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Potato bin update #1. May 27, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, homesteading, wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben is delighted to report that our potato bin experiment is going well (so far). If you missed the initial description and setup, check our earlier post, “Tower of (potato) power.” After a month of pretty much nothing happening, our ‘Yukon Gold’ seed potatoes have not only sent up shoots but have been growing so strongly that it was obviously time to add a layer of soil to cover the stems.

Cover the stems? You read that right. Just as the related tomato will grow roots all along a buried stem—which is why old-timers always suggest burying new tomato transplants up to practically the top leaves to make for stronger, better-supported plants—potato plants will set potatoes all along their buried stems. Our plan is to alternate layers of straw and soil as the stems grow until we reach the very top of the bin, then let the stems grow in the fresh air, bloom, and eventually die back. At which point we’ll lift off the bin and paw through the soil and straw in search of potatoes.

I’ve been using organic potting soil for the soil layers, since we don’t have any soil to spare from our garden beds. But now my supply of potting soil was almost exhausted (and besides, Silence Dogood always needs some to pot up the houseplants, greenhouse plants, and deck container plants as they grow). So Silence and our friend Ben piled our puppy Shiloh in the car and headed off to Jim Weaver’s Meadow View Farm out in scenic Bowers, PA on Memorial Day to stock up. (See our earlier post, “Scotch Bonnets and Dutchy Gunpowder,” for more on Jim and his amazing hot peppers.)

Jim had a selection of potting soils and soil amendments for sale, including organic mushroom compost (the best!), their own compost, and bags of an intriguing mix of compost, vermiculite and perlite they called “Square Foot Gardening Mix.” Not seeing any reason to quibble, our friend Ben bought some of each and loaded it into the car along with a happy Shiloh and an even happier Silence. (She had found one pot of thyme that was a sport in the middle of a flat of silver-variegated thyme. This one pot did show some silver variegation, but the new leaves were pure gold, making for a breathtaking combination. Silence looked unusually smug, even for her—ouch, Silence! just kidding! owww!!!—as she clutched her newfound treasure.)

Back at Hawk’s Haven, I poured the Square Foot mix carefully around the potato stems until they were buried up to about the top two inches. Next time it will be a layer of straw. The plants looked healthy and vigorous. So far, so good. Of course, assuming they continue to thrive, the ultimate test will come when we pull off the bin and look for the harvest sometime late this summer or fall, whenever the plant tops have completely died back. Stay tuned. As noted, numerous potatoes overwintered for us this year—a first!—and are growing strongly in one of our in-ground raised beds, so we’ll have an interesting comparison when we harvest those, sort of the classic experiment setup with the new technique versus the control. 

And if any of you are familiar with Square Foot soil mix, let us know what you think! With the Weavers’ good compost as the main ingredient, it looked pretty good to our friend Ben.



1. Heather - May 27, 2009

I have potatoes growing in a bag too, not too tall but they are growing well! My Yukons were the slowest to get going! Hope it all goes well for both of us~

Me, too, Heather! It’s a great system if it produces a good crop!

2. Daphne Gould - May 27, 2009

Now that is what I should have done. I should have hilled half of mine with the usual method and half in a bin. It would also mean that I wouldn’t have to haul as much soil around.

Yours sound like they’re doing great, Daphne! Don’t argue with success!

3. Deb - May 28, 2009

My bag of potatoes was a bust. Our growing season is too short. The square foot gardening mix sounds spot on.

I guess that makes perfect sense, Deb, but sorry about that! Wonder if you could grow cukes, squash, or melons in it instead? The vines could trail down over the sides. Might save some space!

4. jodi (bloomingwriter) - May 28, 2009

Yeah for you! I finally scored a few heritage tomato plants, which I’ll be putting in when I get home this weekend. No ‘real’ veggie garden after all, though…there’s still too much goutweed in that area and I’ll have to put the black plastic back on. There’s always next year….the mantra of all gardeners.

So true, Jodi! (About next year.) I think that’s why gardening is one of the most hopeful and happy things we can do. If a plant dies, if something goes wrong, we can take what we learn and try again. Imagine if things were always perfect! Then there’d be nothing left for us to do! (Not that this is likely in your case—gack, goutweed! And we have plenty of weeds to keep us busy ’til the end of time here, too.) Anyway, which tomatoes did you get? That’s going to be fun!

5. Phillip - March 3, 2010

I couldn’t find any further updates on your potato bin.

How did it work out for you?

I built a bin (or a potato tower) in 2009, but it wasn’t much of a success. I got some delicious potatoes near the ground, but no potatoes grew above 10 inches. I wrote all about it on my site, Mud Songs. I’m not the only one who had disappointing results.

I’m tempted to try it again next year, because I heard the yields can be impressive, up to 100 pounds, though I have yet to see direct evidence that that’s true.

I don’t think I covered my plants properly as they grew. I let them grow about 12 inches before I added soil. I think the key is to cover them while the stalks are still young and soft.

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