You say poh-tay-toe and I say poh-tah-toe and, considering the fact that potatoes play a significant role in food supplies worldwide, there are lots of ways to say POTATO in dozens and dozens of languages! Researchers have found that the potato originated from South America. Its stellar ability to be stored long-term allowed it to be a perfect cargo haul for ships. Naturally, the Spanish brought it back to Europe from South America and it quickly became a staple for mariners who, in turn, introduced it to other ports around the world. Now we have French fries, gnocchi, aloo gobi, bangers and mash, tater tots, papa rellena, pierogi – this list could go on and on!
Prior to commercial farming, homesteads sported their own plot of vegetable gardens and dedicated a portion of it to rows of potatoes. Today’s modern “homestead” does not typically offer the space for rows of potatoes and gardeners are getting creative with making the most of the plot they’ve got. We plugged in the creative juices here at the IMA and decided to try something new. It’s not a novel idea, nor can we take the credit of inventing the “method”, but it saves space, looks kinda shabby-chic, and gets the job done! We’re growing our potatoes this year in Tater Towers.
Our Tater Towers were constructed from repurposed tomato cages, lined with burlap. The burlap holds the soil inside the cage and yet allows moisture and air to move freely. We filled the lined towers with a foot or so of composted leaves. Why compost? Because it’s rich in nutrients, holds moisture, but is “fluffy.” Potato plants are usually started from the “eyes”, or sprouts, of another potato (called a seed potato). We dropped our seed potatoes into the towers and covered them with a slight layer of compost. As the sprouts began to develop leaves, we would add more compost.
We now have about 2 to 2.5 feet of compost in each tower and the plants have continued to grow. Potatoes will develop along the buried stems of the plant, all the while the plant above ground will continue to grow and stretch toward the sun. The Tater Towers offer a two-fold function: the lower half houses the medium for potatoes to form and the upper half confines the stems/leaves to avoid flopping and the hogging of garden space. Later in the summer, the plants will die back and we’ll dismantle the towers to hopefully find a healthy crop of taters.
Since there is more than one way to skin a potato and they’re fairly easy to grow, let’s not call this whole thing off! Find a growing method that works for your homestead (rows, boxes, grow bags, towers) and plant some spuds!