The humble potato is a perennial favorite of cooks worldwide, but growing them the traditional way can be labor-intensive and requires more space than most people have in their backyard. Enter the potato tower: an easy and convenient way to grow lots of potatoes that requires less work and space than you think.
It's simple to build your own potato tower in just one afternoon with a few easy-to-find supplies.
Everything you need to make your potato tower can be found at your local hardware store or garden center. Choose a strong wire mesh, such as welded wire fencing or chicken wire approximately 3 1/2 feet high. Your wooden stake will be the primary support for your tower, so it needs to be at least 4 feet tall and 1 inch by 2 inches wide. Manure may be harder to get your hands on depending on your location, but it is worth hunting down if you want vigorous potato growth.
Most varieties of potatoes will thrive in a potato tower, so your options are pretty broad. When selecting which tuber is the one for you, the most important consideration is their USDA growing zone. Mid to late season varieties work best, but whether you go with an heirloom variety or a more popular commercial potato is entirely up to you.
You can even use potatoes from the grocery store in a pinch, but those tend not to yield as much.
Choose an area of your yard with full sun and drive your stake approximately 6 inches into the ground. Form your wire mesh into a tube 18 inches across and secure it with zip ties to keep its shape.
Lower the tube over the stake, so the stake is positioned just within the tube, running along the mesh. Use four or five zip ties to attach the post to the wire tube. Don't worry if it's a little loose, as the tower will be more stable once filled.
Mix equal parts soil, peat moss, compost, and manure. A five-gallon bucket is ideal for mixing, but if you don't have one handy, feel free to mix the ingredients right on the ground next to your tower.
Once your growing medium is mixed well, water it until it's well-moistened. Planting potatoes in a dry soil mixture can delay sprouting.
Choose seed potatoes with plenty of eyes and sprouts and cut them in half or quarters, depending on size. Ideally, each piece will have two to three eyes to give your plants the best chance of growing. Make sure you wait to cut your potatoes until right before planting, so they don't dry out. If you must cut them early, put them in a bowl of water until ready to use.
Layers are essential to the health and well-being of your potato plants when planting in a tower. Start with a 4 to 6-inch layer of straw on the bottom. It may be tempting to skip the straw, but air circulation to your potatoes will be cut off without it, causing the seed potatoes to mold.
On top of the straw, add the first layer of soil mixture and arrange your seed potatoes in a ring near the tower's edge, leaving two inches on each side. Cover your potatoes with more soil, and then continue to layer straw and potatoes, ending with a layer of soil six inches from the top of the tower.
More than anything else, potatoes need water to grow. While your potato tower makes some parts of growing potatoes easier, it does not reduce their need for regular watering. Douse the tower immediately after completion and make sure it is well-watered for the first week or so, until you see the first sprouts start to emerge. At that point, you can cut back to watering every other day, but increase again in hot conditions.
As the foliage grows, the potatoes may need more water, so check regularly that the soil is still moist and give extra water if it starts to dry out.
The easiest part of growing potatoes in towers is harvesting. After 10 to 12 weeks, your potatoes should be big enough to harvest. When the edges of the leaves start to yellow, cut the zip ties and release the tower from the wire mesh. If the tower doesn't fall over on its own, knock it down and gently dig through the dirt and straw to remove the full-grown potatoes.
If stored correctly in a cool, dark, and dry place, potatoes will stay fresh for several months.
While these potato towers are effective, they're built for results rather than looks. As the potato plants grow and fill out, less of the industrial-looking mesh will be visible, but it can still be a bit of an eyesore. If you want a more aesthetically appealing look to your tower, consider purchasing a wooden one that's just as effective but with a more attractive exterior.
The potato tower is mighty, but if you don't have room to store 100 pounds of potatoes at once, you can keep a continuous potato plant growing and producing year-round with a minor design alteration.
To build this style of tower, cut a hole near the bottom of the tower big enough to fit your arm comfortably. Instead of starting with multiple layers of potatoes, start with just one. As the plants grow, fill the area around the stems with layers of growing medium and straw, leaving 1 to 2 inches of stem exposed.
When ready to harvest, remove the bottom layer of dirt and potatoes. Repeat these steps over and over for a never-ending potato supply.