Sometimes all you need is to get out of your yard once on a while, see how other people grow their own garden or produce and you’ll most likely gain a new brilliant idea you can use. Growing Lots features this idea inspired by doing just that—the potato tower.
The potato tower is a way to create a living fence post. It’s not uncommon to see trees planted in the ground to serve as fence posts: you saw a branch from a living tree, stick the cut end in the ground, and allow the new tree to root. What happens next is the fence attaches itself to the small, solid tree. And you now have a living fence post. The potato tower basically borrows from this concept, but uses potatoes instead.
Using potato towers as living fence posts is a genius idea because it’s multi-functional, and multi-functionality is a key element of permaculture design. The potato towers not only act as fence posts, they also allow for growing a large amount of food in a small space, and add beauty to your space. This method of growing potatoes is simple, easy to master, and uses few resources.
To make your own potato tower, here’s a list of materials you will need:
- 3-4” tall wire fencing – preferably something with sufficient gauge to retain its form and last for a few years
- Twisty ties
- Wire cutters
- Hay or straw
- Pure compost with no manure
- Potatoes – can be an assortment
Steps to Making a Potato Tower
1. Make the frame
Using the wire cutters, cut out a section of the fence to create a cylinder container, measuring 2.5 to 3 ft. in diameter. A 4” tall, 14 gauge fence works well for this. Use the twisty ties to tie together the fence ends.
2. Create the first layer
Collect your compost first. Clean leaf composts–with no manure, no rocks, etc.–work well. Put down 2-3” of hay or straw at the bottom of the tower and then spread it to go around the inner sides. The straw will naturally support itself up at the sides as you spread it and leave you a wide enough central area for the compost. Doing this helps keep the compost in and reduces moisture loss due to water evaporation. Next, shovel in the compost. Leave enough room for the bottom layer of potatoes to grow.
It should look like a bird nest:
Note: This may be done without using hay or store, but you’ll have to use a fence with smaller holes to keep the compost from spilling out.
3. Lay down the potato layer and water
Add your first layer of potatoes every 5-6” along the inside of the tower and eyes pointed outwards, right beside the straw layer.
Next, water the compost thoroughly. Let it get soaked since this type of compost is prone to drying easily.
Generally, potatoes only need 2-3 eyes per piece to grow, so if you have larger potatoes, cut them up into smaller chunks the size of a golf ball. Smaller potatoes can be planted whole. Cut the potatoes at least 24 hours before planting them, to allow for a scab to grow and cover the cut, which helps minimize disease and rot issues.
If your potatoes are already sprouting, you can still use them. Plant directly if the sprouts are less than 3-4” long. If they are longer, break off the sprouts, as they can just regrow.
4. Repeat steps 2 and 3
Repeat steps 2 and 3. Lay down a new potato layer after every foot until you get near the top. Allow for some space at the top to grow other plants. Make sure to water after every potato layer is planted.
5. Top off the tower
You have options for topping off the potato tower. You can choose to finish it off with a layer of potatoes along the sides and an inner circle—these will shoot out the top of the tower. It will look like this:
Or, you can choose to top it off with a thick layer of straw and fill the center with 1 ½ ft. of soil or compost blend for vegetables. You can then plant a variety of plants on top of the tower.
All you need to do now is wait for your potatoes and other veggies (if you planted them on top) to grow. Remember to water the tower from top to bottom regularly to keep your compost moist and avoid drying out.
6. Growing and harvest
The first potato shoots start to appear in 10-14 days. They sprout out the sides of the tower.
In a month or so, a beautiful “potato medusa” emerges.
When it’s time to harvest your potatoes, simply tip over the tower and pick out the potatoes. No need for digging or shoveling.
According to potato tower experts, if you used 4 lbs. of potatoes in your tower, it can yield more or less 25 lbs. of potatoes. Of course, yield also varies depending on the variety of potatoes used and whether your spuds encountered any disease or rotting in the process.
See the full tutorial at Growing Lots Urban Farm.