Lifehacker: Grow 100 lbs. of Potatoes in 4 Square Feet

I can’t vouch for the actual amount of potatoes grown through this rig that you can make in your very own yard or balcony, but I bet you dollars to doughnuts that it’s not too far off.

Lifehacker: Grow 100 lbs. of Potatoes in 4 Square Feet

Article from the Seattle Times

What I really like about this approach is that it requires nothing more than a saw and a screwdriver. Better still is the harvesting: you unscrew one panel, reach in, take potatoes out, screw the side back on, add some new soil and compost, and you’re good to go. Great, simple innovative little hack. If it’s anything like the tomatoes that I grew last year, I bet the flavor of these potatoes will be hard to beat.

We’ll be talking about this and other things urban ag tomorrow morning at the Anodyne Moments gathering, which happens from around 9AM till around 11. Hope to see you there!


Author: Jason Haas

Jason is an elected member of the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors, occasionally moonlights as an amateur gardener, and is a proud father of two, or three, depending on how you do the math.

9 thoughts on “Lifehacker: Grow 100 lbs. of Potatoes in 4 Square Feet”

  1. Trying to replace the soil that falls during this harvest will be very difficult and time consuming. Where do you place the soil as you mound up the potato plant? Why use a costly source such as wood that will degrade over time?

    A better idea is to a column of chicken wire. Plant the potatos at the bottom in the soil. As the plants grow, cover them with straw. As the plants grow more, cover them with more straw. If you desire a couple of fingerlings, just reach through the straw and pick. When the time to harvest arrrives just disengage the column of wire and watch the potatos fall to the ground. The straw can then be placed in your compost bin. Another benefit is the fact your chicken wire will act as a support for climbing peas or shorter pole beans…..maximize your space, observe better ecological practices, grow more vegetables….a lot of win, win, win, win, win, win situations.

  2. There you go. Is chicken wire easy to get? I’ve never needed any before this. 🙂

    Ditto straw. Where in Milwaukee does one get straw?

    Is it cheaper/easier to get straw and chicken wire than wood, especially if I can use scrap wood? Or is there some dire problem with this that I need to be confronted with? (Please remember, folks, a little politeness goes a long way in educating the masses.)

  3. Chicken wire is available at many hardware stores – big box variety or most local ones. Many people use it ward off animals as well as to contain them. You could also replace the chicken wire with most types of screens.

    Straw can be found at most nursery stores – both big box or local styles. It is sold for mulching, decoration and for covering freshly seeded lawns.

    Chicken wire mesh fencing is less than $10 for fifty feet long and four feet wide …. enough to build several potato towers so you can grow more than one cultivar/variety. The electrical conduit pipe is less than $2 for ten feet. When cut in half, the newly created five foot length pipes can be weaved through your mesh and act as the stabilizing force for your tower.

    There is no DIRE problem with using scrap wood; however, the chicken wire is readily available, economical, used for multiple purposes, will not decay, etc.

    Also, I believe it is an easier system. Imagine removing the bottom boards in the wooden tower. When you dig for your potato, some soil definitely will fall from the heavy weight. Now you must try to push the soil back up and into the tower without hurting other tubers as you reattach your board. (it might be easier to put the paste back in the tube). This process may also damage the remaining potatos which could lead to rotting and disease. Since you also add the soil to the tower as the plant grows, you must maintain a second location in your yard for a soil pile (two locations needed for one tower).

    My tradeoff for purchasing the wire and the conduit is that I am not buying any screws and not using any electricity to cut the wood yet I still have the reclaimed wood for other projects. I get many more years of service for my purchase than the use of the reclaimed wood. This system is portable for better crop rotation. The wooden system may also be portable, but it most likely re-uses from the same soil pile thus increasing the breeding medium for potato pests. After the harvest, the wire tower can also act as a column compost container for the straw, fallen leaves, grass clippings, kitchen scraps, etc. each fall which can then be tilled into my other growing areas each spring. Lastly, the wire towers can act as a support for other climbing plants like peas, climatis, morning glories, runner beans, etc.

    In the end, this wire system is more earth friendly than the wooden tower. It also supports even more growing productivity than the wooden version.

  4. Thank you Suzanne and winestained!

    How does one deal with erosion/runoff from the chickenwire potato stand, though? What prevents rain or simple irrigation from carrying soil away from it?

    Honestly, I’m not terribly interested in feeling “green” or saving a few electrons when accomplishing a task can be done more simply. That said, if the chickenwire approach is actually simpler, more versatile, and doesn’t look like something out of Novosibirsk Proletarian Agricultural Stand #23, I’m all for it.

  5. What prevents rain or simple irrigation from carrying soil away from it?

    You are only placing straw inside the wire column and not soil. (The potatos are first planted into the soil at the base of the column.) Chicken wire mesh has octagon shaped holes in opennings the size of 1/4 inch to 1 inch. Some straw will eventually find its way through the opennings; however, the majority of the straw will remain inside the column.

    If you wished to use any combination of straw, leaf mulch and/or soil, you could use a closer-knit screens. Those could be found where they sell heavy duty screens to protect from untrained house pets.

  6. This post still gets a lot of traffic, so I think it’s worth mentioning my latest action. There was a tire that was sitting behind a foreclosed house in my neighborhood. I took that very tire to my house around the corner, and filled it with dirt. Voila! The start of a potato tower. I accept the risk there may be Dreadful Chemicals on the tire. And I’m happy to have reclaimed a bit of urban detritus for use in my urban yard-farm.

  7. Really great article – I was thinking about a similar article which I will probably still write, but from a slightly different angle. Thanks for sharing this with your readers…I’m sure I’m not the only one who appreciates it.

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