I love this creative gardening technique. It hits on so many of my happy Bonzai buttons that it makes me giddy!
First of all, you’re growing your own food, which of course I think is divine. Secondly, this is some super small-scale gardening, because you utilize the vertical ‘dead’ space by growing *up* instead of *out*. As well, this is essentially container gardening, and can be accomplished on a concrete patio without access to actual ground. Both of these benefits make this a perfect project for a small area, like an apartment courtyard or a crowded townhouse farmyard. But the icing on the vegan cupcake, is that you’re re-using old unwanted tires, and recycling them into functional farming equipment. PLUS you get taters! Woo-hoo!
It’s a simple concept, really. By turning the plant’s stem into a root, you can maximize the potato-making parts. And it’s easy to convert tater stems into tater roots – just cover the stalk with soil. In other words, add a tire to the top and fill in the dirt surrounding the foliage. The plant will then convert the stalk into root, sending out lateral buds (little spuds!), and continuing growth at the apex in search of more sun. As a mechanism, the tires also insulate the soil, which stimulates root growth (more spuds!). Come fall, you’ll have a towering tire pile, just teeming with taters. Below, I’ve outlined the process:
procure some used tires
There are lots of ways to go about finding old tires (scout service stations and recycling centers), but I think the Internet is the easiest answer. I just posted a ‘wanted’ add on Craigslist, and within hours I was flooded with dozens of emails from people asking me to please, please take their tires away. Easy-peasy.
procure some seed potatoes
Not just any old grocery tuber. You want organic, seed-quality taters, specially selected for their disease resistance and quality yield. Your local nursery will carry certified seed potatoes. There are tons of varieties to choose from, but this year I started small with Russets, Reds, and Yukon Golds. Yum!
- A week or so before planting, put your potatoes in a warm and well-lit area to induce sprouting. Small buds will grow from each eye, making the eyes easier to locate.
- A few days before planting, cut the potatoes into large chunks, ensuring that each has *at least* one or two eyes. These are your seeds, and each one will become a potato plant. Let them sit a few days to form a scab, which will help prevent rotting in the ground.
select a spot and set up shop
Potatoes like full sun and warm soil, so the more exposed the spot, the better. If you consider old tires an eyesore, try to hide your stacks out of sight. Personally, I love the look of scrappy, haphazard gardens and found-object art. There’s no purpose behind painting them, but I had some red left over and thought they’d make a nice match for the raised beds. I do so love a colorful (and coordinated!) backyard.
You could of course leave them black – an aesthetic that would work in a more minimalist, industrial sort of spread. Or on the flipside, I think these spires would look splendid painted petal pink, completely covered in glitter! HA!
plant them potatoes
Not all tires have the same diameter, so determine the largest and lay it down first. This will be your base. Load it up with soil, making sure to fill up the inside of the tire casing completely.
Set your second largest tire on top of the first and fill it with soil, about half way full. Place the potato seeds in the tire center, and cover them with more dirt. Use enough to fill the tire nearly full, but not all the way. Give it a thorough watering, and you’re good to go!
Water your taters well, and make sure the water soaks all the way down through the bottom tire. Water extra liberally when the plant is in flowering mode, and immediately after. Try to do this in the morning, because leaves that remain damp over night are more prone to disease. When the plant is 8 or so inches tall, add another tire and fill in the soil around the stalk. Leave a few inches uncovered to prevent suffocation. Wait until the shoot reaches 8 inches again, and then repeat.
At summers end, the foliage will begin to brown and die back. You should stop watering at this point, but you don’t get to harvest quite yet. The potatoes need a few more weeks to mature.
Harvest the taters before the first rain, or they’ll begin to will rot in the ground. After you gig them up, allow them to rest in a dry place for a few days. This gives them a nice solid skin for long-term storage. Potatoes will keep in a cool dry place for up to 6 months. A four-tire stack is supposed to yield about 25 pounds of tubers!