Wild Gourd Farm

Organic Gardening in St. Louis City

The Potato Tower Experiment: Failure

I was really excited to try growing potatoes vertically in a tower this year. We didn’t have enough space to plant our seed potatoes in traditional mounded rows, and I had read about high yields from potato towers online, so it seemed like the perfect method.

We planted our seed potatoes in the tower in early April and watched the greens grow steadily upward.  We continued to add soil, compost, and straw to promote more stem growth, and thus more tuber growth.

May

June

July

I was feeling pretty positive about the  experiment until a couple weeks ago, when the greens stopped growing– some even seemed to die off completely. I blame the heat– we didn’t see any pests to blame.  We had kept the tower pretty well watered, but two weeks in the 100s did a lot of damage. So, yesterday we decided to harvest our potatoes. With most of the plants dying off, we didn’t want to risk the potatoes rotting in the ground.

One of the other claims made by potato tower enthusiasts is that harvesting is easy and doesn’t involve as much digging as in traditional potato farming. Silly me, I thought we’d just unroll the wire fencing that held the tower up, and out would tumble our potato bounty.

Nope, the tower kept its shape without the wire. Not wanting to accidentally slice any of our hundreds of expected potatoes, we figured we’d better dig into the tower with our hands instead of a shovel.

There were no potatoes to be found. Lots and lots of earthworms, some of the biggest I’ve ever seen, but literally no potatoes. Eventually we decided to cut our losses and dig in with a shovel. No potatoes until we dug to the very base of the tower.

 After three feet of disappointment, it was highly satisfying to finally find some potatoes. Unfortunately, they numbered only slightly more than the original seed potatoes we planted. We haven’t decided yet if we’ll eat our harvest or re-plant them.

In the end, the potato tower, though touted for its high yields and space efficiency, turned out to be a dud for us. We love the idea of vertical growing to save space, and the theory behind potato towers seems sound. I might think about trying it again next year if we don’t have the room, but ideally we’ll have enough space to plant them in rows in the ground.

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10 responses to “The Potato Tower Experiment: Failure

  1. mvmsgarden August 11, 2012 at 8:59 pm

    Interesting results! We tried this last year at school and although your plants looked better than ours we ended up with about double the amount of potatoes that we started with. It seems the towers are hit or miss…..lots of variables. Hope the rest of your harvest is better!

    • Becca August 11, 2012 at 10:03 pm

      Thanks! Glad your potato harvest was a bit better than ours. Definitely lots of variables, I’m still wondering if it’s the heat that did them in… we might be trying the tower again next year, just to satisfy my curiosity!

  2. solarbeez August 11, 2012 at 9:45 pm

    We’ve tried the tower method with the same results. I’ve tried it with a wire cage, a polymer compost bin, and tires which you add with compost and leaves as the vines grow upward. Like you say, the theory makes sense…when I pulled off the tires, I expected 50 to 100 potatoes, but I barely got more than I planted. I’m sorry you experienced the same thing, but in a sick way, I’m glad it wasn’t just me. 🙂

    • Becca August 11, 2012 at 10:05 pm

      Well, I’m glad to hear it wasn’t just me, too! It seems like there are a lot of people online talking up the potato tower, but not as many actually revealing their harvests. It might just be too good to be true…

  3. Collingwood Farm August 12, 2012 at 10:40 am

    We didn’t have good luck with planting potatoes in a tower last year. We got only a fraction of what we put in the ground, they were small, and a lot of them had rotted because it was so wet at the bottom. We’re sticking to good old mounding. Better luck next year!

    • Becca August 12, 2012 at 11:30 pm

      Yeah, we were worried about the possibility of rotting, at least we got them out in time. Sorry to hear about your failure last year!

  4. Jen August 13, 2012 at 9:07 am

    Same results here! At least it wasnt just me, I agree that it must have been the heat. I will give it a try again next year and hopefully we will have better luck.

    • Becca August 14, 2012 at 10:54 am

      Sorry to hear about your failure, but still glad we’re not alone! Let us know how it works out for you if you try next year!

  5. calilah April 14, 2013 at 8:06 am

    I’ve been reading about these towers, too. One site said to plant late varieties, as the early ones, like yukon gold, only fruit once, at the bottom. Late varieties (Binje?) keep fruiting right up through the layers. i’m excited to try. What part of country are you in?

    • Becca April 15, 2013 at 9:23 am

      We read that about late varieties, too, and planted Yellow Finn. Unfortunately, they still only produced at the bottom of the tower. Hope your potato tower works out better than ours! We’re in St. Louis, zone 6.

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