Friday, September 14, 2012

Potato Harvest

Sorry it has taken me so long to post. I think I have several subjects simmering and waiting to be written about. I will get to it. Most of you remember how I made potato towers last year out of chicken wire lined with straw and filled with soil.  (see here) This year I used the many paper grocery bags that I got from the grocery store as liners. They were a lot easier and quicker to put together. (cheaper than straw too) I planted 9 towers with three seed potatoes in the bottom of each one adding a liberal amount of bone meal (my dog Lucy was convinced I had buried bones and was very confused). I covered each with about 3 or 4 inches of soil and waited. When the plants started showing up I started adding more soil to each tower. I kept doing that until the towers were filled and I ran out of soil.  I also placed a layer of straw mulch on the top of each tower when I was finished filling them. This allowed me to water less. Over watering potatoes can lead to rotting and I think less is more. I watered well when I first planted and then left them mostly alone watering only if and when they got dry. I think if the towers had been five feet tall those plants would have just kept growing. As it was each tower was about 18 inches to 2 feet high, the width of a grocery bag. Those potatoes grew so well that the spuds were poking out of the top of the soil. Needless to say we had several meals with those potatoes. It was fun to trek down to the garden just before starting dinner, put on a glove and shove my hand into that nice soft soil and yank out a big fat potato. Several dinner guest got a kick out of doing that too.
They were growing so well that I finally just had to bend the plants over and stick them inside the tower to get them to quit growing! This also shaded the potatoes that were trying to jump out of the soil. After leaving them for two weeks to age (this allows the skins to set and increases storage ability) my daughter and I harvested two banana boxes of them by simply lifting the wire up and letting everything fall to the ground where we could sift through it. Now this is a kid that doesn't like gardening but she kept saying "Oh! Potato!" every time she picked one up. Well almost every time.  I had planted both red Chieftain and Yukon Gold. I don't have a scale so if I had to guess I would say we had about 30 lbs that we harvested and at least 15 more that we had already used. Not bad for an investment of less than 30 seed potatoes. Some had been saved from the previous year.

I have tried several methods to grow potatoes and so far this is my favorite. I think the fact that the towers are lined with paper or straw allows the plants to "breath". I have tried growing in buckets and garbage cans but this works the best so far. I save the chicken wire baskets from one year to the next so once they're made your good and they can be flattened for storage. The towers keep the chickens from scratching in the soil and this allows me to grow potatoes outside the garden fence extending the total growing area of the garden and killing the grass so that the next year I can extend the growing area without killing myself removing the turf.  The deer so far have left the potatoes alone.

Potato trench. Click to enlarge
I was very late planting the russets and they went in in July. I ended up making one russet tower outside the fence and the rest of the russets were planted in a trench inside the garden fence. That trench was line with chicken wire, a thin layer of straw,  then potatoes were lined up in the trench on top of the straw and covered with soil and bone meal. I used the soil that had been dug out and placed on the sides to hill up as the plants grew. The idea is to be able to harvest the potatoes by pulling the wire up. We will see how that works. I was about 2 months late getting those in so they are still in the garden and the geese ate all the leaves off of the russet tower last week so who knows how that will be.

I use to think growing potatoes was a waste of time. After all they are usually relatively cheap at the store.  I was wrong. There is no comparison. A fresh potato actually cracks like a fresh apple when you cut into it and the taste is amazing. Plus what else can you plant in the garden that can give you such a calorie dense return? Maybe carrots? Potatoes are fun to grow and add a lot to your self sufficiency. Next year I think I will try taller towers.

What I learned this year?
1. Potatoes will not grow in wood chips even if they are full of chicken poo. I had been dumping the wood chips from the coop in the area that I was going to put towers to help kill the grass. I noticed that not one potato had rooted in the chips.

2. Towers allow the potato plants to breath. I think that garbage can trick is a myth.

3. Use bone meal. Apparently potatoes are a potassium rich vegi.

4. Don't over water!

5. Plant early.

6. There is no potato like a fresh potato.


Izzy said...

Wholey Smokes! That's a neat idea. I may have to give that a try here. I tried them in the ground last year and I got nothing but rotten seed potatoes. I too gave up. You have inspired me!

sista said...

I really recommend it. Thanks for looking.

Jane said...

I am so excited to try this next year! I did the trashcan method, and you are right, I don't think it gave them enough space to breath, a lot of my seed potatoes just rotted. Thanks for the inspiration! Enjoy your potato harvest :)

Randy said...

Did you by chance do an earlier blog with more details on the tower construction? I like this idea. Like the idea of moving potatoes outside the fence.