Flannel Jammies Farm

...praising God on our 1/5 acre of suburbia

Sunday, August 25, 2013

the potato tower experiment...

Have you seen them?  All those pins on Pinterest and photos on Flickr of potato towers?  It's a new-er way to grow potatoes in a small space, vertically and in a neatly contained tower.  We were intrigued and so this Spring, armed with wire fencing and specially-ordered seed potatoes, we tried them.

First step:  internet research.  I found lots of instructions and oh-so-many reviews of what grew, what didn't, and why or why not.  Eventually we felt totally saturated with potato tower knowledge and jumped in.  The hubs built a cylinder of wire fencing, 30 inches tall and 5 feet in circumference.  The fencing can be purchased in a 10 foot roll; we used the roll to form 2 towers.  Using straw, we lined the inside of the cylinder to create a layer between the compost-to-come and the wire fencing.  Before adding several inches of compost in the bottom, we tweaked the design by adding a length of drainage pipe to the center of the cylinder.  Our hope was that this would allow us to water through the pipe and get needed moisture to the entire height of the cylinder. 

Then the fun part:  one by one the seed potatoes were laid on top of the layer of compost, with the eyes facing outward so that leafy green growth of the potato plant would peek through the wire and eventually cover the cylinder like a steroidal Chia pet.  Then another few inches of compost, then more seed potatoes, then more compost, and so on all the way to the top of the cylinder.  The top layer was compost with a couple of nasturtium plants for happiness.

As time passed, we excitedly watched the first green sprouts stretch through the wire and unfurl in the sunlight.  Sprouts became vines that eventually covered the cylinders with green leaves.  August arrived and we watched the vines dying off, signalling the coming harvest day.  Mid-August and I could wait no more... I slipped my hand beneath the rich brown compost at the top of the first potato tower.   Immediately my fingers found something firm and round.  I pulled my hand out and opened it to reveal a perfect, creamy Carola potato.  Woo-hoo!  We had become potato farmers! 

Ok, not really, but it was definitely time to harvest the potatoes and assess the tower concept.  The hubs spread a tarp on the ground by the base of the towers and gently tipped the first tower over onto the tarp.  He began by pulling a bit of the compost from what was the bottom of the tower, and then pulling out the drainage pipe from the center of the cylinder.

I couldn't believe it!  Little nuggets of diabetic naughtiness were in there, just waiting for us to pull them out.  Finding a few right away, we kept digging until all the potatoes in the first tower were unearthed.  Hhmmm... didn't seem like a stellar crop... maybe the second tower would have a higher yield...

So, the second tower came down, and the process was repeated.  It was wonderfully exciting and I wish I could say that we found more potatoes than even our small household could eat this winter.  It was **sigh** a humble harvest.

The results:

$20 for one roll of wire fencing (reusable)
$0 for the straw
$who-knows-how-much for the compost (reusable)
$13.95 for 1 lb. of Carola see potatoes
$13.50 for 1 lb. of Rose Finn Apple Fingerling potatoes
$6 for 10 feet of perforated drainage pipe (reusable)

Total investment:  Somewhere in the neighborhood of $75.  

Total yield:  Less than 10 pounds (of honestly the most adorable potatoes ever grown)

We did harvest more than depicted here... I promise...

Next year we just might purchase perfectly acceptable, organic, locally-grown potatoes from one of our favored farmers.


HandToSpindle said...

How awesome! I wonder if I will be able to use the potato tower method on my apartment patio? I am sorry your crop was not a bumper crop. I hope you give it another go and that next year does better.

Vickie @ makingoursustainablelife.com said...

Wow - totally loving your honesty! I experimented with the bag method and I will be harvesting tomorrow! We will see how it goes. The plant got huge and is actually overtaking the melons. Can't wait to get the results - which I will post on my blog. Thanks again!