Second Hand Eden
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Second Hand Eden

Potato Towers — French Fry Incubators

Rambling Anecdote Section:

Potatoes saved my life. No, seriously. I was a child with severe wheat and dairy allergies. In the 1980s. When medicine was CLUELESS about allergies. I weighed 36 pounds when I was 2 and 36 pounds when I was 3. My poor mother had to figure out how to manage my food by trial and error. And every time I would emerge from an episode of sickness, she would have to get some weight back on to me. (Fun Fact: Wheat and dairy allergies in a time where EVERYTHING was made of wheat and dairy only leaves about 10% of the North American diet free.) Soooooooo…..my mom did what any saintly mother would do. She fattened me back up with home made French fries.

Many would argue that the most important/delicious/divine vegetable, is the potato. Like me. Potatoes can be deep fried, baked, boiled, pan fried, and fermented. I often forget that potatoes have actual nutritional value because I always mentally associate potatoes with French fries and gravy. But, since potatoes are so versatile, they are a staple in many places, and thus, deserve their own special mention.

Actual Useful Information Section:
Potatoes, like vampires, must ‘sleep in their native soil’ and do not do well if exposed to sunlight. So, if you want lots of potatoes, you must keep expanding their soil space. Traditionally, this is done by ‘hilling’. Hilling is the increase of soil build up around the base of the potato plant as it’s leafy top expands, giving more nutrients and room for the potatoes tubers at the plant root to grow. Two main problems with hilling are that is labor-intensive, and the soil is easily displaced by rainwater or wind. The solution to these problems, at least on a small scale, is the potato tower. The easiest, laziest, and cheapest way to make a potato tower is by constructing a circular container to hold the potato plant and soil. My carpentry career began and ended in primary school, where I discovered that popsicle-stick architecture was not worth the frustration or slivers. If you are like me, you will probably appreciate a fast, wood-free, cheap, and (somewhat hideous) wire mesh
potato tower.

ACTION STEPS:
Estimate how many potatoes you would like. Each potato tower yields about 3–5 pounds of potatoes. Once you have decided how many towers you want, you will have to pick up the materials below.

Materials List:
1.Wire mesh for concrete 1 cm squares. (for some unknown and
perhaps idiotic reason, this is referred to as “hardware cloth’)
2. Zip ties about 10 cm long
3. Bamboo garden stakes
4. landscape fabric
5.Gorilla Tape
6.GLOVES
7.Wire Cutters
8. Soil mixture (60% Potting Soil +20% rotted manure fertilizer + 20% Vermiculate or Zeolite)

Step one: Cut the hardware cloth using gloves and wire cutters two approximately 3 1/2 to 4 feet. Then secure using zip ties.

Step two: Sharpen your bamboo gardening stakes, and insert them into the ground on the outside of your mesh tower.

Step three: Secure the bamboo garden stakes to the wire mesh using zip ties.

Step four: Measure out enough landscape fabric to loosely surround the mesh tower. Make sure that it will stretch up to at least 3 feet tall. For now gather it at the bottom and secure it with gorilla tape.

Step five: Place 6 inches of soil mix at the bottom of the tower, and plant one or two potatoes. Cover with soil.

Step six: As your potatoes grow, add soil to approximately 2 inches below the leaf stock. This will give more room for new tubers to grow. Remember also to keep pulling up the landscape fabric so that the tubers are protected from light.

How I did my Action Steps:

I initially made taller, skinnier towers (with one potato plant each), and then I switched to shorter, fatter towers (with 2 large potato plants). Both were fine, but I found it way easier to reach in and weed pull or water the shorter ones. Because these are REALLY BASIC towers, the soil DOES LEAK OUT, the higher the soil is piled. And honestly, it would probably have been wayyyyy smarter for me to put the landscape fabric INSIDE the hardware cloth, so…you should probably do that.

Tall Skinny Towers
Short fat towers.

Non-Hideous Potato Towers:

Rambling Anecdote Section:

I used these type of potato towers for 2 gardening seasons, and they worked quite well. But, then I joined the Food Bank Gardening Committee, and there was scheming and pressure -mostly from me. How could we convince/cajole/pester people in our little town to adopt these towers for a Food Bank Community Garden? It had taken THREE YEARS of whiny badgering to finally get the town council to allow us to put in a Community Garden next to the town food bank. Seriously. It took my pastor going to dozens of meetings, AND me trapping myself inside a fundraiser fake jail with a bragging town councilmen to get our way. (Pro Tip: If you find yourself with a boastful politician trying to impress you will ‘All His Power and Influence’ let him boast until his ego is bloated and his face is blue, then ask for the favor you want. It is AMAZING what you can get when politicians crow about their power).

Action Steps:

We needed more stable, permanent, esthetically pleasing potato towers. So, we followed these steps:

Step 1: I asked my dear Dad to make them for me, since I am HOPELESS at carpentry and he is good. Don’t be afraid to delegate.

Step 2: My Dad made these:

Basically, he screwed together 2 x 4 s into a square, with 4 upright 2 X 4 s inside the square’s corners. Then he attached 8 more 2 X 4 s just adjacent to each corner. This made a slide channel for additional 2 X 4 s to be added as the potato plants grew.

Here are the working towers with mature potato plants:

These towers are more expensive and require more skills to build, but they are far more sturdy, and last much longer than the wire ones above. So, depending on your price points, your time, and your skills, you can choose either style, or go for both. The most important thing is that you DO IT. Here is what my Fry Garden looked like:

Oh, and yes, we DID get the Community Garden with potatoes approved. It was pretty successful for 1 season. Until both me and my colleague moved. But hey, that was one more year than there would have been, and the food bank got FRESH vegetables.

So, go forth and make potato towers, the incubators for the most important vegetable dish ever — French fries.

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Exploring ways to produce food in non-traditional spaces.

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Asha Alaric

Asha Alaric

Bleeding Heart or Misanthrope. Depends on the day. Book hoarder. Coffee snob. Loves animals, plants, and at least 9 people.

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