Quite the clever method here folks! Today’s feature includes tips from a few different sources for growing potatoes vertically (in layers) instead of spread out in rows across your garden. If you have limited space or want to try some nifty harvest magic, this could be a great option for you.
It’s been over 10 years since I published this post and in this update (2023) I’d like to add a few tips and some notes to keep in mind:
- Potato varieties matter. The best results will be from late season varieties. See what kind grows best in your area and go from there.
- Early varieties will only fruit once.
- If you live in an area with scorching summers, the tubers will be affected.
- Choose a location in the yard that offers some shelter from the heat.
- The tower method does work, but achieving 100 lbs. as noted in the original source (which is no longer available), isn’t the typical result.
- If you have only a small space to work with or wanting a growing method that is fairly low maintenance (no digging up the garden, weeding, etc.), this is a good option.
Now onto the goodies…
First, there’s this article from The Seattle Times: It’s Not Idaho, But You Still Can Grow Potatoes:
The potatoes are planted inside the box, the first row of boards is installed and the dirt or mulch can now be added to cover the seed potatoes.
As the plant grows, more boards and dirt will be added.
- You plant in one bottom layer, boarding up the sides of each layer and adding dirt as you go higher (you wait until the plants have grown a bit before adding a new layer).
- While new potatoes are growing in the top layers, remove the boards from the first layer at the bottom to carefully dig out any that are ready for harvesting.
- Fill the dirt back in and board up the box again.
- You move up the layers and harvest as they are ready.
- I imagine the new potatoes in the first couple bottom layers would be somewhat awkward to get at but as you move higher–not so bad.
I traced the information provided in the article to Irish Eyes Garden Seeds, they also advise you can skip the box and try growing them in a barrel or wire cage instead.
He claims that most of his customers aren’t able to grow 100 pounds in the potato box, but he personally had success with 81 pounds one year and another customer did tap out at a whopping 124 pounds! (source: The Denver Post).
In another article on The Seattle Times, I came across a blog post from Sinfonian’s Square Foot Garden that details his attempt using this box method, he added this tip for a better yield:
Greg from Irish-Eyes Garden City Seeds let me know that Yukon Golds, and all early varieties set fruit once and do not do well in towers.
You only get potatoes in the bottom 6 inches, which is what I got. Late season alternatives to yukon gold are Yellow Fin and Binjte.
Bonus! For a handy project sheet, The Seattle Times has a nice image file detailing the steps (no longer available at source):
Imagine growing all those potatoes in a just a few square feet–and how drastically reduced the weeding job will be! So Clever.
Tips from another article (Potato Box Yields Scads Of Spuds):
- Select late-season varieties.
- Plant in multiple layers (adding a layer of potatoes, soil and side panels as the vines grow 12 inches above the soil. Don’t cover more than a third of the vine).
- Coil a soaker hose through each layer so the roots at the bottom of the box will get even moisture throughout the season.
- Plant in a loose soil, like mushroom compost mixed with potting soil.
- Don’t overfertilize (use a 5-10-10 fertilizer) and avoid Miracle Gro.
DIY Wood Pallet Bin
Reader Update: Here’s some info sent in by Christine who made a bin using wood pallets:
Last weekend, I was inspired by the Tip Nut potato bin – grow 100 lbs in 4 square feet. As nice as it looked, it seemed to be very complicated, especially unscrewing slats. Being a “just do it” kind of person, I asked my husband to build me one using pallets — which are free. He picked some up, but I realized that they were enormous, so he cut them in half and made side by side compost / potato growing bins.
The Tip Nut plan called for unscrewing the bottom portions to get the grown potatoes out. Rod attached pieces of wood to hold the front pallet in place and to allow you to slide it up like a window. I took books of hay to stuff in the openings of the potato bin so the dirt wouldn’t fall out. We’ll see how it does.
Here’s a photo:
Unfortunately we placed it up against our neighbor’s fence. On the other side is their dog, who our Puggle Feeney loves to visit. He is always trying to dig under the fence. With the bins in place over his digging spot, the poor guy jumped into the compost bin and got stuck!
Christine’s Update: After having it in place for a couple of weeks, I discovered that the local cats think it makes a fine litter box, so I’ve added a frame on the top with chicken wire to keep them out, but allow the sunlight and water in. See her page here for lots more info and tips: Food Security 2009.
Reed Screening Towers
Update: (Spring 2011)
Sunset.com: (web archive link since original page is no longer available)
Here’s another project using different materials but grown with the same basic idea. These are made with reed screening wrapped around tomato cages (to give them shape) and then secured to the ground with rebar stakes.
To get started, a single layer of seed potatoes are planted, a few inches of compost and rice straw is added and then as the vines grow taller, they are topped off with more rice straw for the tubers to grow in (no more soil is added).
At the end of the season, remove the bamboo screening and watch the potatoes tumble out!
Update: (March, 2023)
This one’s from FineGardening.com: Ranging from 2 to 4 feet tall, these are comprised of 14-gauge wire fencing reinforced with a rebar post for extra stability.
Line with straw and compost in midspring, add a layer of potatoes, water thoroughly and repeat until the cage is full.
- Compost on the inside, straw on the outside…each layer should be about a foot deep.
- When growing in straw, watering well throughout the growing season is very important.
Once the plants die back in the Fall, kick the tower over and dig through the straw to harvest all the potatoes produced.
Comparison of Methods
Update: (March, 2023)
Mother Earth News: A great article comparing five different potato growing methods to see which provided the best results: Trench; Straw Mulch; Straw & Paper Mulch; Bags; Towers.
They found that along with the straw mulch & straw mulch over newspaper methods, the towers returned about 1/2 pound less per plant on average. Bags were the lowest yielding.
They also factored in time and labor as part of the investment cost. The towers were on the higher end (16:59 minutes per plant) due to the construction of the containers but they require the least weeding and can be used for a few years so the cost spreads out.
The highest yield from one of their participants was 3.38 pounds of potatoes per plant (in the tower method), and with that result, not even close to the 100 pounds we’re after.