Saturday, May 13, 2006

never tired of potatoes

Any time I talk to people about growing their own food whether it’s in the context of gardening for fun, farming for food post peak petroleum, or freeing themselves from the grips of agrobizcorp giants like Monsanto I often get one of two responses- “I can’t grow things!” or “I don’t know where to start”. Here is an easy way to dip your toe in the waters of home food production.

One of the side effects of our automotive way of life is an inordinate amount of old tires lying around. They are great for growing things. I applaud those who work to rebuild the depleted soil around their homes through composting and the addition of organic material. I do this work myself. But I also grow potatoes the lazy way- right on top of the ground.

Get a tire. If you don’t have one or are too shy to stop and pick up a few from the trash piles of other people, stop by your local tire store. They will have a large number to get rid of from any single day’s worth of service. My experience has been that they are willing to part with a few for free.

Find a fairly sunny location and place 4 or 5 potatoes in the tire. Make sure the eyes of the potato are facing up. You can buy seed potatoes for this purpose from farm supply stores or even catalogs. If not you can use store bought potatoes. The only difficulty is that chain grocery stores usually sell potatoes sprayed with a chemical that keeps them from sprouting. Just another reason to grow your own if you ask me. If you have no other source of potatoes though you can scrub regular grocery potatoes clean and leave them in a dark location and wait. If you have an organic grocer near by you probably have access to potatoes not sprayed with this chemical.

Fill the tire with compost or just plain leaves. I usually use the leaves from the previous fall that haven’t yet finished composting. By time the potatoes are ready for harvest the leaves have usually finished composting. You can use soil if you don’t have access to any other organic material. Be sure to pack whatever you use into the hollow space in the tire. You don’t want to leave room for standing water that could serve as a breeding ground for mosquitoes.

As the potato sprouts emerge and reach 6" in height add another tire and fill with leaves. Sometime I add a few more potatoes at this level. If you’re using multiple stacks you can also grow potatoes in the gaps between them.

Repeat with a third tire as the potatoes reach through the leaves.

When the top of the potato plant dies knock over your stack of tires, harvest and eat. You can harvest early for new potatoes.

One of the main advantages of this system is no digging either to plant or to harvest. The other is that the potatoes need much less cleaning. If your husband or wife objects to the ascetics of tires stacked on top of each other remind him or her of just how good your potato salad is. Or cover the outside of the tires with leaves, paint the tires or just grow you potato tire stack out of sight. In truth an old wooden box or trunk with no bottom will work. Potatoes will actual grow right in the pile of leaves if you’d like. Regardless of how you tweak you’re above ground growing system I think you’ll find it an easy way to grow a great number of calories without a tremendous amount of effort.


Anonymous said...

Yes, ahem. I have a couple gen-real questions regarding bamboo fencing. I have a friend who has recently obtained a great deal of giant bamboo which he is planning to use to build a safety rail system around his tree house.

Does bamboo split when you try to drill holes through it and use bolts?

Is there any type of device which can split bamboo into flat slats, and if so where might one obtain said tooling? Also, if said tooling does exist, can it be used on green bamboo?

Oh, to get back on topic...I'm frequently told that one cannot grow potatos during the dead of summer in the hotsouth. Is this fooey?

One final question, ever thought of adding a "questions" page?

Anonymous said...

What are the dangers of the tyres themselves leaking chemicals into the soil around the potatoes? I'm sure I've read a list of what goes into creating a tyre, and some of it didn't look like the kind of thing you would want seeping into your food.

Above ground spud growing is a great idea, but tyres would be my absolute last choice of material. Unless I could be certain that the tyres weren't polluting the crop, it just isn't worth the risk. Far better to get some plastic dustbins and use those instead, just pour in more soil as the plant grows to keep it in the dark. Very cheap alternative that is reusable and less likely to poison you.

nulinegvgv said...

Hello and thank you for your comments. Bamboo is wonderful stuff. I have a future post planned on bamboo fencing but without spoiling that upcoming feature I will answer your specific questions. Bamboo does have a tendency to split when you drill holes in it. I recommend using tapered drill bits specially designed to help with this problem. In my experience bamboo seems to split more easily when it’s dry. For certain tasks it might make more sense to work with green bamboo.

You can buy bamboo splitters for quickly making lumber out of cylindrical bamboo. They come in an assortment of sizes. Be sure the one you get has a diameter large enough to fit around your bamboo. They work on green or dried bamboo.

Bamboo tools here.

Potatoes grow best in cooler weather. I avoid growing them during hot, southern summers. You can start early in the spring or even late in the winter depending on where you live, especially if you use black tires to grow them. You can start them again in August and allow a fall crop to mature up until frost. This year I plan to try and grow them in the middle of winter by adding an extra tire and placing an old window over the top of the stack- a sort of tire greenhouse if you will.

As to the idea of adding a “questions” page I will say that this site and my writing will be undergoing some changes during the next few weeks. I am discovering a way to make myself more available to folks interested in what we talk about here. More to come on that…

Tires seem to be stable chemically. I will refer you to an article on tire offgasing as a non-issue. It comes from the Earthship folks who build houses out of old tires. On one hand I would imagine they’ve pretty thoroughly examined this subject since they do planning on living in these structures. On the other hand it is in their best interest to believe that tires don’t leech harmful chemicals. They say,

“Did you know? Tires are being recommended to absorb off-gassing produced by waste water from communities, industries, and agriculture activities.”

From what I’ve read I feel safe that the potatoes I eat are not bad for me because of chemicals given off by the tires. If anyone knows of a way to test my potatoes for such chemicals I will gladly offer up a few. If you are not convinced do some more research and report back please. If you’re looking for alternatives try something else other than plastic. Plastics have been shown to give off unhealthy chemicals when exposed to heat. I imagine sitting in the sun would do this also.

Treated wood will have preservatives in it that might be harmful also. Then again untreated wood will rot after a few years. If you’re looking of a substitute devoid of these issues try using wire mesh wrapped in a cylinder shape and filled with soil or compost or leaves. It might be more cumbersome and less likely to be available for free.

Thanks again for the interest.

Anonymous said...

The worlds oil-dependency is key for the illuminatis´ NEW WORLD ORDER. Even though growing your own potatoes is a good thing, we need more than that.

nulinegvgv said...

You have to start somewhere.

Matt Savinar said...


May seem like a weirde qeustion, but do you know if the chemicals in the tire seep or leak into the compost?



nulinegvgv said...


Tires seem to be chemically stable. For more information on this topic I went to the Earthship people who build homes out of old tires. I figured they would have done research on the issue. They offer this,

“Did you know? Tires are being recommended to absorb off-gassing produced by waste water from communities, industries, and agriculture activities.”

They reference several studies and talk more about it here.

Of course everyone should take responsibility for his or her own decisions. As for me, I feel comfortable that nothing bad is getting into my body from the tires through my potatoes.

Thanks for the comment.

Scott Holtzman said...

What a truly wonderful & simple Idea!

Thank you for the informative post & information.

This year is our first in planting potatoes and I hope to expand on the endeavor next year as our plans grow.


Matt said...

Thanks for the info. Can I just leave my potato's stored in the tires untill I need them?

nulinegvgv said...

Depends on where you live, how many potatoes you're talking about and how long. If you live in a cool climate you could leave a few spring potatoes in the ground until you need them. As a rule though I think you should harvest at the appropriate time and store them in a safe place.

Dennis said... you put the seed potatoes in the cavity of the tire or in the center?

nulinegvgv said...

i put them in the center.

Mary said... if I live in Pennsylvania is it too late now, May 18th, to start this? They would be growing during the hottest part of the summer right? So should I wait until august?

I guess my question is when is the best time to give this a try?

nulinegvgv said...

I would check with locals about the best time to start potatoes in PA.

lerique said...

yes tires is chemically stabel.the metal is so trapd in the rubber that it is not chemical unhealthy.and i like the idea of the tires and it crop is 25pounds per 5 tires.its amazing and hey in the winter try to rap the top with some sort of black bag then you can grow in tye winter.

Anonymous said...

With reference to the report on off-gassing: it states that tyres buried in earth, unable to come into contact with water do not break down and therefore do not pose any problem in terms of off-gassing.

The report says: ""The proper conditions" for rubber to degrade would be: high temperature, exposure to light ... The reason "old tires smell" is due to the photo degradation of rubber. Essentially what happens is that photons from light bombard the rubber and knock atoms from the long rubber polymer molecules. This causes the rubber to degrade, and smaller molecules to vaporize. [off-gas]"

"The minor amount of leaching of indicators and some metals suggests that tires are best used in buried locations above the water table, rather than in surface applications or in contact with open water bodies."

I would think that tyres being used for potatoes would fulfil all of the above conditions for degradation and as a result would not be suitable for food growing.

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