It was the great potato crate experiment Charlie Brown! If you spend any time at all on Pinterest or Facebook – you have no doubt read the hundreds of articles on how to grow your own potatoes vertically – in anything from a garbage can to a barrel or basket.

potato crate experiment
Our potato crate experiment  – the potatoes growing in our crates in mid-summer

We have always grown our potatoes the more “conventional” way – planted in our long raised rows of soil.  However, always willing to try something new – we thought this year we would give “vertical growing” a stab and see what it is all about. We called it the great potato crate experiment. Not ready to give up the proven results of the row method – we still planted our traditional rows – and then trialed a few crates to compare.

Before I go further – any of you who have grown potatoes know that they key is to keep soil mounded around the tops of the plants.  It can be tedious work at times – not to mention it can be difficult to find enough soil to keep mounding up on the rows. However, with all of that said – in general, we have always been happy with the results – usually netting about 5 to 8 pounds of potatoes for every pound we planted.

Our Potato Crate Experiment

It took minutes to lift the crate and harvest the bounty of potatoes!
It took minutes to lift the crate and harvest the bounty of potatoes!

We had built wooden growing crates from pallets a few years back that we had filled with straw bales and soil to grow extra cucumbers, zucchini and tomatoes against the garden fence. (See: How To Build Straw Bale Growing Crates)  So for our potato experiment this year- we used a few to try it out.

Planting…

Planting was as simple as filling the bottom of the crate with a few inches of straw, leaves and soil – and placing in our potato cuttings. We covered them with soil and in a matter of minutes we were done. I have to say, it was much easier than the hoeing of the rows for our standard potato row plantings.

Although not large - we were able to plant 8 or 9 in each crate
Although not large – we were able to plant 8 or 9 in each crate

The straw bale crates were not large – in fact – we could only fit about 8 to 9 cuttings at most into each – but at least we could get an idea if this really worked.

As the season progressed – we continued to fill up the crates with a mix of soil, compost and straw until the potatoes had grown to the top. In our rows we did the same – hilling up over the potatoes until we could hill up no more.

Harvest Time:

Around mid July – the tops of the potatoes in our rows were the first to brown off – signaling it was time for digging.  Although not horribly difficult work – it took us around 90 minutes to harvest a double 50′ row. It was a decent harvest – about 2 to 3 bushel of medium sized potatoes.  I do think the over abundance of rain and the cooler weather this year held down the harvest a bit.

Fast forward a few weeks and it was time to harvest the crates as they began to brown off as well.

The purple potato harvest from the crates - big and bountiful!
The purple potato harvest from the crates – big and bountiful!

So there we stood – ready to find out just how well this growing experiment would really work.  With a fairly easy lift of the crate – the loose soil came crumbling down – and with it – a half-bushel of potatoes came rolling out – most of which were much larger than any that had grown in our rows.  In what amounted to a total of about 3 minutes – we had harvested the entire contents of the crate.  It was pretty easy to see that the crate potatoes – grown in a much looser mix of compost, straw and soil were the winner!

All in all – we were both pretty amazed at the results.  We figured if we had grown all of our potatoes the crate way – we could have had about 8x’s the harvest of the row method.

The future of our potato growing…

Next year - we will use larger crates that can stack up on each other for more vertical growing
Next year – we will use larger crates that can stack up on each other for more vertical growing

In the small amount of time it took to plant our crates – and the ease in which it worked throughout the season (no weeding, easy to add soil – and simple harvesting) – we will now grow all of our potatoes next year above ground. It’s far too simple and too easy not to do!

We will however make a few changes. Instead of growing in the straw bale crates we had on hand – we are going to build a bit longer and shorter pallet crates that we can stack on top of each other as the potatoes grow – creating a larger harvest. (potatoes will continue to grow vertically as long as they are covered in soil) We have two open sections at the top of our garden against the fence – and figure we can grow twice the potatoes we grew in the rows with just these two areas of crates.

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Happy Gardening,

Jim and Mary Old World Garden Farms

 

 

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