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Sod pile method for potatoes

 
Joel Hollingsworth
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It's a while until the rainy season begins here, but when it starts I'd like to do something odd, if you guys think it's worth trying.

I have more browns than I know what to do with, and would like to try the cage/tower method of growing potatoes, but I have three problems:

1. Aside from absorption into mulch, water storage and distribution will take some effort

2. potatoes are heavy feeders, and I'd rather not us all my compost on this one project

3. I don't own an appropriate container, and don't want to buy one.  It's just bare concrete and a few pots, where I'd want to place this.

My idea, as mentioned in another thread, is to lay down a few inches of mulch and grow a bed of vegetation in it, including at least something with runners for structure and (maybe dual functions in a given plant) a host for nitrogen-fixing bacteria.  As the potato grows, I'd like to cut strips of this and lay them on top at appropriate intervals, probably along with fresh mulch.  Strips of sod would overlap and give structure to the pile.  Plants at the edges and top would continue to live, but most of them would be shaded out, first by potatoes and then by subsequent layers of sod.  These would decompose, giving their nutrients and especially water to the spuds...so leaves that break down easily would be a plus.  But hopefully the runners could maintain reasonable strength for a few (four or five) months.

As strips of sod were cut, they'd be replaced with fresh mulch.  Ideally, runners would colonize this new space, and by the time all the original sod was harvested, the first area would be mature again, and ready to use.  A piece would be cut only every week or so, to cover half the area of the potato bed.  I'm willing to use about double the potato area as a sod farm, so I expect about a month's rest between cutting.

What plants might work well?  Clover is an obvious choice, but maybe something spreads faster or makes stronger sod.  I've read dead nettle is a good companion for potato, but I don't know how it responds to repeated cutting, or how fast it spreads.  I bet there are grasses that would help with structure (crab grass?), and maybe goose the legumes into making more N.  Are there dwarf marigolds (another oft-cited companion) that spread quickly?  If a plant is really weedy, I can place the sod upside-down.

I'd probably want to train something up the sides of the structure, too, so a monoculture in the sod pieces wouldn't be all that bad...
 
rose macaskie
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polyparadigm, sometimes it seems as if you are really serious and have researched everything you say so that at least you have done your best to get to the boottom of things and sometimes it seems as if you have woken up in a frivolous and slightly mad mood or a ironic one and will say anthing to laugh at others. Is this forum it seems that way. maybe its not being used to how difficult it can be to express yourself clearly.
      Were you crazy tired when you wrote about this, first you say you have lots of browns and then you say that you don't want to use all your manure.
      I will look up sod pile growing on concrete and cage/tower,method  and then eat my words, still i don't understand all of your sentences.
      Are you referring to the person who wrote about his compost heap on concrete, farmers have to keep compost on concrete. From what i have gleaned because they have very big heaps and the run off could affect the ground water, something a small garden pile is not likely to do farmers have to keep their compostheaps on concrete allowing your manure to break down seems to be called composting though for a gardener a compost heap is a place for their organic kitchen waste not a manure heap.     
        Not only physicists and chemists  have complicated agendas to deal with. agri rose macaskie.
 
Joel Hollingsworth
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The modern, built world is mad, and I'm mostly adapted to it. 

I rent a cottage surrounded by concrete.  I've adapted to the madness of whoever put in so much pavement: the 20cm x 2m plot of open soil I have access to is thoroughly planted-in, and I have plant pots and planter boxes and a compost heap set out in the most appropriate places I can find, unfortunately all on slabs of concrete.  (As to runoff: My heap and climate are lean and dry enough that no runoff occurs.  I pour gallons of spoiled liquid in on occasion, and maybe an ounce pools somewhere if there is a chance obstruction to liquid flow; I can shovel something absorbent down, and shovel it all back on top.)

Another adaptation: I have gone through way too many years of technical education, an experience which has left me with an unhealthy tendency to over-intellectualize, to use overly-powerful words, and to draw on complex and esoteric fields of study as though there were a contest.  Thanks for your patience while I learn a better way.

By "browns," I mean abundant dry straw and acacia koa "leaves" (actually, leaf-shaped twigs...they barely rot at all!).  I have very little nitrogen-rich compost.  Not much alive on the property to produce green manure, and only cats and humans to produce literal manure.

The cage method for potato growing is discussed in some depth here:

http://www.gardencityseeds.net/growers1.php

Thanks for the feedback.  I'll sound a little less mad as time goes on, I hope, but let me know when I'm not making sense.
 
Brenda Groth
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Location: North Central Michigan
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you certainly can grow potatoes on your concrete nightmare..but as far as the sod..i'm skeptical of that as sod with runners could ruin those potatoes you are so anxious to plant..as the runners can run right through them..evern harvested potatoes that had quackgrass runners in them..not pretty.

Myself..if i was to be planting potatoes on the concrete and had little soil..i would probably be building a bed inside a wire fence cage of some type..however a garbage can will work well as well.

i'd punch holes in the garbage can or any similar container..or set up a wire cage..you can fill the bottom with some leaves or compost.. and you can mix in the well rotted manure..avoid any ashes or lime when you work with potatoes..so lift them well above any concrete rubble..lime can cause scabby potatoes.

you want to also avoid sunshine on your potatoes..so you need to be careful to continue to cover any that might be growing above the ground..so add material as the potatoes grow..and make sure it remains fairly moist..

a good plan for this type of garden also is to grow tomatoes around the potato cage if you use a wire cage..tying the tomatoes up to the caage as they grow up..the compost and manure will help to feethe tomoatoes..tomantoes don't need a really deep soil..maybe 6 to 8 " minimum..i'd go with a foot..so mound up some good composty coil around the outside of the cage and stick your tomato babies into that soil..

these items would be a good first rotation of a bed..so the following year move it to another area and leave the soil youhave created and grow other shallower rooted items on that new bed..just make sure that renters that come after you are aware what is under the soil..

IMHO Potatoes grow best in a good compost pile..as do squash and melons and cucumbers and goodies like that..so you are creating a good home for your shallower rooted plants..wishing you luck..lets see them when you get them growing OK?
 
Leah Sattler
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yes let us know what works and what doesn't!  learning efficient ways to grow gobs of potatoes is very high on my list. 
 
rose macaskie
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 You answer very gently to being questioned. I am used to being blasted to the mooon if i question people. I am a street fighter type of verbal warrior. I used to be a supportive rather than questioning type of person and now i am confrontational. If you are gentle it could mean you need to do the zen of arguement, it is one of the first things you should notice about people if you are loooking after them, do they defend themselves at all, faced with agressive people or are they on the contrary too agressive. Do they need to be included in a argumental kung fu program in order to hold their weight in groups or be taught not to anhilate others.
          I was right at first, you are male, sorry, at some point i decided you were called Poly.  It seemed the women were more detailed and careful in their explainations than the men so I thought you were a woman. Maybe the fun of the computer is that you expectations about people because of their looks don't hardly exist or at least the only way you can find out is from your prejudices about their ways of expressing themselves.

     What you do to grow vegetables if your garden is concrete, is an interesting theme. For me, sod is earth with grass on and a pile up of layers of earth with grass on it  on it would be rather heavy and hard to plant in and i thought you were jocking. It is interesting to know what you can do if your yard is concrete and you don't have enough money to get it taken out, I would not be able to take it out either, my husband has money, if he fancies doing something it gets done, if not, well.
       I read a interesting way of groing potatoes, you plant them in a dustbin ant the bottom of it and add soil to the bin as th eplant grows untill its full to the top and then, or a short while after you should have potatoes from th etop to bottom of the bin. HOpe i have remembered that right.
       I think it was Brenda Gross who was worried about the people suffering from the depression, the truth is i do too only i believe in social security money as well as gardens. Social security isn't usually enough to be a really enormouse help, so gardens are great together with social security, as we call it in England. There must be people in difficulties with concrete gardens and vegetables cost so much so how you can grow vegetables on concrete is really important.

 I whatched my favourite film last night, favourite because it gives detailed examples of verbal brutality or verbal keeping down of beatrice at least till she killed them, Kill Bill two . I would use it to teach about bullying if i was to give a class of the kind.
    Beatrice, Urma Thurman, is hopeless at the zen of arguement, most of the villans insult her several times, say hurting things, while she hardly gets a jab in. Maybe she would not have had to kill them if she had kept her end up in verbal smashing, as the other girl, acted by Darly Hannah, the one with a patch does do, Daryl hannah  has even wiritten down a list of things to say to  take away any conforting thoughts from the dying brother of Bill, to worsen his last minutes, to hurt him verbally.  The other characters in the film even manage to talk as if it was Beatrice who manipulated or rather had damaged Bill, which means he had managed to do her down in the group, had manipulating all the observable reality, there is hardly a moment when Bill does not tie knots round her verbal, is not clearly the one who plays the tune, he is even playing a tune in the first and second scene. He is mildly threatening in the wedding and she suplicant. Since when was it the supplicant person who was bullying the menacing one.
    His  brother gets in several insults and the only thing she manages to do back is spit at him. The disgusting south american pimp in the film humiliates her mentioning that bill shot her as a punishment for escaping him and shows her what a disgustingly humilliating way he treats women who annoy him, there there is a subservient woman in the bar whose lower lip he has cut so as to completely disfigure her face.
    Bill has earlier in the film persuaded her to spend  two years getting fighting training with a crazy, chinese, assasin, kung fu expert. The scene in the desert when they are on their way to pei mei's, the chinese assasins place, BIll appears to be super nice to Beatrice, he has lit a fire and is playing a pipe for her and  smilling and is telling her a story but it turns out the story is calculated to strike cold into her, it is about how absolutely murderouse and completely mad the man he is sending her to is. This sort of behavior is difficult to manage, the niceness seems so nice as to make one feel that one has been mistaken about he unkindness, unless you have your head well screwed on, the trouble is you can't go complaining if everytime someone gets cross with you it is not reaqsonable to expect others to always do what you want but, when are they going to far in asking you for things, like to spend  to spend time with  a psychopath even though he is the best fighting teacher in the world, and when are their requests reasonable and loving but strict. Beatrice shows the typical signs of a girl who does not realise who is being nice to her and who is not, when she is annoyed with Daryl Hannah character for killing the mad Pei Mei. One or two favours and Beatrice feels well treated, though she has been absolutely crushed most of the time.  
      When Bill leaves her with the chinese assasine,  she askes him whistfully, when she will see him again, he replies he liked that song in the seventies, as in, I dont like that sort of soppy stuff now, a sort of, i don't give a damn answer. Later when she gets pregnant and leaves him because she does not want to bring up a child in the hired killer atmosfere he provides, he comes up all of a sudden with a lot of junk about loving her, the cheat, which he also  seems to have filled everyone else with. He has made her look as if it was she that called the shots and played with him behind her back, instread of him that does so, with their mutual freinds.
     In the last scene he wants to make her say she is a psychopath like him, that is, he does not only want to do her down, he wants to make her see herself in as bad a light as possible. Indeed the real hurt that he seems to have felt seems to have been that she tried to turn down the life style he approved of, tried to go straight and he wants her to say that she is like him. He minds about this badly enough to come up with a particularly complicated set of circumstances to persuade her to say as much. All that negative suggestion he starts the last scene with, that she was a born assasine, with his long and mildey sleepyfying stories of superheroes, the pain of the dart, pain makes you long to say anything, it makes you want not to bother with other things, it makes you want to centre on your pain. The truth drug that makes you feel confused, when people pretend to have infallible ways of gettign the truth out of you, it always makes me afraid, I am always afraid the horror on my face because of what they are implying aand how damaging it is will be taken as a sign of guilt and i think the drug would amke her feel confused because drugs don't make people more clear and reasonable.His suggestion to her what the truth is, a type of negative suggestion which can influence the thinking of the victim, fantasying out loud about what the victim thinks, unless you imagine the unknown motive of others to be something neutral or positive, is negative suggestion.  He also tempts her to tell him what will most does her in that she is a psychopath, with the bribe, i will consider you are a brave person and one i can trust if you say what i want. Brave for blackening yourself,  this dare includes the opposite  that she would be considered a lier if she did not submit calling herself a psychopate.
        He starts inducing psychological pain in the first part of the time in his house. He starts off by having a conversation that makes it obviouse he is educating her child to be a killer. He is rather rubbing in the fact that she had killed a fish instead of damping down any reference to the unfortunate incident, reinforcing the idea of herself as a fish killer. Beatrice had  feared her child would, if with Bill, be brought up to be an assassin and there he is on his favorite topic murder, talking about the child killing a fish in the chidls prescense. He is already suggesting she is cold blooded and talking of death in such a way as is likely to make her more so.  agri rose macaskie.
           
 
Joel Hollingsworth
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If I ever see that movie again, I will certainly keep your analysis in mind.  Brilliant.

It reminds me a little of Quentin Tarantino's analysis of the movie Top Gun: I'm not entirely certain the filmmaker thought of the film that way, but it makes so much sense that there must be a kernel of truth to it.  Here's Quentin:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vyN8VN4BSzM
 
Joel Hollingsworth
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Point taken on not including grass.

I've spread out a layer of straw about 1.5" thidk, the bottom layer of it alreadly slightly damp in some places, touching the compost pile along one edge.

There are a few seed balls thrown in, with lots of white clover, a small amount of a spreading plant that I haven't identified but know the habits of and don't expect to cause problems, and a good chance of some accidental pellitory-of-the-wall.

Who knows when it will rain next, though...I'll keep you posted.
 
                    
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I'd like to hear more people's experience with growing potatoes vertically.  We tried this last season and from our two towers (3 ft wide and and about 3ft tall when we tore them apart) we got but 10 small potatoes.  Highly disappointing. 

Do potatoes like cooler soil?  Might this method work better in areas where the ambient air temperature doesn't get quite so hot (110 was our yearly high - in september)?  Do we need to construct a more solid home for them to live in?  Thanks for that link at irish eyes. 

We used a cage of doubled up wire lined with a few inches of browns to prevent the soil from leaking through the mesh.  I layered compost in with the soil, I doubt lack of fertility was an issue. 

I think our main problem was too little water.  When we harvested, only the top 12" of the pile was moist, the rest was dry as a bone.  I was overly concerned about over-watering, and then ended up parching them.    We water with a 1 1/2" hose (we have about three pounds of pressure from the spring and so work with larger tubes to compensate) and it's easy to freaking drench things really quickly.  But I know potatoes don't like to be dry.  A lesson I won't forget easily now. 

I really would like this method to work for us, as the gophers are such a pain with anything planted in the dirt.  Maybe it's time to look for a gopher thread. 
 
                        
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g'day joel,

tried the caged method a couple of times the suggestion was to build up the mulch around the 'tater plant as it grew but then mulch doesn't drain like soil does so it contained a lot of moisture, why we gardeners use it in our gardens to that degree.

but have found the current method we use to be far more productive our return is in the 6-6:1 ratio which for the little work invested is pretty good. so check our instant potato patch presentation see what you think, we are lovers of the manicured lawn so we pick a patch of grass that won't do much over winter and go from there, harvest is usually the next spring early summer for our growing season.

the grass soon comes back.

len

http://www.lensgarden.com.au/instant_potato_patch.htm
 
                    
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Thanks for the link with all your pictures, len!

We might end up doing something very much like that this year, but we'll have to lay down some kind of weed/gopher barrier first.  Maybe even planks of pine. 
 
                        
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yeh joel,

adaptation to local conditions or styles is the key to finding best method for you. over here this is done all through winter we get light frosts at best/worst so the grass doesn't grow much if any, and any stuff that sticks its head though the mulch hay we generally don't bother with or pull it to stick its head up another day maybe.

we don't use a catcher ever, preferring to rake when necessary so lots of grass gets left as mulch for the lawn and this creates a layer of hummusy type material that the 'tater roots feed in. either way they do nee as full a sun as you can give them. our best plants got the hog of the morning sun. and we gave them little water from the used water from the laundry. so maybe if we watered more we'd get more?

edited in: nowadays i keep the mulch no more than about 12"s deep, enough cover to keep uv from turning the spuds green, with cages they would especially need to be in full sun if possible.

old memory at play the mulch and the hummus that forms under it all go the garden at harvest along with the ensuing worms.

len
 
Joel Hollingsworth
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Thanks for the photos & advice!
 
                    
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Seems like this might be an instance where one of those fancy long moisture meters would be useful.  It's hard to guess what's going on in the middle of a tower. 
 
Chelle Lewis
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Location: Hartbeespoort, South Africa
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gardenlen wrote:
g'day joel,

tried the caged method a couple of times the suggestion was to build up the mulch around the 'tater plant as it grew but then mulch doesn't drain like soil does so it contained a lot of moisture, why we gardeners use it in our gardens to that degree.

but have found the current method we use to be far more productive our return is in the 6-6:1 ratio which for the little work invested is pretty good. so check our instant potato patch presentation see what you think, we are lovers of the manicured lawn so we pick a patch of grass that won't do much over winter and go from there, harvest is usually the next spring early summer for our growing season.

the grass soon comes back.

len

http://www.lensgarden.com.au/instant_potato_patch.htm
I see you say...
On the 18th; 19th & 20th of July, we experienced 3 frost mornings, the 2 days (18th & 20th) where White Frosts of very noticable proportions estimate ground temp' -4c
Where are you based gardenlen?

Really neat idea for spud growing!

Chelle
 
                              
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Location: Inland Central Florida, USA
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We have been having challenges growing potatoes.  I come to find that the other half when "mounding up" the soil around the plants, was actually burying the plants completely in the past.  This could well explain why we were not getting many potatoes.  If you completely cover over the entire plant and all it's leaves too many times without giving it much chance to get food from the sun, it is gonna give up due to starvation!!!

I fear this may be a common misunderstanding of how one is supposed to grow potatoes because many of the descriptions of the vertical growing methods say to bury it without any further explanation.

So now we got that sorted out, our potato plants are looking great so far this year.  (We also grow taters over winter as summer is too wet, hot, and humid.)  We have decided that we need to harvest the potatoes quite early for new potatoes because if we wait till the plants tops are ready to naturally die back for storage potatoes, it is usually already too hot/wet and the tubers have already been attacked by bugs and/or are rotting, but that is just our climate and location I think.

Another point, the potato plants actually only need moisture down near the original seed potato and where the plant roots are.  You don't necessarily want the mulch/soil whatever up around the higher parts of the plant and the new potatoes to be too wet.  So if you were to place some drip irrigation tubing down in the pile a layer or two above the initial seed potatoes, then cover it up as you go, this might be more useful that trying to water from the top.

But please don't take my advice here as gospel or anything like that since we have not yet had a very successful harvest of taters yet.  I'm largely advising based on what I have leaned does not work.

As to the sod pile?  I'll be interested to hear how it works.  I might think that perhaps a nitrogen rich sod pile for the base below and around the seed potatoes might be worth while but it might be easier and just as effective to use the mulch material directly on the potato patch for mounding up around the plants.  Perhaps just use more strips of the sod around the edges to help hold things together and keep the mulch from falling off.  It just kinda seems to me that the sod as the mounding material for around the plants themselves might make it rather difficult to harvest the taters if it holds together too well (we like to simply burrow our hands down around a plant and pull out new potatoes, that would be difficult through sod.)
Good Luck with it!
 
                        
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Location: sub-tropics downunder
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"chelle asked,
Where are you based gardenlen?"

when i wrote that we where in rural area just north of gympie queensland, australia. we are now nearer brisbane but to the north of it and don't get those sort of frost but get frost all the same though mild and few.

edited in: we get 8 to 9 what we call summer growing months, so our winters probably equivalent to nth USA/canada springs, and not very long.

we are in sub-tropics at all times.

we find it is a very rewarding way to grow spuds with little effort.

how can a tag a quote like you have other forums have a button to click on once you highlight certain text click quote and it highlights the text as quote, but i can't see how to do that here?

in the world of growing things no one thing is going to work for everyone well at least to teh same degree, we need to try and then to adapt or look for something else, explore our minds with latteral thinking outside the square and comfort zone stuff. then when success follows we share it warts and all. once had a person on another USA garden web told all others i was not telling it like it was (now why i sould do that i dunno - no money in it for me) so i put the challenge to them hop a jet come see my garden i'll pick you up from the airport, give them a vegemite sandwich (the way vegemite should be eaten) and a cold beer and drive them back to the airport for the very next flight. the offer was never taken up, never got an apology either.

anyhow for now enjoy. give it a try you never know. keep in mind our 'tater growing season i all through autumn/winter and some of spring or possibly into early summer, so i'll drop first seedies on the ground in march no later than april to get growth happening before june/july cold, then harvest when plants begin to die from around the next spring. so 1 kilogram of seedies down = 6 kilograms of spuds later.

len
 
Joel Hollingsworth
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I have read that some varieties only produce roots & spuds near the original root level, and others put new ones out a little below their lowest living leaves.

I had considered an ambitious, tall pile with a variety chosen to produce all the way down, but now I'm going to go with TClynx's suggestion and do all the hilling with dry mulch. I also seem to have about enough compost for this year now, so partly due to a bumper crop of tomato vines late in the summer.
 
Rob Sigg
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Does anyone have any new information on growing potatoes vertically? Does it require a certan variety or other details? Thanks!
 
Carina Robicheaux
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Location: Oregon Coast Range zone 8b
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Potatoes are heavy feeders? I was under the impression that too much N would result in lots of leafy growth and few spuds. A good NPK balance (like from compost) is what I've used successfully.
That said, when you mentioned fast growing viney legumes, I thought of pole beans. I was astounded at how fast 'Kentucky Wonder' grew for me last year.
I would beware of putting grass in the pile 'cause grass is a N hog.
I haven't grown potatoes vertically but want to try it. I was thinking of using shipping pallets for a container since I can get them for free and they're a good size. I've been really impressed with the drought tolerance and gopher resistance of "Allblue" potatoes. For me, the vines of Allblue flopped over and formed taters wherever they touched the soil, so maybe it would be a good variety to try vertically.
I thought the suggestion for bottom watering the seed potato with a dripper was a good one. As long as the original root system is getting H2O the plant will keep growing.
If you have access to un-poisoned grass clippings from neighbors, that can be a great free source of greens to mix with your browns.....
Please keep us posted on how it goes..
 
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