Growing potatoes in towers—garbage cans—is supposed to increase yield. My garbage can potato plants grew strong, but I wasn’t impressed by the harvest.
In May of 2010 I reported about potato towers I installed in my small kitchen garden. You might have heard of these as garbage can potatoes. I had a very large carpet tube that I cut into sections, and I planted potatoes in them.
Potato Tower Scheme
The point of growing potatoes in a garbage can is to trick the plants into producing more potatoes than they would if grown under “normal” circumstances. The original post, Garbage Can Potatoes in Your Small Kitchen Garden explains how this is supposed to work.
I was impressed at how quickly potato plants grow. After sprouts appeared, I added topsoil and compost every two or three days! I learned a few things about growing potatoes in towers:
- Shoveling enough soil to fill three garbage cans—or their equivalent—is a lot of work.
- You need a lot of soil on hand to be able to keep up with one can much less with three
- I need to learn more about growing potatoes in towers.
It took less than a month for plants to grow from the seed potatoes at the bottoms of the carpet tubes to the tops of the tubes—more than three feet. I added compost-enriched topsoil every two or three days until each container was about 7/8 filled.
When I stopped adding soil, the potato plants continued to grow, eventually flowering (left) and then dying back. Experts recommend that you harvest potatoes within 30 days of the tops collapsing. I waited closer to two months to harvest. The potatoes didn’t care.
Potato Tower Disappointment
After I filled the carpet tubes to within a foot of their tops, the potato plants did, in fact, continue to grow. They produced healthy tops that eventually flowered and died back. I was excited to harvest them and I invited my neighbor to watch as he had expressed interest in the project.
I laid a tarp out on the lawn and pushed one of the carpet tubes over onto the tarp. There was a modest clutch of small potatoes at the bottom of the tube and I eagerly peeled back the cardboard and dug through the column of soil.
Nothing! I had already found the only potatoes in the tube.
When I tipped over the first cylinder, I was happy to see a bunch of potatoes at the bottom. I expected to find a lot more, but there was only a handful. The potatoes on the tarp (right) are the entire harvest from two carpet cylinders.
What Went Wrong?
Did something go wrong with my potato towers? The towers didn’t work out as I’d hoped, but I’m not discouraged. I’ve two hypotheses as to why they didn’t produce a glut of potatoes:
- Carpet tubes may not be conducive to growing potatoes. Perhaps chemicals in the glue or the cardboard inhibited the production of potatoes.
- Maybe I used the wrong type of potatoes. Since planting, I heard that it’s best to use a late harvest variety of potato when you plant them in towers. I’d used a mid-season potato.
Honestly, I’m very suspicious of the whole garbage can potato thing… but I’ve heard from enough people who claim it works that I’ll probably give it another try.