditional row.