Grow potatoes in containers to save space

If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. – African proverb

Don’t have enough space for potato growing? You’re probably right. Unless you grow potatoes in containers. I have learned from a bunch of great gardeners about their tried and tested methods to growing potatoes and sweet potatoes above soil. These clever ideas all revolved around containers made from either firm materials such as wood or also other surprising materials such as feeder bags. All surprisingly do-able, smart ideas aimed for growing potatoes with least effort and best yield. Note: these “containers” are mostly recycled, cheap or free.

My favorite grow potatoes in containers examples are:

A wooden box container made from 4 x small doors: When all the doors are locked together, they form a square planter. The planter can either have a bottom or be open to drain into the soil it stands on.

  • Pro’s: If made from a hard wood, or wood that is for example scorch-treated, this container will last forever. You can move it around and harvesting is made easy by unlocking the doors when the time is right.
  • Cons: to grow potatoes in cobtainers this way, can be a pricey process, especially if you build them big enough to carry a descent amount of spuds.
  • How To: Fill a third high and plant. Keep filling to hill as the potatoes grow. Once the potato stems have browned, open the doors and let the potatoes roll out.

Did you know? The scorching method has been used for centuries in Japan and is known as shou sugi ban. The fire-charring method on the wood surface is followed by a coating of natural oil which effectively preserves the wood as it is also followed with a coating of natural oil.  

Rolled hessian or feeder bags: Allowing you to always at the right height.

  • Pro’s: The depth can easily be adjusted by simply unrolling the sides. These bags can be used as a recycling alternative and will most likely be free. Watch out for over-watering though!
  • Con’s: Finding a descent hessian bag may not be as easy as plastic options and nobody wants to grow in plastic. Fabric bags may not last longer than a season.
  • How To: Roll the bag low so that your first planting depth is correct. Unroll and fill with soil as you need to hill around the ever-taller plants. At harvesting time, simply empty the bag out.

Wire fencing loop containers: Double loops of recycled wire fencing works a charm and any size is achievable.

  • Pro’s: Finding damaged fencing is easy and usually free, making this a fantastic recycling option. The material is light and easy to work with allowing an easy set-up and harvesting. The material can also be used again and again.
  • Con’s: If you are using damaged wired fencing, make sure there’s no rust or sharp points.
  • How To: Double loop the fence into a barrel and secure. Fill to the right starter height and add soil as the plant grows. Once at brown stem, harvest-stage, un-fasten the fence and let it roll open to release the soil and spuds.

Stacked tire towers: A re-using idea well known by any and all that has ever likes recycling tires in the garden. It is another easy-to-dismantle idea to grow potatoes in containers.

  • Pro’s: Used tires are available to any and all, mostly always free of charge. The material itself helps retain water very well and will last probably forever.
  • Con’s: Is the material used in making a tire safe for eating? Although nobody suggest you eat the tire itself (smirk), the rubber/tire particles can leech into the soil. An alternative to planting straight into the tires, is to line them out with un-printed and plastic-free cardboard, followed by the soil so that there is no direct contact between tire and soil. Don’t let the soil get too wet.
  • How To: Lay tire 1 down, fill with soil and plant. Once the plant needs to be supported, stack the second tire on top and fill with soil to hill around the plant. A final, 3rd, tire will be needed for height. When the harvesting time comes, these tires can simply be removed.

Buried under a mount of old wood chips is a method used by some successfully, although it is not planted a container.

  • Pro’s: This is the lowest-effort option of all and your soil is fed while the wood chips break down.
  • Con’s: wood chips can lack in nutrients and rob your soil and plants of nitrogen while it breaks down. Make sure to read and understand the How To below.
  • How to: Never use new but at least 1 year old wood chips. Grow a legume, such as peas or peanuts, nearby to provide further nitrogen. Lay your potatoes or sweet potatoes on the ground and dump a mound of wood chips over these. As the stalks grow through the chips, keep adding more wood in order to ‘hill’.

My favorite option for sweet potatoes is a wired fencing loop that can act as container and also trellis for the edible greens that we harvest. For potatoes, I will probably daydream about becoming a good bag lady (hessian or other cotton) .

Thoughts?

What are Keyhole Gardens? Pretty and practical

“…we should not confuse order with tidiness. Tidiness separates species and creates work (and may also invite pests), whereas order integrates, reducing work and discouraging insect attack.” (Bill Mollison: “Introduction to Permaculture”)

Every heard of, and wondered what are keyhole gardens? Keyhole designs are ideal for smaller food-gardens.

What are keyhole gardens good for except convenience?

These designs include a composting centre. This clever concept allows the surrounding plants to draw food from compost as it becomes available. Alternatively, the centre can be a tree, insect hotel or other feature.

Mandala is a sacred geometry pattern and in some cultures it represents the universe and the idea that life is never ending while also all-connecting. For some, this may be purely decorative but for others it illustrates a spiritual journey. Mandala gardens should ideally incorporate a keyhole design for easy movement, better usage of planting space due to less pathways and easy accessibility to all the plants.

-As with all our raised, no-dig designs, we start with marking the shape and size out with our frame-material. Recycled bricks, wood, stones or even hay bales can be used. These materials may produce wonderful habitats for insects – make sure to consider this as a good bulk of your pest control and pollination will come through insects.
-Once the shape is in place, we follow with our favorite no-dig, lasagna layering method. To create a sheet mulch bed, one must start with plastic-free cardboard. Water the area first, sprinkle some compost to attract worms, follow with cardboard. Lightly water again.
-Now layer with green mulch, then brown materials, compost and newspaper.
-Repeat this process until you have a 35cm high bed, ending with a 10cm layer of mulch such as straw, bark or wood shavings.
-Water moderately until moist but not sopping wet. Keep the area moist over the next 2 months.
***Do you know what plants are considered green or brown materials? Check out the composting materials for a comprehensive list of nitrogen and carbon examples: https://gardeningeden.net/2019/11/06/diy-compost-easily/

It may take about 2 – 3 months for the layers to decompose and turn into a planting heaven.
This is the perfect time to plan your planting list and layouts. Honor the decorative aspect of Mandala Design and the ecological logic of Permaculture by incorporating:
1)Diversity in your keyhole garden design
Secure a stable ecosystem by planting different species together and inviting a variety of beneficial insects to help with pollination and pest-control. Bio diverse polycultures are resilient due to the number of harmonious relationships between the different species as time passes.
2)Decorative keyhole gardens
While a healthy Eco system is our first and most important priority, we’re going to simultaneously aim for a visually pleasing planting scheme. The idea is to imitate the conversation between many different species.
3)Plant Guild Placement
-Make sure to understand the characteristics and needs of your plants. Consider needs and characteristics. Create for example micro-climates where needed by planting wind-hardy half moons around fragile plants that need protection. Group heavy and light feeders together to avoid soil depletion. Place together companion plants that help protect each other from pests or offer their extras in the form of mineral exchange. Peas and grains swap nitrogen and carbon and literally thrive when planted near each other.
-‘Three Sisters’ Guild is a Native American Indian guild that inter-plants corn, squash and beans together by planting corn in the centre of a mound of soil, surrounded by beans and squash on the outer edge. The corn provides a natural trellis for the beans to climb on. Beans will improve soil fertility by fixing nitrogen and releasing it through Rhizobium bacteria in the roots. Squash plants create a green cover crop that will prevent water loss and weed competition.

Permaculture-friendly plants to keep in mind:

-Regenerating food forests are best, and so perennials are preferred over annuals.
-Natural fertilization is key and legumes will fix nitrogen in your soil for other plants. Grow beans and peas up trellises with perennials around them on ground level.
-Deeper rooted plants will bring nutrients from deeper soil levels upwards while loosening the soil at the same time.
-Fast growing plants can be used for cover crops that can be chopped and dropped for ground covering. We do this to add to soil health, shade out weeds and help retain water.

Lastly…
Work out a symbiotic companion plants list and place them on your paper design to cover one quarter of the circle. Imagine a pizza slice. Sun needs, wind tolerance and feeding needs should guide you. When you are happy with your composition, repeat the same design on all 4 quarters. Incorporate insect-friendly hotels, for the insects are true gardening experts whom we need more than we give credit to.

“…we should not confuse order with tidiness. Tidiness separates species and creates work (and may also invite pests), whereas order integrates, reducing work and discouraging insect attack. European gardens, often extraordinarily tidy, result in functional disorder and low yield. Creativity is seldom tidy. Perhaps we could say that tidiness is something that happens when compulsive activity replaces thoughtful creativity.” (Bill Mollison: “Introduction to Permaculture”)

D.I.Y Keyhole Garden Guide – all you need to know

What is it?
A keyhole garden is a 2m-in-diameter circular garden bed with a compost tube in the middle – an absolutely brilliant method. See further down where we provide your D.I.Y Keyhole Garden Guide.

This concept was developed in Lesotho by the Consortium for Southern Africa Food Security Emergency (C-SAFE), originally and specifically, for individuals that find it challenging to garden traditionally. A solution to food security. The garden has a opening in the front, so that the composting pile can be turned easily. It includes a drainage layer, a growing-soil layer, and the planting area which, together, combines in a perfect all-in-one growing space. (Taller permaculture keyhole gardens are known as banana circles.)

Why do I want one?
This raised garden is constructed for an easier gardening method due to its easy plants access. The constant compost run-off and nutrient-availability makes for thriving plants and because they hold water it is also an obvious solution for drought-stricken areas.

Want to build one? Follow these 7 steps on you D.I.Y Keyhole Garden Guide:
1) Build a 2m in diameter and 1m high round wall with materials such as stones, wood or bricks. In the case of using wood (and thus incorporating a bit of Hugulkultur), please keep in mind, it is less permanent than stone or brick for example.
2) Create the composting bin in the centre (30cm in diameter and 30cm taller than the outer circle) with chicken wire which can be bought at a builder’s warehouse.
3) Open the outer wall by removing a length of about 45cm materials. Build a connecting wall on each side, to tie together the open points and the central composting bin. (Tip: The shape to aim for is a round pizza with one slice removed).
4) Using plastic and chemical-free cardboard or newspaper, line out the walls and ground inside the outer walls. Follow with a layer of green (nitrogen) materials, such as leaves and soft stemmed twigs, grass clippings or chicken manure. Sprinkle a little soil over this layer. Next, add wood chips or straw, also with a little soil and moisten. Repeat the layering (including the paper layer) and end off with good potting soil and compost (deep enough for planting).
5) Build these layers to form a hill with the highest points at the compost tube so that it slopes down to the outer walls. In time, this surface will have to be topped up with a soil/compost combination as you can expect the level to drop.
6) Fill the compost bin with green (nitrogen) and brown (carbon) materials. (For the easiest composting-how-to, see https://gardeningeden.net/2019/11/06/diy-compost-easily/)
7) Place your fruits and vegetables according to their sun requirements and height differences (highest at the back, medium heights in the middle and low-growing plants in front of the sun angle.

Keyhole kitchen gardens provide an ideal growing space because of its constant (compost) nutrient supply and producing nutrient-dense food. Crops can be planted in succession for all year food production and spaced intensively (when plants are planted together closely to maximize production) – but avoid tomatoes and other plants with bigger/wider root systems. Lastly and importantly, don’t restrict yourself to just one. And of course, share this D.I.Y Keyhole Garden Guide with friends- it’s a step in the right direction for many reasons! Happy gardening.

What are Hugelkultur beds and why are they popular?

The short answer to what are hugelkultur beds: Hügelkultur is a technique where a mound is created by placing wood in the shape and size of your desired growing bed. Eventually decaying wood debris and other compostable biomass plant materials is planted as a raised bed and this is an environment fit for plants to thrive in for years..

Due to our very sandy soil situation here next to the coast and not always having wood available, I pondered the question of what are hugelkultur beds on single plant scale and also started incorporating hugelkultur on a smaller scale for when I want to plant individual shrubs or trees.

– Water the space where you intend to plant.
– Find woody weeds, pruned sticks and branches plus kitchen waste. Position these to form a bowl by first laying down your base cover. Build a “dam” wall with the rest. Keep going to above the height of your plant’s root ball.
– Fill the bottom of your “bowl” with a mix of compost and potting soil plus a small amount of bone, or blood meal.
– Test your plant’s height and when you are happy proceed with planting as you would into a container.
– Finally, add a sheet or 2 of newspaper over the top and around, followed by 5 cm (2 – 3 inches) layer of mulch.
– Water well.
(- I add a handful of organic fertilizer to these planting pockets so that my plant can get all the nitrogen it needs, regardless of the wood chips I use)

The benefits have been obvious and plentiful. My trees are never dry, or water-logged, and mostly only gets their water from rain. Due to the mound, it also never gets waterlogged as the shape runs extra water down to the ground level where it can penetrate the soil further down and still be accessible for uptake.

(interested in more information?  https://gardeningeden.net/category/hugelkultur/ ?)

Please send us your pictures, challenges and success stories so that we can all learn together!

To understand what are hugelkultur beds one must understand the properties and nature of wood. Decayed wood turns into nutrient-rich, moisture retaining soill. Building beds to incorporate wood is a brilliant abd long-lasting soil improver.
For small gardens or single plants, copy the shape and principles of a bird’s nest. Photo by Sarath C M on Unsplash

DIY raised garden beds for healthier plants

Raised garden beds are ever popular for different reasons. Personally, I am really keen on the no-dig gardening method and for me, it’s all about soil health. For others however, it may come down to finding it difficult to bend, or being challenged with clay soil. To start preparing for DIY raised garden beds, needs a focus on soil and how to ensure nutrient-density and water-retention plus drainage – similarly to preparing a bed in the ground.

How to create DIY raised garden beds:
1) Draw out a design and decide where this raised garden should be. Make sure you incorporate moving space, or pathways, around each bed. Also pre-plan which plants are positioned where, and for this the number one consideration is the sun and wind factors unless you are working within a greenhouse. Wind-hardy plants should take the most wind in the front and for sun-sharing, the low-growing individuals should grow in front of the taller plants. Areas to consider are those that get sun for at least 6 hours every day and little to no wind.
2) The best height-dictator is the plants or flowers you wish to grow and their root characteristics. For deeper root systems, you will need a greater depth of soil and for small ground covers, you will need less soil. Building a raised bed that is about 1m high is really ideal as you can use this bed for anything in the future. But 1m heights are not absolutely necessary (unless you only want to grow shrub-sized plants) and usually a 30cm high bed will be perfect.
3) Decide on the site and size of your garden and lay out the perimeter with rot-resistant corner posts in position. Next take a string and create the mock-up frame work of the bed to be. Form a rectangle with the front/end and side boards and screw to the corner posts.
4) Next you can finish assembling the bed frame by securing each side wall. Screw together all sides with the previous and next end boards.
5) Level and secure the frame by compacting the soil around the frame and corner posts.
6) Remove all rocks and other hard objects that are visible inside the bed. Lay cardboard down inside the bed and follow with grass clippings or leave mulch. Then add a handful of organic fertilizer and brown mulch such as wood chips with a final layer of compost. Repeat these layers, but instead of cardboard again, use newspaper. Finally end on wood chips and make sure the matter is moist through, but not dripping wet.
7) Rest the bed for 2 – 3 months and you will find a raised bed that is heaven for plants to grow in, or
8) alternatively, skip steps 1 – 7 and simply fill the beds with good soil and compost that is ready for instant planting.
9) Consider adding irrigation and wire fencing if needed in your DIY raised garden beds. Your future self will thank you.

One of the biggest advantages about raised beds is that you have control of your soil conditions. If you have raised beds and advice that can be useful for us, please share in the comment box below.