I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I love Pinterest. By typing in a keyword or phrase, countless images and websites will reveal themselves – and on just about any subject you can conjure up. One day, scrolling through fellow garden educator “boards,” I saw several interesting ideas for ways to grow potatoes.
If you have limited space in your personal or community garden or just want to try your hand at growing potatoes, a potato condo could be a project for you. It looks really unusual, is a great conversation starter and my students not only enjoyed harvesting our crop but were really invested in assembling the layers and watching things develop.
Here’s what you’ll need to create our variation on a theme:
- A longish piece of chicken wire, hardware cloth, leftover metal or stiff plastic fencing, anywhere from 48″ to 60″ long. Think cage. Look at how much space you have. Size and actual material can vary depending on what you have on hand and what size condo you are looking to make.
- Compost or good quality top soil
- Potato seeds (You can buy these from a garden center or seed catalog.)
Side note: If you like the idea of going vertical to grow your potatoes, especially in an effort to save space, take a few minutes and search the web first. There are so many options, you may see something even more fabulous than this design. Also, we planted our condo in our garden, on a raised bed of cultivated soil. There are other DIY projects online specifically if you have no garden space at all. In that case, search using a phrase like, “how to grow potatoes in a barrel.”
Step 1: Prep your potatoes. A week or 2 before you plan to build your condo, place your seed potatoes in a warm, sunny area. This will encourage budding. (We started ours in late May, but early May is better. We were just busy doing other things…) Then, 1 or 2 days before planting, cut your potatoes into pieces that are approximately 2″ squares. Each cutting should have at least 1 or 2 “eyes” or buds.
Step 2: Start building the condo. Using your material (in our case we used a scrap of fencing), create an upright cylinder. Fasten the two ends with twine to keep the form in place. Loosen the soil where you plan to position your potato condo before placement to insure good drainage. We positioned ours on a small 4’x4′ bed.
Step 3: Let the planting begin. Add 3-4″ of good garden compost to the center of your condo and level it out. Place your seed potatoes around the perimeter, on top of the soil, spacing each at least 8″ apart. Plant a few in the center, spacing them out. The seed potatoes along the edge will produce less than those in the middle, but will turn your simple cage into a thing of natural beauty! Cover your first layer with about 8″ of straw. Water. (Plants do need water to grow, but don’t water so much that straw becomes soggy.)
Step 4: Time to add another floor to the condo. After 2 or 3 weeks, when your first planting has sprouted and begun to gain some height, add another 3-4″ layer of compost and another round of potato seeds. Cover again with 8″ more of straw. Continue to water. You can repeat this alternating/layering process a few times, depending on how tall your structure is. Be sure to wait until your plants are tall enough to tolerate having the compost added around them. We planted fingerlings in one layer, red potatoes in a second and purple potatoes in a third layer.
Step 5: Lend a hand. As your plants grow, make sure that the stems and leaves of the potato seeds planted along the perimeter are finding their way through the cage. Gently move any that are not aligned with sending their shoots through your structure.
Step 6: Continue to water and wait with baited breath…
Step 7: Watch for signs. When the leaves yellow and begin to die back (probably late August or September depending on when you planted them and the weather), stop watering. Cut back the foliage, but leave your treasure in the ground. A week or two in the ground will give your potatoes any extra time they need to transition from buried in the soil to being liberated.
Step 8: After a week or two, gently prod around in your condo, using a garden fork or your hands to harvest potatoes.
Step 9: If there is no rain in the forecast, leave your potatoes on top of the soil for a few days. Potatoes need a little time to mature their skins. If rain is in the forecast, store potatoes in a well ventilated, cool, dark place until ready to use.
Our recent harvest of potatoes are likely to meet a new crop of Waltham butternut squash. A pairing that just may produce a delicious soup – I’ll share any worthwhile recipes in the near future!