Today was potato harvest day, and I got to thinking how I never did post about our potato tower earlier this summer, like I said I was going to. There may have been reasons for that, but first, I will backtrack a bit, and share how we did this.
This method is based on something Steven came up with when he was teenager, living on a farm. The fun part of building this tower was that it was almost free, and was created almost entirely from what otherwise would have been considered waste.
At our co-op we were given a box of potatoes that were starting to sprout, destined for the compost bin. What a gift!
We gathered a pile of sticks we saved from a dead hydrangea we took out the year we moved here. With a shovel, we cut a circle in the grass the size we thought the tower should be.
Then we inserted the sticks into the cut circle, creating a cylindrical container of sorts.
When the container seemed dense enough (should have been denser!), we wrapped around it, from top to bottom, with jute twine.
W covered the bottom with compost, planted in a round of a few potatoes, covered with compost and repeat until the top (about 2 feet high in this case).
Stopping to admire the heart shaped potato…
When it was full, we covered the top with leftover sticks. We though maybe it would keep nibbling deer at bay until we figured out how we were going to protect it once it greened up. Last year they ate every bit of green!
We also trimmed the tops of the sticks so they were more even, and generally neatened things up.
A couple weeks later – emerging potato leaves…
and from the sides…
Within a few weeks, this tower became a lush green ball of leaves and amazingly, the deer hardly touched it at all. It never did flower though, and a few weeks ago the leaves began to yellow, the stems began to get mushy, and the whole mass of foliage started to look pretty ragged.
A shallow dig revealed a few beautiful potatoes, but the plants were dying so it seemed wise to dig them all. So what did our emergency harvest reveal? Some really beautiful potatoes!! And some really ugly ones too. I am now acquainted, firsthand, with “Common Potato Scab.” Some info about potato scab here.
I won’t give up on our potato tower, but next time we will make some revisions. In particular, I feel our growing medium was too heavy and dense, though it was great at retaining moisture and even with so much exposure with it’s tower shape, and many many dry days, we didn’t have to water them much. We also were able to make use of materials others might have burned or tossed out. We are working toward making our land a place that sustains itself and hope to incorporate more and more principles of permaculture as we evolve with our space.
If any of you have knowledge or experience of potato scab, do you know if composting the soil (a high heat compost) will rid the material of this pathogen? I have a feeling we might have brought it on the potatoes we used for planting, and am not sure if we should toss the compost back in the composter, or put it to rest elsewhere in the yard.