Growing Your Own Potatoes

I am crossposting this potato box  to the Agricutlture & Permaculture group.

Your link didn't work, so I don't know if it mentioned using Beneficial Nematodes for wireworms.  I've been mixing them with water & sprinkling down the area before planting potatoes for the past 2 seasons and it seems to help quite a bit.  Good for grubs in sweet potatoes too. Very nice article.  And you're so right about the German Butterballs!  Thanks!

I ordered some sweet potato slips for the first time.  Baked or steamed, they are very popular with my kids.  Any tips for growing?

We grew sweet potatoes for the first time last year.  We had a 4' wide, deeply dug bed, and we planted them about 12" apart.  They like a lot of water when they are first planted, so if you don't get rain, make sure to supplement with plenty of water.  I think we watered ours everyday for about a week, and then slowly tapered off from there (every other day for a while, then every 3 days, etc).  Let them grow as long as possible, a longer growing season means bigger roots.  The sandhill site has some great information on growing them, including some in depth look at heat units.  Lots of varieties to order as well. Good luck!The curing process is a bit different as well for SPs,  a little more care is required. 
We have started 6 varietes of slip production (jars with toothpicks) this year and also ordered another 6 varieties from sand hill to try some new ones. 
Good luck and looking forward to hearing how your SP planting goes.

I planted a couple Jersey White Sweet Potatoes straight from the pantry into a potato box, earlier this year.  They seemed to grow well for the season, and I am preparing to harvest them. 

Do any of you know if I should be curing them in a fashion similar to regular sweet potatoes? 


 This is only my second year gardening, and I am still quite a rookie.  Any help is greatly appreciated.


Adam,Now that the season is over, how do you rate the tower? Did it meet your expectations? Are you planning to use the towers again next year? Any suggestions/comments for others?


I know you are busy, but the time is quickly approaching to put last year's experience into this year's garden. Could you give a brief review of your experience with the potato tower?

Thanks, Grover

…but I was just thinking the very same thing today.  Anxiously awaiting an update.

Mine didn't do well.  At the end of the season when I tipped it over to get potatoes out there were only potatoes in the bottom layer.  The plant rising through the soil had differentiated into stalk, and were not root-like tissues, and did NOT make potatoes all the way up as hoped.
My theory is that I should have added dirt in sooner (maybe daily?) and just left a few inches of green showing so that the plant wouldn't have a chance to differentiate into stalk.  But I would love to hear other's thoughts.

My tower had similar results as sand_puppy's. I had a nice yield of potatoes at the bottom layer, but nothing at the higher levels.So, compared to my expectations, this was a bust.
Reading other websites, there are a lot of first-timers who experienced the same frustration. So is the "potato tower" a cruel hoax?
I'm not ready to claim defeat. While you have to dig for them, there are enough tidbits for success sprinkled throughout the internet by apparently experienced gardeners that I'm inspired to try again this year.
Here are the main things I think I did wrong last year:
Planted varieties poor for vertical sprouting - I planted varieties like Yukon Gold, which it turns out, aren't good for sending out side shoots as the plant grows vertically. Instead, you want "indeterminate" late-season varieties. Here's a list of specific varieties that people claimed success with in the articles I've found online:
Russet Burbank
Red Pontiac
Russian Blue
Alaska Sweetheart
Dark Red Norland
Bannock Russet
Waited too long before adding more soil - it sounds like if the potato stalk is exposed to air/sun for long, it hardens and won't send out side sprouts. The successful tower growers say to not let the stalk get more than 3 inches high before piling on more dirt. I was so busy last summer with our transition to a new IT firm that my stalks spent weeks in the sun at more than 12 inches on several occasions. I've seen some advice as extreme as saying to pile on dirt as soon as you see leaves (meaning, don't let ANY stalk get above the soil line.)
"Feed" the soil every 3-4 weeks - I kind of assumed the new soil I was adding periodically had enough nutrients in it. I'm going to be more active about adding (natural) fertilizers this year.
Cure the slips 2-3 days before planting - I didn't do this last year (I didn't do it this year, either, as I read this after starting this year's tower)
In addition to the above, make sure the potatoes get plenty of water (I have a drip line spiraling down through my tower).
Also, I've seen some people say that it helps if there are side openings in the tower for the plants to send leaves through. They claim it helps give the plant more energy to produce new spuds. But I've also seen others argue against this. I'm not going to do this given the uncertainty (plus my tower design won't easily allow for side openings without the soil falling out)
So anyways, I'm trying this again this year and will provide updates on how it goes. I should have results to report in mid-May.
I'm also growing a few potatoes in the traditional "row" style in one of my raised beds, just to have a basis for comparison. I'll report out any observable differences between the yield of the two methods.
To sand_puppy and others who unsuccessfully tried a tower last year: if you're willing to give it another go implementing the insights above, please share your results here, too.
And if you're attempting your first tower this summer, manage your expectations. I hope the guidance here leads you to success, but don't set yourself up for disappointment. At least, not until someone proves this system actually works :slight_smile:

Adam, Sand_Puppy,
I'm sorry your experiments weren't a success. Thanks for the update. As Thomas Edison would likely say, "Now we've eliminated another way not to do it."

I asked a friend (via e-mail) who grows them in 55 gallon barrels what she does. I haven't heard back. I'll share her insights as soon as I hear.


in city pent…
there is yet another way. a straw bale inside a green leaf bag into the bale (about half way into) chits are stuck, wet the bale w/MG or compost tea or…slit the leaf bag so the emerging plants can sun themselves a tomato plant or two can be added as well. plant will produce taters along the stem that is surrounded by the straw.




My friend called and related her experiences with growing potatoes in 55 gallon plastic barrels. First off, her soil is very sandy and she has amended it with compost for about 20 years. It is light and fluffy, with moderate fertility and moderate water holding capacity. From what I've read, this is ideal for potatoes. I'm not sure you'd get the same results with a clayey soil.
She has a friend who works at a place that deals with concrete finishing silicates - it makes the big box store concrete floor shiny. They consider the barrels to be waste and she gets as many as she wants for free. She said the first year, she drilled drain holes in the light blue barrels and planted the potatoes in about a foot of soil. Then, as the plants grew, she used wet straw (I'm thinking this is similar to Robie's method.) She said that the plants grew fine, but spuds only formed in the soil - none in the straw. It didn't work for her so she tried something else.

The next year, she planted the potatoes in the bottom foot and then added about 4 inches of her well amended soil when the tops extended about 8 inches above the soil level. She did this until the barrel was almost full. She said she got lots of potatoes throughout the barrel, but it was too heavy to tip over, so she just waited for the vines to freeze in the fall and harvested each barrel completely as she ran out of stored spuds.

The next year, she cut out the bottom of the barrels so they became a sleeve. Her thoughts were that she could slide the barrel up and get at the spuds at the bottom. There was too much soil-to-barrel friction for this idea. She resorted to digging all at one time. She has used this method for the last 3 years. She said if she wants fresh potatoes, she can dig through the soil and get a few without damaging the plant too much.

She told me that she had heard of the potato tower and was planning to try that method this year. She doesn't remember which potato varieties worked best; although, she does prefer russets because they keep better. I'd say the key take-away I got was to keep burying the tops as the plants grow. I'm not sure this would work too well if you had really clayey soil (like mine.) Once it got too deep, oxygen transfer may become a problem. I'm considering one barrel as an experiment this year.

On other news, she told me she got a couple of pregnant dwarf Nigerian dairy goats last year. Her chickens were killed by a raccoon and she wanted to try something different. She said they weigh about 50 lbs and each produce about a quart of milk each day. She let the kids nurse during the day and separated them at night so she can milk the mothers in the morning. That way, she can get about a pint from each goat every day. (Her adult son can't drink cow milk.) She makes soft cheese with extra milk. In the fall, she slaughtered the kids and started milking twice a day. Now, she is letting them dry up. They're due to have kids in a month or so. She feeds the goats weeds and greenery most of the year. In winter, she feeds them baled alfalfa. She said a bale lasts almost a month.

She lives in a lower-end suburb and has converted her entire lot to production. She cuts 55 gallon barrels into thirds and uses those for mini round raised beds. She plants cherry tomatoes next to the sidewalk and invites anyone walking by to pick a few to eat. The neighbors think she's crazy, but in a harmless way. She doesn't care. She can talk to anyone about anything. She's curious about everything. She's a wonderful woman! She's an inspiration to me.