Potato Tower at Garland Community Garden 

What do Gardeners do in January - Part One

In addition to mooning over seed catalogs and ordering seeds many of us are busy cleaning out our beds and making new ones.  Now is also the time to purchase seed potatoes and onions.

According to Texas AgriLife, crops in North Texas to be directly seeded in the garden in January and into February include beets, carrots, spinach, Swiss chard, collards, lettuce, mustard, radish and turnips.  I think it’s ok to plant your onions now as well. 

I have my potato towers all ready to plant during the last two weeks of February.  So far I have installed three in the Garland Community Garden and plan to install one more.

Note:  You will need one potato eye for each plant. A four-foot tower will need 20 potatoes with eyes. The body of the potato should be cut to about the size of golf ball but no smaller.  About 24 hours before planting, if you have larger potatoes with several eyes cut chunks no smaller than a golf ball and let the cut end dry out.  This helps to prevent diseases.

  1. Cut wire mesh in 6-foot lengths to yield cages about 2 feet in diameter.

  2. Drive a five-foot rebar in ground

  3. Bend wire in circle and secure each end to rebar with wire or zip ties

  4. Lay down a four inch deep lay of straw in the bottom of the bin, creating a bird nest shape inside it. Curving the straw up against the sides.

  5. Shovel in some soil mixed with compost. Each nested layer will be about one foot in depth.

  6. Place potatoes about every six inches along the outer sides of the nest about half an inch in from the straw side. The eye of the potato should be pointing toward the wire of the cage.  Each potato will grow laterally outside a hole in your wire cage.

  7. Follow steps 4, 5, 6 for the next two layers.

  8. For the top layer, place potatoes with eyes facing up and about three inches in from the wire sides.  These potatoes will grow from the top and not out the sides.

  9. Cover top layer with about an inch of soil and two inches of straw.  After 12 to 16 days sprouts should begin to appear.

Generally, potatoes need between 1-2 inches of water per week;
this could be provided by rain events and/or you to make up the difference.  Each potato tower will require about five gallons of water a week.  Again, the need will vary with rain and /or extreme heat.

Most varieties are ready to harvest after 90 days. When the leaves start to die, stop watering (Usually about two weeks before harvest). Soil should be dry at harvest.

Many potatoes in the grocery store have been treated with various chemicals to prevent their eyes from developing--not a desirable event for potatoes you want to eat.  Get seed potatoes now from your local garden store.  You can purchase sweet potato slips usually the last two weeks  in April.



Since the towers are only 2 feet in diameter, you can grow them on your patio.  To construct for a patio, fist fold a heavy contractor bag into about 1/4 its size and place the cage on top of that before beginning to layer the straw and soil.   Watering is simple:  just fill a five gallon homer bucket with water and water from the top down with the entire bucket once a week.  If you don't have a homer bucket, just save an old gallon milk jug five times and water from the top down.  pour water on four spots on each side and one gallon in the middle to ensure you have thoroughly watered all the plants once a week.



White potatoes come in shades of brown, yellow, and red, with white or yellow flesh, while sweet potatoes are typically orange in color, however, are also found in yellow, purple, and red varieties. Although, in some countries, sweet potatoes are referred to as yams, they are also a different species of plant.  Yes, a yam is a sweet potato--just a different species.  They are a deeper orange.

Sweet potatoes, and white potatoes are botanically unrelated; sweet potatoes are from the Convolvulaceae plant family, while white potatoes come from the Solanaceae plant family.  White potatoes are from the nightshade family and sweet potatoes are not.  Therefore, you can eat the leaves of the sweet potato--stir-fried or fresh in salads.  However, you cannot eat the leaves of the white potato as they are poisonous. 

Sweet potatoes are planted from slips (slender vines that have sprouted from the potato).  White potatoes are planted from the eyes of a potato.  

In North Texas, sweet potatoes are planted in late April after all danger of frost is past.  White potatoes are planted the last week of February and up to middle of March.  Their harvest time coincides with that of the planting time for sweet potatoes. It can be argued that the sweet potato provides more food than the white potato because you can eat the leaves of the sweet potato throughout its long growing season from May until the end of October.

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