July 13th to July 19th, 2015
This week I dismantled two potato towers which I had been growing this season. The idea of the towers was that we could grow more potatoes in a smaller square footage than with the traditional method. We planted the potatoes inside a four foot tall wire cage. As the potatoes grew, the idea was to add soil on top of the growing potatoes so that they would sprout new potatoes on up all the way to the top.
We ran into trouble with this incarnation of the technique almost immediately. We were supposed to add the soil as soon as the potato sprouts reached 10 inches in height, but ten inches from the original soil level was over three feet below the top of the tower. This made it very difficult to add the soil, requiring me to dump the dirt on the plants from above. Frequently the plants would be knocked over under the dirt, the plants would break, or just remain buried. The size of the opening in the wire cage meant I could get my hands in, but not very far and could not manipulate the plants very well.
This led to all sorts of additional problems. First of which, I did not add dirt often enough, so the point of building the plants up the length of the cage was undermined. Eventually, the plants showed signs of bug presence, but I could not access them well enough to manage the pests. Finally, the plants leaves began to wither and die, eventually multiple plants died without my being able to access the plants and give them proper attention.
So, this week, I cleared away the cages and removed all of the potato plants. In digging into the dirt, I did find several beautiful potatoes which had grown there, but along with them were a few baby potatoes which had barely gotten started, and several potatoes well on their way to rotten. I don’t believe that I got back out of the tower even as many potatoes as I used to first plant them. All in all, I would say that the experiment was a failure, however, I would be willing to try the idea again with a different technique.
I read of a technique which involves building a wooden frame for the potatoes, but only inserting the lowest boards of the frame at first. This would solve the problem of access. As more dirt is added, more boards can be added to hold it. It really sounds ideal. In addition, it is apparently possible to open up the bottom of this potato structure and remove just the oldest potatoes and harvest to eat as it grows. It sounds like the technique would require a bit more attention during the growing season, but the easy of access to the plants would more than make up for that.