One Potato, Two Potato, Three Potato, Soar: Saving Garden Space with a Potato Tower

| 3/29/2012 4:32:54 PM

Tags: Ric Bohy, Shuddering Squirrel Acres, potato crop, chile peppers, composted horse manure, Yukon gold, Middle Tennessee, destructive bugs, russet, Peruvian purple, alkaloids, Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, strychnine, potato blight, Japanese beetles, diatomaceous earth, milky spore, potato tower, seed potatoes, compost bin, Ric Bohy,

Last season’s potato crop, like all our other crops but chile peppers, was pretty much a bust.

We planted three varieties in rows in one of our raised beds after mixing two-year-old composted horse manure into the soil. It was aBohyChickensPickin rich, black, loamy bed, and once the seed potato pieces went into the ground, hopes were high for some tens of pounds of Yukon golds, russets, and Peruvian purples in late summer or fall.

Nearly all of them sprouted, and as the sprouts grew, we carefully mounded fresh dirt around and up the stems, a maneuver meant to keep sunlight off the spuds that develop on shoots running off the mother plant. If the taters get light during development, and even after they’ve been picked, they tend to go greenish on and under the skin and turn toxic. For the science minded, the green layer contains the alkaloids solanine and chaconine, which are related to and as strong as strychnine. Nasty stuff, of course.

But in 2006, The Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry published a study in which researchers exposed four common varieties of potatoes to simulated grocery store lighting for 10 days, and then measured the toxic green. Most of it was in the skins in varying amounts, sometimes over the safe level for human consumption. But there were no dangerous amounts in the flesh. The conclusionBohyCutSeedSpuds was essentially what our mothers taught us: Pare off the green layer and eat the potato. (The researchers did offer one warning, though, saying that people who eat pared greenish spuds every day could still build up toxic levels of the alkaloids.)

That was of little concern anyway in our crop last year. The plants yellowed and fell over early, showing some kind of blight. We dug them up and found maybe 10 pounds of new potatoes – just about the same amount we had planted in the first place. They were delicious and too quickly gone.

Between blight, Japanese beetles, drought, and persistent insufferable heat, we got little else out of last season’s plantings.

3/12/2013 5:29:48 PM

Thanks for a great article. I plan to try it. I have a lot of half cow manure, half dirt in my raised beds that were great for tomatoes. Can I use some of this with potting soil and peat moss for my tower?

Melanie Cornett-Gross
3/2/2013 2:16:17 AM

How did this work out?

Melanie Cornett-Gross
3/2/2013 2:15:56 AM

How did this work out?

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