Have you tried your hand at growing potatoes in a “condo” yet?
I first heard the term “potato condo” from Shibaguyz when they posted about it last year on their blog. Usually, called a “potato box” or a “build-as-you-grow” box, I think the Shibaguyz description of a condo is much more appropriate. This is bio-intensive gardening and vertical gardening at its best!
The idea is that you build a wooden box and plant potatoes in the bottom layer. As the potatoes grow, you keep adding wood boards (and soil) to keep the stems buried, thus producing more potatoes along the stems as you move up.You get the maximum yield in a small space because you are growing vertically.
I have done something similar in large, deep pots every year with much success. I plant potatoes in the bottom and add soil as they grow up. But a potato condo is MUCH taller and should produce MANY more potatoes! Plus, you have the added benefit of being able to “rob” a few potatoes from the bottom layer before the top layer is “done”. You just remove the bottom board and pull a few potatoes out when you need them. Perfect.
I found details on how to build a potato box (condo) HERE and HERE. But I did mine a little differently. I didn’t want to use new wood because I wanted my new condo to blend in with the garden. I wanted it to look old and weathered like an old familiar garden fence. So…I spent a few weeks scouring the neighborhood on trash day looking for old weathered fencing. (I love dumpster diving!) Bingo! Someone in the neighborhood had replaced their old fence and I found some great wood.
I cut all the wood according to the directions (I adjusted the depth to fit my space) and pre-built the back wall of the condo. Why did I put up the entire back wall? Because my condo was going up against a fence. Once in place, I would have no way to add the wood boards to the back. So, I went ahead and build up the back wall to the top. (I didn’t quite have enough old wood to do the whole condo, so I used a few new boards at the bottom at the back. No one can see them there.)
I positioned the condo over some fine mesh netting for good drainage and to keep critters out. Then, I planted Butte Potato Seed that I bought from Wood Prairie Farm. Once the weather warmed up, those potatoes grew fast!
In just a few short weeks, I was to the top! My condo is only 4 feet tall, but I easily could have made it 5 feet because the plants are at least that tall now. So, I guess now I wait for harvest time…
I also planted fingerling potatoes in my large pots like I do every year. Start them at the bottom and add soil as they grow until you reach the top. My boys love to harvest these. It is like digging for buried treasure!
There are a few condo tricks/tips I should give you:
1) From what I understand, late season potatoes work best. All early potatoes set fruit only once and do not do as well in towers. Late season potatoes have a longer season and will continually set fruit until you reach the top. You will get a higher yield in a condo or tower if you use Late Season potatoes.
2) You must watch closely. Potatoes are notorious for taking off with rapid growth. If a stem grows up and then sits for a week or two before you cover it with soil, the potato will stop producing along the stem. I had to add soil every single week! Sometimes, twice in one week. If I went on vacation, I might have missed my opportunity. So check them regularly.
3) Watering can be tricky. You need good drainage or you will have water collecting at the bottom which will rot out your potatoes. Don’t over-water. However, if you live in a very hot area you may have the opposite problem and your bottom half can get too dry. Some web sites suggest placing a soaker hose somewhere in the middle of the condo and burying it. That way, the middle gets water and does not dry out too quickly. I did not need to do this. So far, mine has stayed evenly moist.
4) This condo takes A LOT of soil! If you figure in the cost of many new bags of potting soil, you will end up with some very expensive potatoes. I used inexpensive potting soil mixed with my own compost to stretch the budget a bit. I will definitely use the soil for other purposes when I am done, so it is not wasted. But it is a still an expense to consider when doing this.
I will post about this again when I harvest. It should be interesting to see how many potatoes I get!
Note: Kerry Michaels just posted a great article about how to grow potatoes. It is a great resource if you have never done it before. Check it out HERE.