Category Archives: Vegetables

Leaning Tower of Potatoes

Okay, so when most people say (write, text, etc.) “potato tower,” they’re referring to some variation on that time-honored tower-of-tires method, in which one continues to heap earth or straw around a growing spud, using a mounting stack of tires to hold said earth or straw in place, thus allowing more and more new spuds to form along the original’s ever-lengthening stem.

That method is not the subject of this post.

It isn’t that I have nothing to say about the tire-tower; I do, oh, I do. In fact, I have a rant building on the near-ubiquitous nature of this method and its variations (involving wire mesh, newspaper, cardboard boxes, tomato cages, reed mesh, and assorted combinations and permutations of the above), but that rant not having yet reached its finely honed apex, will have to wait. Or we must wait for it. Or something.

In the meantime, I shall try to subdue my rage, curb the temptation to rant, and discuss the other type of potato tower that is the subject of this post. I stumbled on it while mucking about on the web a few weeks back, first on, of all places, Popular Mechanics, and then elsewhere, including Mother Earth News and a blog that’s new to me, Mavis Butterfield’s One Hundred Dollars a Month.

In this version of the tower, you don’t rely on a few potatoes to fill the entire bin. Instead, you put in several layers of potatoes which then grow out the sides of the tower. Having had minimal success in the past with getting potatoes to sprout along a stem as it grows, and having in hand more seed potatoes than made sense, I decided to try this.

Aside from finding enough earth to fill the cylinder (mine must be almost a yard in diameter) this is an easy enough project, largely because I didn’t do it right. Everyone says to line the wire cylinder with straw. Not having any, I didn’t. Instead, I mixed the soil with generous amounts of coconut coir and spruce duff (the layer of decaying needles beneath the tree.) Both hold water beautifully, so I’m hoping the spuds within don’t suffer for lack of straw.

It has taken on a distinct tilt, as you see:leaning tower of potatoes

But there at the bottom—yes—a sprout!

first sprout

That was actually five days ago. The day after this one appeared, I saw another, and two days later a third. Then they started to appear at the top of the tower. So far those three are the only ones poking their leafy heads through the wire into the light, but I have my fingers crossed.


Polyculture all the Way – Podcast 27

The old kitchen garden, with its neat, straight rows of vegetables, has faced any number of challenges in recent years—raised beds, intensive gardening, square foot gardening, succession planting—all turn their backs on the conventional layout of neat rows of carrots, peas, or potatoes.

Enter polyculture, which turns its back not only on rows, but on the whole idea of a vegetable garden at all. Not that you shouldn’t grow vegetables, but in a polyculture, they’ll be mixed up together, and there may well be herbs and flowers in the mix as well.

David Deardorff and Kathryn Wadsworth have just published What’s Wrong With My Vegetable Garden?: 100% Organic Solutions for All Your Vegetables, from Artichokes to Zucchini. For them, as for many organic gardeners, half the solution lies in prevention, and a key to prevention is polyculture. When they talk about putting the right plant in the right place, they mean not just giving it the soil, light, and water that it needs, but the growing companions as well. Continue reading

Podcast #24 From Seed to Seedling

The incredible thing about interviewing Judy Owsowitz is how much she knows. This is true of just about everyone I interview, and I always learn something, but in a way it’s more startling when the topic is one that I actually think I know something about, such as starting seeds and caring for the seedlings. Continue reading

Coleslaw, anyone?


Meadow Zelenitz-McCracken, The Bozeman Chronicle, Jan. 14, 2012

I had to blink once or twice when I saw this photo in Saturday’s paper. I mean, that 65 pound monster was grown here in Bozeman. By a third grader. I bet it outweighs her.

You can read the article in the Bozeman Chronicle, or join me in my room, where you’ll find me sobbing under my bed. The aptly named Meadow grew not only the largest cabbage in this year’s Bonnie Plants Cabbage Program, but the largest ever grown in the program.

Clearly, Meadow has a great future as a gardener. Me, I’m going to retire.

Podcast #3— Steps Towards Sustainability

Windrower and tractor, Wada Farms, Idaho

The Show

What first took me out to the Kimm’s farm was the fact that they grow organic seed potatoes. That operation, run by Yvonne Kimm, became the topic of “No Small Potatoes,” my second podcast.

But at least as interesting to me was what her husband, Jason, has done on the conventional fields to make them more sustainable. After all, no large operation can go organic overnight, and so the question arises: what can a conventional farm do to move away from the overuse of pesticides, herbicides, and even water? Continue reading