Tater Tower Tutorial

update: crossposted at the Urban Farm Hub Check them out! 

There are many ways to grow potatoes. 

You can grow them in rows. Or mounds. Or in straw. 

However, if you are short on space or wanting to garden fairly intensively you go vertical.   And in an urban farming setting– who isn’t short on space? 

You may have heard of this mentioned in the context of using old tires. Please don’t do this.  You do not want the 4.8 gazillion chemicals leaching into your potatoes. You can do this many other ways- trash can, wire bin, pallets, etc. You can even upcycle some coffee burlap bags like Annette over at Sustainable Eats has done- which I think is really cool.  They are inexpensive, reusable, portable and have an industrial-urban look I like. 

The Ladyfriend and I decided to go the wooden box route and made our “Tater Towers”™ last year with my Dad’s helps.   The claim is that you can grow up to 100 pounds of potatoes in 4 square feet!  In full disclosure, I did not get 100# last year. Not even close, but I had some disease issues. 

There are several resources you can check out: a Seattle Times article or Irish Eyes Garden Seeds online guide or Sinfonian’s Square Foot Garden are helpful. 

What you’ll need:

  • Six- 2×6″ boards (8 ft. long)
  • One- 2×2″ board (12 ft. long)
  • box of 2.5″ wood screws (you’ll need a lot)
  • Planting mix/potting soil

You can use whatever kind of wood that you want except treated wood. Some wood will definitely last longer than others, but cost is an issue.  It doesn’t need to fancy. 

Cuts:

  • The 2×6′s:  12 lengths of 21″ and 12 lengths of 24″
  • The 2×2′s: 4 lengths of 33″

Putting it together:

Tip: We got all our lumber cut for us at the store.  There are a lot of cuts. I’m afraid of the power saw. For now.  I like potatoes, but not so much at the expense of a finger. 

Gather and sort your wood into nice, organized piles.  Pre-drill your 2×6′s.  If you are like me, you will want to slack at this time and just do a few. But really, just do them all now and you’ll thank yourself later when summer is coming on strong and your garden is a busy place. 

You will basically make a square with the 2×2′s as posts and the 2×6′s as bases. You’ll have the 2 longer pieces opposite each other and the 2 shorter pieces opposite each other. Use 2 screws on each board end. 

tater tower, vertical potatoes

The new tower base (with 2 rows of 2x6's) ready for planting

 

I started with 2 rows of boards.  I would suggest that you keep short/long sides stacking all the way up as it makes harvesting easier.  These are things of I don’t think of unless my Dad is watching over. 

tater tower, vertical potatoes

In place and ready to plant

 

Place your “Tater Tower”™ in the chosen spot, place in your spuds, add soil and a bit of fish fertilizer and wait for them to pop up! 

tater tower, vertical potatoes

I guessed at how close to plant them. I couldn't find anything that seemed definitive on how much space for using this method

 

tater tower, vertical potatoes

cute little potato bug

 

**I would place a piece of hardware cloth/wire mesh over the top (loosely) to keep cats from pooping in it.  Soapbox: Keep your unattended & unleashed cat out of my yard and I’ll keep my dog out of yours. I don’t want cat poop in my yard any more than you want dog poop in yours.  And I really don’t enjoy your cat digging &/or pooping in my edible garden beds.  Eww. Stepping down. 

With this method you added more planting mix/potting soil throughout the season.  The method I have used is once the plants are 4-6″ tall I bury them up to the top 2 inches with more planting mix/potting soil.  The plants will grow at different rates so just do the best you can and use your best judgement.   I have also heard of waiting until the plants are 8-12 inches tall and then only bury 1/3 of the plant at a time.  In the end…it is just a potato, not brain surgery so feel free to experiment and see what works for you.  The main thing is to just keep going until the box is full! 

Now, the cool thing about using the box method is that you can harvest potatoes throughout the season!  To do so, you remove a bottom board or two and carefully search around for some potatoes.  You can then replace soil and boards! 

tater tower, vertical potatoes

attempting a mid-season harvest

 

tater tower, vertical potatoes

Potatoes!

 

Some important things to remember! 

  • You will definitely want to rotate your potatoes location from year-to-year.  Crop rotation is important for organic disease resistance.  You shouldn’t grow them in the same area more than once every 3 years- longer if you get diseased potatoes.
  • Something I didn’t know was that this doesn’t work great with “early set” potatoes (such as Yukon Gold) as they will only set once and not continue to set tubers all the way up.  I, of course, planted them before knowing this.  Next year…
  • Potatoes need good sun and well-drained soil.  They want their water even and not a cycle of ‘drowned & dried’
  • Good general potato growing guide here.

Here is an easy guide that your can print out to make it all easy: 

tater tower, seattle times. potatoes

Super handy quick guide from The Seattle Times

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11 Responses to Tater Tower Tutorial

  1. Travel Mommy says:

    Excellent job, Meg! How far up the sides have you gone now? I like the “Tater Towers!”

  2. Tengrain says:

    Meg -

    I am growing strawberries in one of those over-the-door shoe bag thingies – you know, the type with individual pockets for each shoe?

    Anyway, it is working out pretty well. They drain fast (canvas) and the fruit will not be touching the ground to rot. They do need to be watered every couple of days here in California, so it might not be such a great idea here, but in Seattle it probably would not be an issue.

    I’ll let you know if it works out at the end of the season.

    Regards,

    Tengrain

    • I can’t wait to hear how this works! Could work great to keep the damn slugs away from the strawberries and the Babylady from picking all the green oens! Plus, awesome spacesaver! Keep me posted!

  3. Kathy M says:

    Cool idea! Thanks for the growers manuel.

  4. Bureinato says:

    OK, not that I’ve ever grown potatoes, although I am inspired by the burlap sack concept. I’ve read with great interest, One Straw, and this link from last year was very interesting re: tater towers.

    http://onestraw.wordpress.com/2009/10/27/tech/

    ps Hi, I found you from Bitch PHD, where I’ve commented as denver friend since we went to college together.

    • Great link to the One Straw article! Last year was my first year trying the towers and I did get some disease (from over-watering I believe) so it will be interesting to see what happens. I’ll have to keep good records and see what my outcome is. If not….i am also loving the burlap idea. Or straw/sheet mulching.

      Thanks for coming by!

  5. aastricker says:

    I’ve been meaning to try this; thanks for the instructions!

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