It is a bitter cold day here in Wheatland, WY. Yesterday temps were in the MID-80s! Now we have sharp, cold wind that brought in a thimble full of moisture. Snow is in the forecast–lets hope we get some as it is bone dry here. Winter wheat farmers and cattle producers need the rain/snow that has not come this year.
Anyway, I have been spending the afternoon curled up in my deep and comfy recliner, with Tango curled up next to me. I finished reading “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” by Barbara Kingsolver, and I started/finished reading “The Chef’s Garden”, by Terence Conran. Now I am working on “Gardens of Use and Delight”, by Jigs and Jo Ann Gardener (seriously).
I was also surfing the garden world online. At Mother Earth News I found an article titled:
“One Potato, Two Potato, Three Potato, Soar: Saving Garden Space with a Potato Tower”, by Ric Bohy.
I was smitten with his ideas about building a tomato tower, using old wire fencing, hay and assorted layers (leaves, grass, etc.). It looks like a compost bin and looks promising as a way to produce a lot of potatoes in a very small footprint.
“Because we’re planting more and different varieties of vegetables this year, we didn’t want to give over a whole bed to potatoes, just in case they were again a problem crop. I thought about growing some in a 50-gallon drum, and still had one left from the three I brought with us from Detroit, where I’d found them clean and cheap. Then Vicki ran across something online that we’d never before seen – a “potato tower.”
(to build) Form a length of wide-mesh light-gauge wire fence into a cylinder, stand it on end, line it with straw, and fill it with layers of soil, planting seed potatoes as you go until it’s full. The plants sprout sideways through the straw and wire mesh, the taters grow inside the tower, and when harvest time comes, you tip the whole thing onto its side and collect the treasures within. No forking. No damage. Minimal toil. And reusable soil, if only for the compost bin.
We decided to place it in one corner of the garden area where it will get full sun. Although the online instructions told us to fill the tower with non-manure compost (without explaining why), I chose to use growing material we had on hand: Canadian peat, some bagged planting mix, and dead leaves. We also had a couple of bales of straw in the shed to replenish the bedding in our chicken house and nesting boxes.
Fortunately, my hands are small enough to fit through the wire mesh, making it easier to line the cage with hanks of straw, going about a foot up from the ground. Then I dropped in a thick layer of dead leaves, topped by enough mixed peat and soil to come to the top of the straw. The day before, I’d cut russet seed potatoes into chunks, leaving at least two eyes on each, and allowed them to “callous” overnight – a precaution against inviting blight. Eight of these chunks went around the perimeter of the dirt layer, just inside the straw lining, eyes pointed outward.
Then I lined another few inches of the cage with straw, and repeated the procedure, again and again, until the cage was full and the tower was complete. The last layer was different only in that I added three extra seed potato chunks in the middle of the circle, which will sprout and grow upwards, while runners – and their attached new potatoes – will grow down into the interior of the tower.
In all I planted nine pounds of seed potatoes – four of russets and five of Yukon gold. If all goes well, what comes out of the tower, properly stored, should meet our needs for much of the fall and winter.
And as a bonus, it will have happened on just two square feet of ground at one corner of our gardens. That’s economy, times two.”
Here are pictures of Bohy’s version.
Unlike Bohy, I am willing to commit TWO garden beds to potatoes. I am awaiting delivery of Red Norland, All Blue, and Kennebec potato sets. However, I am always looking for new ideas, especially if they save space. So, despite the wind urging me to stay in my warm chair, I ran outside in a fit of compulsiveness and built my own potato tower. I did not fill it up all the way since I don’t have potato sets yet….but just as soon as they come I will plant the beds first, then put leftovers in the new potato tower.
See photos below to see my version.
Empty potato bin, about chest high (on me), placed between two garden beds
A bin left like that out in my garden would blow away in one minute, so I anchored it with old tent stakes and heavy twine
Hay inside, which will line bottom edges
More Fun: finding bags of leaves
As I was walking down the alley heading to the grocery store, I discovered about a dozen LARGE bags of leaves along side a trash bin. I saw the homeowner and asked if I could take all the leaves….no problem!
The bags are so large that I had to make two trips to get them. I have them all over the place, as you can see in the photos below. I will layer them on some day when the wind dies down (ha-ha). Many will get composted as well.
This is a big score! Leaves are overall the best soil amendment, in my opinion.
Bags, bags, bags (looking west)
More bags of leaves = happy gardener