Growing Potatoes in Tires

Chicago homesteader extraordinaire Nance Klehm, temporarily in residence here in Los Angeles, gifted us with some beautiful seed potatoes which we just planted. As we did last year, we’re growing them in used tires filled with compost (see our surprise potato harvest in a post from last September). As the plant grows you add another tire to the stack, causing the growth of more potatoes. An alternate method, suggested by Homegrown Revolution reader Chris, is to dig trenches and mound up earth around the base of the potato plant as it grows.

We’ve planted earlier this year, to see if our potatoes will do better in Southern California’s mild spring weather. One disadvantage to this earlier planting might be all the rain we get in January and February. Soggy soil can cause the potatoes to rot before they start growing. We’ll keep our fingers crossed–we’ve had a streak of bad luck with our plantings this winter.

Incidentally, Nance will be delivering a lecture and walk at Machine Project on Sunday February 10th at 1 p.m. See the Machine Project website for more information.

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    • The only time you will have toxicity concerns with tires is when they are burned or shredded. They will leach toxic levels of zinc. Whole tires do not leach chemicals into your plants. There are several studies concerning this. Just Google it.

  1. It’s a good question, and something I was unable to find satisfactory info on. In a brief search of the web, another blogger who grows potatoes in tires linked to info on Earthships, which are buildings made out of used tires. The Earthship folks claim that tires are inert and therefore safe. However, one could argue that they are biased since all they do is build with used tires.

    I’d be concerned if all the food we ate came from used tires. Since this is not the case I’m taking the chance that a few pounds of potatoes won’t kill us. If you are concerned about this issue, you could easily grow potatoes with small frames made out of scrap wood or the trench method I mentioned.

    It’s just tempting to find a use for all those used tires out there!

  2. I’m just relying on hearsay as well, but everything I’ve read indicates they are inert/stable. That would mean they do not leach. One site quoted a scientific type person as saying that the tires are very stable, making them difficult to deal with in landfills.

    I’ve been researching because I saw a local gardener who was using tires inserted in the side of a hill and filled with soil, to grow veggies. He had a very hilly and rocky plot of land. This was his solution. I asked him about the chemicals and he said he asked a friend of his who was some sort of scientific engineer, who also indicated that they were safe and inert.

    But like I started with, it’s all hearsay. But that tire/potato idea is amazing! I’m going to give it a whirl this year myself.

  3. I’m just about to start my potatoe tire experiement. I’m starting a little late, but here in the NW the temps don’t get too hot for too long. Thanks for all the great info! Wish me luck!

    “There is no appreciable risk in using recycled tires in the vegetable garden. While it is a fact that rubber tires do contain minute amounts of certain heavy metals, the compounds are tightly bonded within the actual rubber compound and do not leach into the soil. One of the ingredients in the rubber recipe is zinc. Zinc, in fact, is an essential plant element. I also expect that rubber is safer to use than treated lumber that contains copper and arsenic. Tires are durable. The very qualities that make them an environmental headache make them perfect for our uses in the garden. Once they are in place, they won’t rot and will likely be there for your grandchildren to use.
    Just found this and thought I’d share on the topic.

  5. I’ve gotta update this post. In our climate here in Los Angeles the tires simply get too hot in the burning sun. This might be an advantage in cold places, but we’ve just lost the potatoes we planted.

  6. You might want to paint the outside of the tires with a lighter color so it will reflect more heat in hotter climates. For those who are tire gardening in colder climates, leave it natural.

  7. Melly, you’re so funny!

    I want to buy a new set of tires for my potatoes, plus maybe some fancy rims. Just for the off season, of course.

  8. re: “tires are safe”… yeah, isn’t that what “they” said about many things that now have been deemed unsafe?! If they are so inert why do they (new tires) smell so bad?

  9. I have painted our tires and they look good. I find it more eye appeasing to the black color and I think my neighbors do too. We have planted 3 tires of potatoes and they are coming up very nicely. Also planted lettuce in the apple baskets that I have. I have read that there is no issues planting veggies in old tires…just clean them before you plant in them to get the dust and dirt from the street off. Happy planting!

  10. Do not believe everything that you read. I’ve never seen and organic farmer growing potatoes in tires, and I’m guessing that’s for a good reason. The earth works just as well, and if you’re not sure about leaching, why mess with it? Our health isn’t an experiment.

  11. There is some great humor going on here.

    We are planning to use tires this year to grow some taters and other plants. and some interesting yard art, combining tires with other objects. That previously mentioned article from Back Woods talks about building a tiered tire triangle/pyramid shape planter with different sizes of tires.

    We are also considering ways to use them to create some forms of outbuildings for wood storage and tools, maybe. AND maybe even some cool place to sit and hang out in the winter with a clear tarp over it with a fire pit or rocket mass heater with a bench, or ??? The tires would absorb heat from the sun and make a nice place to stay warm outside in the cooler weather times.(putting gravel or sand or ? inside them. A person could also make some form of walls for a greenhouse. The north wall of a greenhouse could be stacks of black tires to absorb and retain heat. (another great place for a Rocket Mass Heater is a greenhouse)

    What about building monolithic-type arches with tires like they do with Earth Bags. Build it stablized over a form and then remove the form when finished. An arched outbuilding of some sort for warmth for critters…or an underground cellar…earth sheltered hobbits with rocket mass heaters by BLack Earth Bert (you can do a search for his stuff on Internet also.)

    Thank you for all who have contributed to this conversation.
    Second. Here is a great way to CLEAN and DETOX FOODSTUFFS, if you are concerned about growing in tires or for any other reason.

    Do an Internet Search for: soaking vegetables in bleach water (sodium hypochlorite only AND only one teaspoon to a gallon of water — it will actually help to oxygenate the foodstuff).

    Hazel Parcells, who was diagnosed with “terminal illness” in her 30’s developed this very well researched method of pulling toxins out of ALL KINDS OF FOODS which are not even grown organically. This includes meats, fruits, vegetables, et al. And Hazel lived to be over 100 years old.

    She also purified water with full spectrum light. She did detoxing soaks with baking soda and such.

    Joseph Dispenza wrote a book about her methods titled Live Better Longer.

    I also read some years ago that the Armed Forces also have recommended to their overseas members to do this to their foodstuff. Maybe not all of them, but definitely to some of them.

    Hoping you all have TERRIFIC TIRE ADVENTURES! Feel free to keep us posted with what you do.

  12. My husband and I had an allergic reaction, itchy red bumps on our thighs and back of knees from onions grown in old tires. Eliminating the onions solved the problem but it took us a month of itching and wondering what the heck it was especially since we both had the same symptoms. It stopped immediately after discontinuing eating the onions, I would be afraid to eat anything grown in a tire. Don’t want that to happen to anyone else.

  13. And a further update – I grew potatoes in tires for the first time this year, and they are transparent, a strange smooth texture, and taste of rubber. Yuck! I will be tossing the whole lot out. Such a shame. I don’t recommend this method.

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