Yeah, you got that right. Month FOUR. Potatoes are supposed to be half dead, wretched looking things at much past 90 days, but tower #1 went in Apil 27 and is still vibrant and strong. The spuds I field planted at the same time have only wispy desiccated brown leaves left – some are already decomposed. Here is Tower 1:
With almost 3′ of root zone, This tower could be very productive if the theory holds. Flowering for the 4th or 5th time – the repeated deep hilling as levels are added to the tower is acting like a “reset button” for the life cycle of the plant: each time it will stop flowering, and put more energy into growth and converting the former stalk to root. My one concern is when to let the top growth go – I figure it will take a syck amount of leaf area to produce enough sugars to grow 25-50#’s of potatoes. The main reason the plants die back is that they are pulling all their sugar into the tubers and there is no where near enough leaf are to do that now – will the longer season have offset that? This may be the last rung on this tower and I have hit it with Fish Emulsion to give it some boost. Still very little pest or disease pressure – though the University Extension just sent out a Late Blight (of Potato Famine Fame) bulletin – it’s in Wisconsin and stiking terror into all us organic potato growers – it can wipe out a field in as little as a week.
Towers 2/3, which went in 2 months later, are doing fine with one variety – I believe its the Purple Viking- having about 6″ more growth (1 rung).
At the same time I put in Towers 2/3 I also planted a double row of Purple Viking in a Straw mulch. Initial Results were very solid, but the limits of this system are becoming apparrent.
The issue I am having now is that the bed is getting freaky wide- the straw keep sloughing off to the sides as I try to add height. this is about the limit I think I can reach without adding an insane amount of straw to the outside of the bales- I have already lost 2/3’s the path on each side. If yields are good, next year I can see “fencing” the bed with full bales to give it some structure, “hilling” with loose straw inside, and post harvest turning the whole thing into a giant sheet mulch or fungus bed. Again, this could be a VERY productive way to de-lawn a hundred square feet of your lawn over 18 months.
On a final note, here is a shot of what the yeilds of the towers will be up against:
This is the best yield for one plant (3 sq ft) so far. At this rate, a tower will beat field spuds in yield per sq. ft at bout 5#’s per tower. Expecting the bar to go up as I harvest the higher yielding cultivars like Kennebec and Purple Viking. Still, this was a GREAT yeild for one Yukon plant. My challenge in the field is to figure out how to ge this much (about 2.25x normal) from each plant!
Weather remains crazy mild – we have yet to break 90 ?! — and extraordinarily dry. My sunchokes and Cupplant are withered and dropping leaves – these are hardy native perennials. Even the week with 1″ of rain only bought a brief reprieve – the soil is dry down several feet and will likely not recharge until winter. That said, the humus rich soil at the market gardens are doing much better. The yukon yield above is from an unirrigated plot. Yet another reason I like to plant spuds early to take advantages of the June rains. The Late Plantings will likely suffer significantly in tuber weight due to the low rain. On the flip side – tomato flavor is UNREAL since the fruits are not nearly as watery.
While the shoulder injury has been a pain, it has really forced me to SLOW DOWN which has had the benifit of increasing that most important farming / permaculture skill of observation. If I am only harvesting at 50#’s an hour v. 100#’s I spend more time looking at pest damage, tracking soil moisture and tilth, and just plain thinking which is making me a better person. A time to reap, and a time to sow…
Be the Change!!