Danélle Cutting: Potato box was disappointing

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 22, 2016

Being a horticulture agent, I am constantly asked questions about gardening, what does the best, what gardening hacks do I know and what is wrong with a plant.

In recent years, social media has become very popular. With that I see numerous videos such as how-to methods and cheap options to grow a weed-free, organic, healthy garden. Unfortunately, more times than not those cheap, free, organic, etc. hacks are not worth the time to do them.

So, for this week’s article I thought it would a neat opportunity to do a section on “Garden Busters.” Who knows, I may even come up with my own TV show about them. For this article I will focus on the potato box, where you can grow up to 100 pounds of potatoes from the experiences of my parents and my family’s boxes.

Online there are numerous guides, designs and videos. They are all very similar in the fact that you build a small box, plant the potatoes and, as they grow, you will build up the sides and fill around the vines with more soil. Once the vines reach a certain height, you will remove the first boards or remove the whole box.

To give a little extra information about growing potatoes, one must know that there is one thing all plants have in common — they need sunlight, food and water. But they also need some air, if the soil is too compact, too wet or very heavy clay that can block out air and cause the roots to drown or the plants to grow poorly. For vegetables, we also need 6-8 hours of sunlight daily and a pH of 6-6.5.

After stating that, this is what my family and my husband and I did. We built two boxes each and planted nine potatoes in each box. We planted red, purple and Yukon gold potatoes in the first box and then fingerling potatoes in the second box.

To cover the potatoes, we used purchased garden soil. After the plants grew about a foot, we would then apply another layer of soil and some more boards. We started the potato boxes in April and harvested the potatoes this week in July. We began harvesting after the majority of the vines had finished growing and died.

So, what were our results? Was this experiment a complete spud? Ha, no pun intended. Surprisingly, our results were mixed. For my husband and I, the boxes were a complete dud. We received very few potatoes. For my parents they had some decent success but nothing close to 100 pounds.

Now, how could that happen? Well I did find out my parents did not keep applying the soil every 12 inches, which to me that makes sense because at each layer I would think that reduces airflow. At the bottom of our boxes it was also very moist and I felt that we had too much water. Unfortunately some of the potatoes were starting to decay and mold.

My parents had most of their potatoes at the ground level and very few were in the layers of soil. For our boxes the potatoes were at the ground level and none were in the layered soils. For us the potato box was a complete failure and heartbreaking to just have a few spuds. For my parents who grow their gardens in a limited space, this was a perfect way to get a few potatoes.

We may have to do this trial again, but I think if I do, I will use less soil and see what I am able to produce. If you have a similar or a different experience, I would love to hear from you. You can call your local Cooperative Extension Agent, Danelle Cutting at 704-216-8970 or email me at danelle_cutting@ncsu.edu.