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Saturday, April 9, 2016

Potato Tower

A few years ago, my daughter planted one innocent looking little raspberry plant -- given to us by our neighbor's mother -- which she named, "Trixie." Oh, were we ever in for some tricks. Trixie grew into many raspberry plants, which are now attempting to take over half of the garden. Above you can see Fawn with Trixie and her descendants, last summer. The raspberries also extend about 12 feet to the left, outside of the picture.

I knew that this year I needed to take some action. I trimmed Trixie way back, and then plastered cardboard down over the canes in one of the areas never intended for raspberries. Around the cardboard I built a simple 4x5 foot frame. This will be my first attempt at growing potatoes vertically. 

Note that it is really important for the first frame to be level. Also, since I'm a firm believer in crop rotation, next year I will use this frame to extend the growing season and to protect carrots from marmots. But for this year: potatoes...

I filled the bottom of the frame with sand, for drainage.

Next, I crammed and tamped native soil along the inside perimeter, to discourage mice from getting interested in sneaking in.

A thin layer of partly decomposed leaves, maybe three inches deep...

more sand...

several wheelbarrows of well composed manure...

seed potatoes and more sand, soil, and compost.

After planting, I built another layer of the frame. I will put a little more soil on top, since the seed potatoes are quite near the surface. Then, as the potatoes grow, I will add more soil, sand, compost, as well as pine needles as mulch. As the potatoes grow upward, more layers will be added to the frame. I am using slab wood from my husband's mill, since the outside pieces of the logs, being rounded and covered in bark, are not functional for very many other projects. It's a little bit like our "Extra Enrichment" classes in elementary school with Mrs. Bev Barling: "Making something out of nothing." Sawyers often just burn or chip these pieces.

Instructions I have found online call for screwing each layer of the frames in place, then unscrewing at harvest time. I know myself during the harvest season, and I'm going to want to quickly pull this potato tower apart when the time comes, with no tools needed. So I am experimenting with some pivot latches -- one screw in one slim board, which can be pivoted to hold or release the board above it. Just like the barn door when I was a kid, only sideways.   :-)

What you grow matters...
A key piece of information to know if you are considering growing potatoes in a tower: not all potato varieties grow alike. Short season potatoes mature sooner and may not put out tubers from the stems. So it doesn't make sense to grow these varieties vertically, because vertical is not going to happen! Instead, choose mid or late season varieties, which will continue adding tubers to their stems as long as you add frames and soil in a timely fashion. A quick internet search will inform you as to what varieties are early, mid, and late. Although you may come across some conflicting information, certain varieties are often listed as late season, such a most russets, German butterball, fingerlings, purple majesty, etc. Many yellows and reds are listed as early season varieties, which you should grow in a more conventional way. A rule of thumb seems to be that an expected maturation of at least 90 to 130 days means that the variety will continue to set potatoes further up the stem, making it worthwhile to grow in a tower.

Planting prep:
I exposed my seed potatoes to warmth and a moderate amount of light for a couple of weeks prior to planting, to let them pre-sprout while I prepared the tower. I let the cut potatoes dry out and heal a little for a couple of days, and then planted them. You can sprinkle some fir bark dust on the seed pieces if you think the soil is going to be overly wet. In our climate, this doesn't tend to be an issue.

Looking forward to another growing season!


  1. How many Lbs of potatoes did you get? I have two small ones going now and im wondering about how much potatoes you think i will get? you can seem my project here

    let me know what you think. thanks :D

    1. Thanks for your comment, jhett. I just built this tower this spring, so the potatoes are still growing! I can let you know in the fall, though. Do you know what variety of potato you planted? They almost look like Norland Reds in the picture. In this case, you may have planted an early season potato, which doesn't set tubers along the stem. These are not so ideal for potato towers, because potatoes can only grow vertically if they are the mid or late season varieties that set tubers on the stem. You may still get a nice yield, they just may not grow "up." It is hard to tell from the picture, though. Best of luck to you and thanks for checking out my blog!


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