Whenever anyone strolls through our garden, it’s not long before they ask about our potato crates located along the back fence row. The bright green foliage sprouting out of the top of the crates is certainly an eye-catcher – but for most – they simply want to know why and how we grow our potatoes vertically.  

It all started for us as a simple experiment a few years back. We had long struggled with the hard labor and effort that goes into growing potatoes in rows – so we decided to see how they would work in a few simple crates made from pallets.  (See: Making Our Potato Crates)

growing potatoes
Yukon Gold potatoes growing in one of our crates this year. Growing potatoes has never been so easy! 

The rest as they say is history. That first crop yielded more potatoes in just two crates than we had ever grown in our long rows. By the second year, we switched to growing all of our potatoes in crates, and have never looked back. This year’s crop is on track to be one of the best ever, all with little effort on our part.

The Benefits of Growing Potatoes Without Rows

Growing potatoes in the old-fashioned, traditional “row” style can be an extremely labor intensive process. First there is the time spent in preparing the long planting rows, along with the tasks of planting and covering the crop. Next comes the hard work of keeping those long rows free of weeds all summer, all the while spending time every week or two hilling up more soil to keep the potatoes covered.

Looking down in the crate, our crop of sweet potatoes reach for the sky.
Looking down in the crate, our crop of sweet potatoes reach for the sky.

Harvest time adds another layer of labor – and usually involves ruining a few potatoes with the blade of a shovel or pitchfork while digging them up.

But when it comes to growing our potato crop vertically in wood crates – planting, maintaining and harvesting is a breeze!

At planting time, we fill the bottom of our crates with an equal mixture of straw, leaves and soil. Next, we place our cut potato seed in the soil at the bottom with the eyes up, spacing the seed only a few inches apart throughout the crate. When grown with this method – the potatoes can be crowded together a little more than the traditional row spacing, helping to create a larger yield come harvest time.

To finish planting, we simply cover the potato seed over with a few inches of our mix – water, and wait.

The harvest is as simple as tipping over the crate and sifting through for the potatoes
The harvest is as simple as tipping over the crate and sifting through for the potatoes

Once the potatoes grow and the leaves get 3″ to 4″ above the soil line, we simply place in more soil mix to about an inch below the leaves.  We continue this process until the soil line reaches the top of the crate – and then let them go from there.

All that is left to do is harvest – so when the potatoes begin to brown off, we simply lift up the crates, let the soil mix fall down, and collect the bounty! In a single 18″w x 3′ crate, we can get over 30 pounds of potatoes in just a few minutes of harvesting. Better yet, we don’t have to worry about ruining any spuds by digging with a pitchfork!

The process works for great for regular potatoes and sweet potatoes, although we have noticed that some varieties do better than others. For sweet potatoes, the Beauregard variety works great in the crates, as do the Yukon Gold, Purple and Blue varieties for growing regular potatoes.

It is simply a great way to save space, and grow your own potatoes without breaking your back!

Happy Gardening!  Jim and Mary

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