Step 1: Why Bother With a Tater Tote?
- Potatoes are traditionally "hilled up" with dirt to prevent sun scald (poisonous green skins) from forming on the spuds. The dirt is only used as cover and is not necessary for the spuds to form.
- Potatoes are produced along the stem of the plant and not on the roots. Supposedly the longer the stem, the more potatoes produced (theoretically).
- Digging the taters out can be damaging and some are missed altogether.
So, if the potatoes are contained, they can be harvested without missing any spuds, and the mulch gives sun protection and a nice clean medium, as opposed to dirt, at harvest time.
Step 2: What You Will Need:
SKILL LEVEL: Beginner; straight cuts with scissors and straight line stitching on sewing machine.
TIME: About 30 minutes to cut and sew the Totes
- Landscape fabric
- Nylon sewing thread
- Measuring tape
- Sewing machine
Step 3: Tater Tote Construction:
The landscape fabric I had on hand was a partial roll 36" wide. I cut the remaining fabric on the roll down the middle, making each half 18" wide strips. I cut the strips into 48" long pieces.
Fold the fabric in half and sew the short ends together with nylon sewing thread at least 1/2" from the edge. For more stability, I folded the finished seam to one side and sewed it down, too (see display photo).
Sew darts about 3" long at each corner along the bottom. Pull opening apart between darts to fold fabric in opposite direction to sew two more darts at the bottom, being careful to leave an opening (see diagrams below).
When you are finished with the sewing portion, you should have a square hole in the bottom of your Tater Tote ready for planting (see last photo below)!
These Totes finished out at around 14-15" in diameter and about 16-18" tall, but you can make them any size you want or your materials allow.
Step 4: Planting Taters in Totes:
Place a biodegradable mulch material (newspaper, cardboard) on the ground for weed control where you would like to plant your Tater Totes.
Measure the diameter of your Totes and use this dimension from center to center between your Totes. Cut out holes through the paper to expose the ground where your Totes will be positioned over.
Roll the sides of your Tater Totes down until they form a shallow bag. Place the Totes over the holes in the paper. Dig very shallow holes in the ground to plant your seed potato and lightly cover with soil and compost.
Place a rock or two in the bottom of the Totes to weigh them down. Place a layer of mulch in the bottom of the Totes to cover the spuds. Mulch can be anything you have plenty of like: shredded leaves or paper, hay, straw, sawdust, etc.
Step 5: Add the Mulch:
As the potato leaves grow, unroll the sides of the Tater Totes a little at a time to allow more mulch to be placed around plants. Planting a group of Tater Totes at one time allows the plants to help support each other.
Step 6: Spud Harvesting:
The potato plants will continue to grow well beyond the height of the Tater Totes and become top heavy and may fall over. At that time you may want to check around near the bottom of the bag for potatoes.
If you're careful, you may be able to harvest spuds without damaging the plants, allowing the smaller potatoes to continue growing.
Step 7: The Final Tater Tote Numbers:
I will place updated information about the final numbers like: height, pounds of harvested potatoes, and notes on this Step.
THIS YEAR (2009):
- I lightly fertilized the soil before planting with composted manure with sawdust and green sand mix, and only fertilized once afterward with liquid fish emulsion before the rains came and stayed for 6 weeks. By then the plants were so huge I saw no need to fertilize.
- 9 out of 10 red potato plants survived the constant rain. I attribute that to the porous Tote fabric which allowed good air circulation, and water drainage.
- The one plant that died showed signs of severe rot (blight?) and an infestation of slugs, both caused by the wet weather. The rot was located within a layer of hay mulch I used when I ran short of the shredded leaves. My best guess is that it was not the hay, as much as mixed mulches, that caused the rot. The shredded leaf mulch is heavier and compacted the hay layer, possibly trapping moisture in that area.
- I used bush beans and nasturtiums as companion plants and had no bug problems at all. There were plenty of earthworms living in the Tote mulch.
The final tally is in:
I harvested approximately 1-3/8 pounds (0.63 kg) of red potatoes per Tater Tote.
I harvested twice from 4 of the Totes and kept the plants intact for a second harvest, but chopped them back to within 18" of the Tote because they shaded the sun from other plants.
At least 2 potatoes were found in the dirt UNDER each Tote!
- I will definitely reuse these Tater Totes and make a bunch more.
- I will not mulch between the bags to allow more air flow and water drainage.
- I will cut back (trim) the potato plants after they reach 2' over the top of the bag.
- I will plant them in blocks of 9 (3 plants x 3 plants) for easier care, and they can more evenly support each other.
- I will plant at least one traditional hill of potatoes as a control for comparison purposes (I don't believe traditionally grown potatoes would have survived the wet weather this season).
Finalist in the
Get in the Garden Contest