Tater Tires for Season Extension and Increased Potato Production in Alaska

By Mary Hinckley, an Alaska Master Gardener in Tok, Alaska

Several years ago on a trip Outside, Snooks and I discovered Andean Fingerling potatoes. Up until then we’d become increasingly disappointed
in grocery store potatoes. They seemed to have lost their savor, containing
only starch and no flavor. We agreed that they were more like filler than food.
But in a health food store we discovered potatoes called ‘Red Ruby Crescent.’ Brand new to us, we decided to give them a try
and paid the outlandish price of five dollars for a two-pound bag. We boiled
them up for dinner and liked them so much that if the store had still been
open, we’d have gone back for more. Delicious, like the potatoes of old, they
were thick, smooth, creamy and with added butter, superb. We revised our
opinions about potatoes right then and vowed to grow fingerlings.
At the time we were in our motor home in southern Missouri
and our garden consisted of several 5-gallon buckets. We started the potatoes in
one of these pails, on a small layer of dirt. We covered them with more dirt
and watered. As the plants grew we kept covering them with dirt and paid
attention to water. It was quite hot in Missouri and although our tomato crop
flourished, heat may have been the reason our potatoes never got very big.
Fingerlings are small to begin with, but these looked more like the bullets
than potatoes. We decided to try again when we got back to Alaska.
Once back home, Snooks developed a growing process that was so successful with potatoes that we decided to use it for all our greenhouse crops as
well. First, he starts with regular old tires. Any kind of tire will do and we
use different ones for different things, but for potatoes we use the largest
tire we can. First he cuts out the sides of the tire. Then the gorillas come in
to help turn it inside out, but it doesn’t really take great strength or
gorillas as turning gets easier once you develop your technique. Once the tire
is turned inside out we have a planter, a tater tire!

Tires ready to plant. Photo by Mary Hinckley.

We wash the tater tire off and place it in the garden. A layer
of fresh dirt is set in and seed fingerlings on top of that. The seed potatoes
are covered with more dirt and watered. As the plants grow the process is
repeated We make sure enough of both is added. The plants are watered even more
once they flower.
The potatoes are ready to harvest when the plants start to die,
usually after the frost. We cut them off at ground level. Now the tater tires
really come in handy; all we do is flip them over. No digging, just hunting,
gathering and brushing off the dirt. Each tire yielded 10-15 pounds of potatoes.
We reserve the biggest ones for next year’s planting and bag the bulk of the
harvest to store under our house for winter use.
Fingerling potatoes. Photo by Heidi Rader.

‘Red Ruby Crescent’
potatoes were a great discovery for us and as they are an Andean potato, they
adapt very well to our Alaskan climate. We’ve grown other fingerlings here but have
found our favorite to grow and eat is the ‘Red Ruby Crescent.’ Another reason the
discovery was so good was because it resulted in the development of tater tires.
They have proven to be very good planters. Though the Andean potatoes like
cooler conditions than in Missouri, our cool, Tok spring was too harsh for the
crops of some other potato farmers here. But our black, tater tires drew heat
and kept our potatoes comfortable enough to grow.

We also use tater tires in our greenhouse. The inside
planters consist of two stacked tires. In the bottom one Snooks puts fresh
horse manure and above he puts our soil, a mixture of Tok dirt and aged horse
manure. As the early, spring sun hits the greenhouse the tires heat up, more
heat is generated by the manure so the soil in the
top tire gets even warmer. So far, by incorporating this stacked system into our
insulated greenhouse we’ve extended our growing season by more than a month.
Both as season enhancers and season extenders, tater tires
work for us.

For more information, check out Growing Potatoes in the Alaska Garden.

And ALWAYS be sure to buy and plant Alaskan certified disease free potatoes. This is the best way to prevent potato diseases such as the late blight outbreak of 2011 in Alaska.

About Heidi Rader

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