I adore potatoes. My idea of the perfect meal on a cold dreary winter day is a crispy baked potato smothered with butter, melted cheese, bacon bits, and drizzled with hot wing sauce. I love the warmth the oven brings to the house and the smell of hot potato and frying bacon brings me such a sense of contentment and comfort. Of course, I wouldn’t turn down homemade fries or potato chips either.
While potatoes are inexpensive to purchase, I try to stay away from those commercially grown after discovering they are treated with a chemical so toxic the field must not be entered for five days after the spraying. Not only does this make me wonder what toxins are left on the potato after harvest, but I also know that such poisons do not only kill the pest intended but thousands of beneficial insects as well. It seems to me that the best way to deal with this is to grow my own. Unfortunately, my attempts at growing potatoes have been less than successful, at least until the last couple of years. My home is on a rocky slope, and what soil is there is thin and poor. Potatoes need deep, loose soil that can be hilled up and dug easily. Even if a few determined plants manage to produce potatoes, I have to dig through rocks to get them out and always manage to pierce the very best one.
Being a rather determined person (and a very lazy gardener), I started looking for a better way. Growing up, rather than down is a great option for my situation so I looked at a couple of methods. The first was the stacked tire method… too heavy for me to move easily. The grow bag method was okay, but it was rather a pain to get the floppy fabric to cooperate with me when I was trying to fill the bag as the plant grew. They also seemed quite expensive to me. Both were a bit of work to harvest, although nothing like digging. I decided to come up with my own method and the GunniGarden was born.
The GunniGarden combines the best of both ideas. It is a sturdy PVC frame that holds a specially sewn burlap bag. The frame holds the bag open and upright so it is easy to fill as you go along. The GunniGardens are light enough to move if you need to, and should be staked down if you have them in a very windy situation. A major advantage of the GunniGarden is that it forces the potato plant to rapidly grow a very long stem upward toward the sun. The more stem you have…. the more potatoes. When it’s time to harvest, simply slit open the bag (the bottom deteriorates in a season anyway) and your clean, unpierced potatoes fall to the ground. The remains of your bag go into the compost pile and the frame comes apart to be neatly stored for next year’s potato crop.
Using the GunniGarden is a snap. I fill the bottom with 8 inches or so of potting soil and put in my potato sets and a piece of emitter tubing for a drip system that I poke through a small hole in the weave. I cover them with a couple more inches of soil and wait for the leaves to appear. As the plants grow, I tuck straw around the stem to support it and give the potatoes somewhere dark to develop. The plant grows vigorously upward until it reaches the sun and then spreads out and starts to make potatoes. Harvesting new potatoes is simply a matter of rummaging around in the straw. Once the plant dies back, it’s time to harvest the entire plant. I simply slit the bag with a pair of scissors (a utility knife works too, but I worry about cutting my precious potatoes) and pull it open. My potatoes fall out all clean and perfect. I spread out the straw and lay the potatoes out on it for two days to cure and then put them away for the winter. No nicks, bruises, or cuts to spoil them.
While the GunniGarden was designed specifically for potatoes, it can be used for other crops. Both peppers and tomatoes did well in the GunniGarden. The entire bag was filled with soil and slits were cut to slip the plants in. As these grow, they cover the bag entirely and produce a crop with no weeding required. While I haven’t tried them, I would imagine that similar success could be had with peas, beans, and salad greens. As a lazy gardener, I’m all for putting as much stuff in as small an area as I can….less walking!
Find out more about the GunniGarden at www.halfpinthomestead.com
Other Guest Posts by Sherry Willis –
Check Out Our Podcast Interview With Sherry –