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The Building of a Potato Condo

PotatoCondowtmk 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.

PotatoBox1wtmk

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.)

PotatoBox3wtmk

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!

PotatoBox4wtmk

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…

PotatoCondo2wtmk

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!

PotatoPot1wtmk

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.

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About the Author:

Theresa Loe is the founder of Living Homegrown® and the Canning Academy® and is the Co-Executive Producer & Canning Expert on the national PBS gardening series, Growing A Greener World®. Theresa homesteads on just 1/10th of an acre in Los Angeles with her husband, two teenage boys and several disorderly but totally adorable chickens. Learn more about Living Homegrown here and about the Canning Academy here.

40 Comments:

  • Heavy Petal says:

    Great idea! Is there still time to plant potatoes this year?

  • Hi Andrea!
    Yes! There is still time here in Southern California to plant…but I don’t know about your area.

    They are a warm-season crop in the North and warm and cool season crop in the south. I am Southern California…so I seem to be able to grow them spring, summer and fall. Fall can be a problem with too much moisture in really rainy areas.

  • Teresa says:

    I’ve heard of this type of planting before…very cool! We may have to try this one year because voles really do a number on our potatoes sometimes. We need to find a good source of inexpensive untreated lumber though. The soil part is no problem. We get composted horse manure for free from friends. 🙂

  • Oh Teresa I envy your composted horse manure situation. You lucky girl!

    I know you would do great at this and your boys would enjoy “robbing” the potatoes from the bottom. The whole idea of “robbing” anything seems to really appeal to boys! LOL

  • Wendy W says:

    Hi Theresa! I heart your blog & envy your garden! 😉

    I just found out that you can find free horse manure on craigslist!

  • Durgan says:

    How a Potato Plant Grows
    http://www.durgan.org/URL/?ZELNG 21 August 2009 How a Potato Plant Grows
    Potato growing test box was opened today. The pictures literally speak for themselves. Clearly there is no advantage in carrying out excessive hilling when growing potatoes. The purpose of hlling is to insure the tubers are covered. For comparison one Pontiac Red was dug in the same row, which was almost identical to the test box potato in appearance.

    http://www.durgan.org/URL/?PotatoS Summary: Potato Test Box

  • Wow!!! Your site is beautiful!! I love the artwork.

    Deirdre G

  • Hi It’s me again, visiting and reading along. I love all of the beautiful pictures you have posted.

    Deirdre G

  • That is such a great Idea.
    I love this really detail tutorial on the spud condo.
    I am from Ireland and I think is quite Excellent.

    Aanee xxx
    http://www.myflowerdelivery.ie

  • Hi everyone. Glad you are enjoying the potato condo post. It does seem to get a lot of readership!

    ~Theresa

  • Tneb9405 says:

    How did the potato harvest go?
    Each year I allow my son to select one plant that will be “his to take care of”. Last year it was watermelons. This year it’s PURPLE POTATOES!
    This condo idea looks really great since we’re working with so little space at home!

  • I love that he picked purple potatoes! Excellent choice. My boys LOVE digging up root veggies. He will have a ball.

    The harvest went well. I expected more – but but a nice harvest. I ended up harvesting all at once and had to share because we couldn’t eat them all. So I guess that is good!

  • Tracy Few says:

    I want to make sure I understand this right. When the green plant shows up, you totally cover it again with soil, constantly making it resprout through? Thanks and love the info!!

  • Tracy-
    I cover up the STEM and leave a tuft of green leaves sticking out of the top of the soil. I don’t bury the entire plant. The potatoes will form on the stem going up.

    Does that make sense?

  • Laura says:

    So you must use untreated wood? I have a lot of weathered treated wood, would that be ok?

  • carl says:

    I had no potatoes grow up. What did I do wrong? Good potatoes on the ground but none up the stem.

    • theresa says:

      Carl – Do you mean that nothing sprouted or do you mean that you didn’t get new potatoes under ground? All potatoes grow under the soil. None should be on the stem above ground.

      • carl says:

        I built a box about 32″x32 Planted 5 seeds and covered them as I would in regular planting. As the plants grew I kept covering all but about the top 3 or 4 leaves and the plants continued to grow upward. I quit adding dirt and compost at about 4 feet. The plants bloomed well, looked great, died down this fall and so we tore apart the condo and all we had were potatoes at the very bottom. My understanding was that they would grow on the stem as you added more dirt but it did not happen.

        • theresa says:

          Hi Carl,

          I bet the problem was the type of potatoes you used. You need to use late season potatoes. If you use early season potatoes, they only set fruit one time and that is it. Which means, they would only set fruit at the bottom of the box. Late season potatoes have a longer growing season and will continually set fruit up the stem. Early season potatoes will not.

          Sorry you had a disappointing harvest! A good source for potatoes is Irish Eyes Garden Seeds (www.irisheyesgardenseeds.com). You might try ordering from them if you can’t find late season potatoes in your area.

          Good luck!
          ~Theresa

  • julie says:

    hey tracy, my first time at growing potatoes in wooden box but im totally covering my potato plants and making them resprout (which they are doing) then adding another box. hopefully ill get a good crop … good luck
    julie

  • Vivian says:

    So do you still use this method and is it worth it? Have you gotten much success with it? How many seed potatoes do you put in in box and how far apart do you place them? Can you add more as you layer the soil?

    • theresa says:

      Vivian,

      Yes I still use this method and it is how I grow all of my potatoes. I also use tall flowerpots. I use this method mostly because I get NO bug problems. The potatoes are protected inside the container from bugs that would normally find them in my garden soil. And I feel that I do get a higher yield, though I do not believe most of the claims of HUGE yields. Perhaps double of what you would normally get would be more accurate.

      How many see potatoes you use depends upon the size of your box or container. But the rule of thumb is to over-plant a bit and place the seed potatoes about 5-6 inches apart in the container.

      I suppose you could as more as you layer the soil. I have never tried that. But it would mean that the potatoes at the bottom would be done first. So you would need to use a standard condo with a removable front panel so that you harvest without taking out the top layers that were planted later.

      Good luck!

  • beau says:

    Several questions please:
    1. What is used to affix the boards to the posts? Nails or screws?
    2. How do you remove the bottom boards without causing structural harm?
    3. If you harvest the bottom potatoes by removing a board, doesn’t the dirt above spill out of the condo leaving a vacant space? Or cause the dirt&potatoes above to drop down the condo causing roots and potatoes to tear from the vine?
    Thanks for the information. Yoy have a very nice and helpful site. Beau

    • theresa says:

      Hi Beau-

      1) I used screws to attach the boards to the posts.

      2) I just unscrewed the bottom board and it caused no structural harm.

      3) Yes – when I harvest the bottom potatoes, some of the soil settles and shifts. But no, it does not hurt the potatoes above. The dirt above sticks a bit. So I actually ended up with a bit of a hole at the bottom and the potatoes above stayed intact. I think it is the root system which held the soil in place.

      Hope that helps!

      • beau says:

        Thanks! It does help. I planted potatoes (sweet, russet, red) in large plastic containers this last year w/pretty good results, but I’m switching to your idea and design this year. And thank you for the info re early potato versus later season potato – I never knew.
        By the way, at the end of the summer my sweet potatoes put on the most beautiful purple/lavender flowers – looked almost like a lily . Beatiful flower that friends demanded to see because they had grown sweet potatoes but never had flowers. Thanks, Beau.

  • Kerrie says:

    I have read that you can start them in soil then add sawdust or straw for the remaining top layers. Has anyone tried this? Seems a lot cheaper and cleaner than adding soil every time.

  • Cathie Cooper says:

    Hello to All,
    I have started my potatoes ( Yukon Gold and Red) this year in a similar way. I used left over wire fencing that I made a large circle out of and lined the inside with cheap thin weed block, then planted the seed potaotes…as they grow I add straw to the round. I got the idea here http://www.nwedible.com/?s=potatoe+cage great for a small space like I have

    • theresa says:

      Hey there Cathie – Erica of NWEdible is a very good buddy of mine. So glad you have used her method of wire fencing. Great stuff. Good luck with your crop! I’m sure it will rock.

  • Cathie Cooper says:

    Oh, I love your site as well!

  • Jennifer says:

    Hi. I love your website, it is very informative. This year we are attempting our very firt potato box. We have purchased potato seeds but i think we have too much. We have a 2 lb bag, and im not certain how many potatoes to put into the soil to start our box. If we are making a 24″ x 24″ box we were thinking about a dozen seeds. Is that too much? And what do i do with the rest of the seeds? If they cant be saved i will simply give them to another gardener friend of mine and hopes he uses them. Thank you for all the info!

  • […] Growing potatoes in boxes?  Heck yeah! […]

  • Stephanie says:

    Hi there,

    I am wondering if I can plant potatoes that are sprouting and how this is done? Do you cut the sprouts off and plant the pieces or bury the whole potato?

  • Lisa Vinson says:

    Great site. My friend and I are excited to build our condos.

  • Brooklyn says:

    I did this with our potatoes this year. Works great. I’m considering trying it wit sweet potatoes. Has anyone tried it with good results?

  • Amanda says:

    Hi there , such a cool idea I’m doing one now ! I just added my second layer , you cover the plant completely when adding right ?

    • theresa says:

      If you are talking about just covering the potato, yes – you cover the potato. But if you are talking about the green leaves coming out of the potatoes, then no – don’t cover them completely. I leave a little bit of green sticking out of the top so the plants can still get photosynthesis.

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