When it comes to growing potatoes, many people are reluctant to dig up potatoes at harvest time. Planting potatoes in potato towers is an excellent alternative growing system to avoid having to dig up your potatoes (and risk injuring the potatoes in the process).
Growing Potatoes in Potato Towers
What you need:
- Field fencing 4 ft wide
- Straw (not hay)
- Compost or garden soil
- Seed potatoes (about 2 lbs per tower)
Preparing the Potatoes for Planting for a Bigger Harvest
If you just pop your seed potatoes into the ground they will grow but you will be wasting a lot of potential potato plants. To really maximize your seed potatoes you’ll want to cut them up.
A day or two before you are going to plant, cut your seed potatoes into 2 inch chunks with at least 2 eyes on each chunk. It takes a little bit of time and practice to get a feel for where to cut each potato, if you’re unsure, leave them on the bigger side because fewer potato plants are better than no potato plants! Lay them out on a baking sheet, tray, tarp, etc. and place in a breezy and dry location to sure for 12-48 hours. This will help the cut sides scab over so they are less likely to rot in the ground before sending up sprouts. You will need 12-24 seed potato pieces per tower.
Preparing the Potato Towers
Start unrolling your field fencing to form an upright cylinder. Its best to keep the cylinder around 2-3 feet in diameter because anything smaller may fall over easily and anything bigger won’t fall over easily enough! (we’ll get to that a little later). Cut the wire with wire cutters and fold the wire back on itself to catch the other side.
Planting the Potatoes in the Potato Towers
Start by choosing a spot for your towers. I have kept mine together in the past but I recently realized that (duh!) if I separated them they would be less likely to all go down if there was an insect or disease problem. So if you are doing more than one tower, consider placing them in different locations (and away from tomatoes too).
Once you’ve chosen your spot start by lining the bottom of the tower with straw.
Then begin filling the tower with a foot of soil. Arrange your seed potatoes around the edges about 3-4 inches from the edge and about 6 inches apart. Be sure to point the eyes outward as the plants will be growing out the side of the tower. You should be able to use 4-6 seed potatoes per layer. Keep in mind that the farther apart they are the potentially larger your potatoes will be.
Arrange more straw and add another foot of soil. Arrange another layer of potatoes. Water each layer well. Continue like this until the tower is full. I like to add calendula or marigold to the top which can help with pest control and looks pretty!
How many potatoes will I get?
It really varies depending on the variety you choose, how close you plant them and how rich the soil is. A good estimate is 10-20 lb per 1 lb of seed potatoes.These towers can produce around 50 lbs of potatoes.
NOTE: If you live in a warm, dry or windy area, this technique may not be a fit for you. As noted in the article, “A Simple Way to Get High Yields of Potatoes“:
“…researchers in tropical climates have found that when soil temperatures rise above 75°F (25°C), potato plants signal their roots to stop making tubers. Instead, the plants may rev up other reproductive strategies, like developing more fertile flowers, or popping out little green potato-like organs on the main stem. Daytime heating of roots is one reason why potatoes grown in above-ground containers may fail in warm summer climates. Potatoes can take warm air temperatures, but when the roots warm up too, productivity plummets.
A second problem with growing potatoes in towers, pots or bags is the dwarfing effect caused by the containers. The plants sense that they are growing close together, which makes them produce numerous small tubers rather than a few large ones.”
Harvesting Your Homegrown Potatoes
When your potato plants have started to dry up and die back you can begin harvesting. Get a large tarp and lay it on the ground next to the tower. Push the tower over and gently pull the soil and potatoes out. This part is really fun for kids young and old. It’s one of my favorite end of summer activities! Because dumping the soil out loosens it, you can comb through the soil with your hands, making it easier to grab potatoes without harming them.
What to Do with the Soil from the Potatoes
Now that you’ve dumped a bunch of soil onto a tarp, what should you do with it? It’s not a great idea to use the soil, as is, for next year’s potatoes since it could hold insects or diseases, so you have a few options:
- Solarize your soil to kill insects and disease
- Use the soil in the plot in your garden rotation that will have legumes next year
- Add the soil/straw mix to your compost
- Give the soil/straw mix to your (or somebody’s) chickens
If you want to skip the fencing, you can try the potato grow bags shown below. Same concept!
Do you plan on trying this potato technique? Let us know how it goes in the comments!
You may also enjoy:
- Growing Onions from Seed – 5 Tips for a Great Harvest
- How to Grow Garlic – From Planting to Harvest
- Small Garden, Big Yields – 10 Tips for a Great Harvest
Mindy Wood is the voice behind Purposefully Simple where she shares tips to slow down, simplify, become more self sufficient and live a healthier, happier life. As a wife, mom of two, writer, and aspiring homesteader, she’s always looking for ways to encourage others in living a joyful and authentic life. Follow her on Pinterest and Facebook.