Potato Tower Project: The Results Are In!

December 13th, 2011 - filed under: The Farm » Flora

This year I took my second crack at growing potatoes in stacked towers, which is theoretically supposed to maximize output while minimizing space.

As a control, I also planted out a simple single-layer bed of taters, to compare the yields come harvest time. So let’s start there:

This is the raised bed at the end of the growing season, a few months back. Through early autumn I let the foliage naturally die down and turn brown, and then about a month ago Waits and I spent a chilly morning digging up potatoes. He is such a great little garden helper!

The average results from one plant – not bad! (don’t mind the baby artichoke on the left)

And the final haul, a very full colander of incredible, buttery delicious taters.

So yeah, I was pretty impressed with the way the raised beds went. The spuds were all pretty small, but I credit our strange summer weather – the same weather that stunted all my tomatoes, grrr – with that one. As far as quantity, I was happy. But of course, the real question still remained. How would they stack up (oh, ha!) against the towers???

That’s the tater tower at the end of the growing season, and again I waited until the greens had dried up and died down. I actually waited quite a while . . . all the way up until yesterday morning! That’s okay though, because it’s been dry here and potatoes won’t rot in the ground unless it’s really rainy. It hasn’t been rainy, but boy has it been coooold! Waits and I bundled up and got to work:

First layer, nada.

Beautiful winter birdies! They came out to investigate while I worked . . .

And Waits went exploring inside the henhouse . . .

I finally hit pay-dirt in the third box down/second from the bottom (*sigh* all too familiar).

. . . while Waits tried to make friends.

All in all, the three potato plants resulted in – collectively – a measly quarter-colander of spuds. Sad trombone! They were a bit bigger on average than the other bunch, but still on the small side:

BUT, at least now I know, and as far as I’m concerned it’s official. From now on I’ll be growing potatoes the old fashioned way – right in the ground!

  • Kathryn B.

    Good to know. My husband and I were talking about doing a potatoe tower. Thanks for posting an update

  • Kimberly

    I love this post, but what a bummer for me with no yard space!

  • http://bittsblog.blogspot.com bitt

    I am sure you are asked this a million times, but I can’t find the answer anywhere, so I’ll ask again: do you eat the chicken eggs? For some reason I thought you were vegan but maybe you are only vegan but those eggs so I shouldn’t assume. Thanks in advance.

  • http://eerosa.com erosan

    Yay for the traditionally bonzai-esque non-instagram lovely pictures (not that there is anything wrong with the others).

  • http://eerosa.com erosan

    I’ll look for the link later, but if I can recall correctly she said in a comment she does not eat the eggs, but sometimes the hens eat them… Anyways, Sayward will clarify of course… who am I to answer questions not directed at me, right?

  • http://eerosa.com erosan

    Here we go…

    great scott! I am a BA geek… you know you might spend too much time here when you can reference old comments:P

  • Jane

    I thought there were 2 kinds of potatoes – one kind forms potatoes at the roots and is mildly stunted by hilling/towering, and another kind that will form potatoes at the base of leaf stalks, so the yield is improved by hilling. Perhaps you have the first kind!

  • Jane

    Hm… a quick web search doesn’t support my memory at all. Wonder where I cooked up that theory!

  • Stacy Short


  • alex

    the topmost pic with waits has to be one of your best ever, i adore it. also, thank you for the previous post on fermented foods, thats exactly what i need right now. i love reading about your garden projects… thanks to you i have such a good ideas for when i get my own land to grow on

  • Shelby

    Haha, agreed for sure, Erosan!

  • Annie

    My understanding was that part of the reason for growing taters in a tower (and not in a patch) was to prevent the tubers getting sunlight and producing Solanine (rather than it’s presence being just in the stems and leaves etc).
    I guess if it works and they’re not green or anything. I don’t know, I don’t grow potatoes, because I don’t really eat them and apparently they need lots of water, which we don’t have a lot of in South Australia.

  • http://windycityvegan.wordpress.com Monika {windycityvegan}

    Yay for homegrown taters! I think potatoes are one of my favorite mini-crops on our little farm. I’ve never tried towers, mostly because we have plenty of room to let our crops sprawl. My potatoes are always on the small size, but I prefer them that way because they’re Nina-sized. And what kid doesn’t love little roasted “hedgehog” potatoes? I have absolutely no knowledge about what may or may not affect potato size, though — I purposely order heirloom seed potatoes that are on the small side to begin with. My sweet potatoes, on the other hand, always end up HUGE. Even when the deer keep eating all of the leaves. Oh, blah blah blah, enough potato talk!

    Great photos, I can practically smell the dirt! And I love seeing Waits trying to make friends with your feathered ladies. I will never forget the sheer joy on Nina’s face the first time one of our hens positioned herself so that N could pick her up easily. Do you ever let Waits crack an egg for the girls to eat? It really freaked Nina out the first time she saw our hens descend on a raw egg, but now she finds it amusing.

  • Brianna

    I was wondering about these. Thanks for the update! Sorry the towering didn’t work as you’d hoped :( btw, *sad trombone* made me lol.

  • http://www.mynaturallyfrugalfamily.blogspot.com Rachel@MyNaturallyFrugalFamily

    A wonderful experiment to do and love the Waits enjoys participating. Get them while they are young!

  • http://eerosa.com erosan

    Time well spent, though. ;)

  • Sheri

    It really can work to grow them in towers. I think its a combination of things that makes or breaks it. I’m from the prairies, recently relocated to the pacific northwest. I found the same thing with the potatoes we grew this summer….not as much as I expected. At home, I could easily fill that colander with potatoes from ONE plant….not so here. I think the biggest thing is to make sure they are in full, not part, full sun and get lots of heat. I think heat is a big one. The prairies have summers where +30 degrees celcius (which is 86 F i think) is a normal day, and often its warmer than that. Maybe try painting the frames black to absorb more heat, or use bricks instead of a wooden frame :)

  • http://www.tiedyefiles.com Kaitlyn@TheTieDyeFiles

    I’ve heard about potato towers, though in stacked tires, but I’m glad you did the experiment. Oh how I wish I could have a garden! I love your scientific approach :)

  • http://bonzaiaphrodite.com/ Sayward Rebhal

    Hi Bitt! And thanks Erosan for helping me out! But to expand, I have gone through periods in the past where I’ve eaten the eggs, but not in a long time. Waits has never eaten eggs and I’m still deciding whether or not he will.

    To be totally honest, I don’t really have a moral problem with someone who keeps chickens *as a rescue project* eating an egg *once in a while*. BUT, I do have a problem with people calling themselves “vegan” when they’re not. So that’s what stops me more than anything else, really. It’s just SO MUCH easier to call myself vegan without having to launch into some highly-specific set of qualifications. =)

  • http://bonzaiaphrodite.com/ Sayward Rebhal

    Duly noted, friend. =)

  • http://bonzaiaphrodite.com/ Sayward Rebhal

    I know so cute right? He loves being in the garden SO MUCH and I can’t even tell you how heart-melting it is. =)

  • http://bonzaiaphrodite.com/ Sayward Rebhal

    Could you explain more about this? It’s the first I’ve heard but now that you mention it, NONE of the taters in the tower were green, whereas a lot of the ones n the ground were. Hmmm . . .

  • http://bonzaiaphrodite.com/ Sayward Rebhal

    Waits loves to pour their feed scratch for them but I havent shown him how to crack an egg yet. Next spring I will! (they’re not laying right now)

    There’s no such thing as too much potato talk – or farm talk period. I’ve never grown sweet potatoes but man I want to! next year I think I’m going to try. Do you just do it the same way, or do they have actual seeds? I can’t believe I’ve never even heard of this, have no idea . . . .

  • http://bonzaiaphrodite.com/ Sayward Rebhal

    Interesting! I really *wanted* it to work. I was all ready to finally give up, and now you’ve got me curious again, ha!

  • Annie

    Solanine is a poison found in nightshade plants (potatoes, tomatoes, tobacco and others). It’s normally in the stems and leaves only, but sun exposure to the tubers increase solanine production and it can be present in the potato.
    This wiki article explains it overall:
    Highlights on green potatoes:
    “When potato tubers are exposed to light, they turn green and increase glycoalkaloid production. This is a natural defense to help prevent the uncovered tuber from being eaten. The green colour is from chlorophyll, and is itself harmless. However, it is an indication that increased level of solanine and chaconine (another related glycoalkaloid) may be present.” (So green taters = been exposed to sunlight)
    “The United States National Institutes of Health’s information on solanine says to never eat potatoes that are green below the skin.”

    There’s arguments and evidence on Solanine being carcinogenic and causing nerve damage long term, and the general solanine poisoning doesn’t sound very nice. In a nutrition class discussion, my teacher told me that *mild* solanine poisoning is somewhat common, but many people think they’ve got bacterial food poisioning and no one ever thinks ‘potato = food poisoning’. There’s also some arguments of its relationship with neural-tube defects.

    This article also explains it pretty well, and seems ‘more legit’ than wiki:
    (Sorry the quantities used are in metric, though.)
    “ A study in Belfast showed that mothers who had given birth to a child with spina bifida or anencephaly [neural-tube defects] could reduce the risk of a similar defect in the second child by 50% if they maintained a potato-free diet.”

    Yeah, so pretty much, after all that, there’s more of a chance of the tubers being exposed to sunlight being grown in a patch, vs mounds or towers.

    Hope that’s helpful, without being confusing and super scary!

  • http://windycityvegan.wordpress.com Monika {windycityvegan}

    Re: sweet potatoes: You don’t plant seeds, you plant sprouts – called slips – that have been cultivated from healthy sweet potatoes. We started our own slips just sort of for fun last spring as something to do indoors with the Neenster – but timing was on our side and the happy accident of too many indoor slips meant a nice patch of sweet potatoes! I’ve seen nurseries carry sweet potato slips, and I know a couple of local organic farmers who would just give them to someone if they asked. Sweets take up a lot of space – they have the prettiest vines. They can probably be trellised, but we let ours sprawl so that the deer could snack on them.

    Re: chickens: Our girls stopped laying a couple of months ago, and they *sort of* molted. Our weather has been unseasonably warm and unless I just didn’t notice, none of our hens fully molted this year!

    I love watching Nina feed the girls – especially when she hand-feeds them their scratch.

  • Chocolate_bananabug

    Thanks so much for sharing your experiment! We tried this this year as well, but I attributed the 7 potatoes to the fact that I got my eyes in pretty late. I didn’t actually stack the tower though because I was so late. Glad to know that the plants do better not stacked…although I did hear from someone I know who’s parents grew potatoes that there are certain kinds that do much better being stacked. Next year I’ll skip the towers. Thanks again!

  • http://bonzaiaphrodite.com/ Sayward Rebhal

    Wow, fascinating! Thank you! I’m imagining a modified tower project for next year now . . .

  • http://bonzaiaphrodite.com/ Sayward Rebhal

    Ooh awesome info, thanks lady!

  • bethametoo

    This is good to know. Now I will not be making this experiment myself this year, as I was tempted to do.

  • Briannon English

    I’m curious what “season” type of potatoes you used? I’ve heard this wont work if you don’t use late season potato seeds.

  • http://bonzaiaphrodite.com/ Sayward Rebhal

    Hmm, I hadn’t heard that! Not sure what I used, but I wonder if that had something to do with it . . .

  • heidihoe

    There are 2 types of potatoes. Determinate and indeterminate. One type only puts on spuds at the original roots, the other will do great in a tower. I planted the wrong type my first year