How to Grow Potatoes on the Balcony
Before I had my little garden, I lived in the city center in an apartment with a balcony. I actually started to grow vegetables there. With time, and after all sorts of experimental growing adventures, I learned how to make the most of such a little space.
I decided to try and grow potatoes in growing bags on my balcony, and I asked my then four-year-old minime for some help. In March, after carefully selecting potato seeds, we climbed our stairs with the seeds, a bag of organic soil for vegetable growing, from the gardening center, and two green growing bags.
The bags are easy to handle, and they add minimal weight to the balcony, important especially in old houses when it’s not always clear how much weight the balcony can hold. Each bag is about 44 cm in height and 34 cm in width, I ordered mine online. There is a big selection of sizes, shapes and prices, always read some product reviews before ordering.
We placed the bags in a sunny spot and started to fill them with soil. Minime had lots of fun placing the potato seeds in the soil, as the seeds are big and easy to handle. Using her small gardening tools, she filled the bag with more soil to cover the seeds. We watered the bags until the soil was moist and waited.
The weeks went by and the plants became big and wonderful. I kept adding soil on top of the bag to create more space for the potatoes to develop, and my girl kept asking if we can eat them yet.
Finally, in early June, it was harvest time. We got our gardening gloves on and dug up the bags. We got about 4 kgs of potatoes, great for such a small, and otherwise, unused space. It was surprising to realize that potato plants don’t need much space to give a good crop. Although potatoes are perceived as a vegetable that is grown by a farmer, holding a big fork, in fact, they can grow in the city, on a small balcony, with very little effort.
How to grow, step by step:
1- If you have a limited space, select seed potatoes that are sold in small quantities. About one kg is enough for 3 growing bags. A good friend with an allotment comes handy here as he/she may have just a few extra seeds you can use. There are different kinds of potato crops, I went for an early quick growing kind called “Casablanca”, which I planted in March. In case you can't get a hold of seed potatoes, you can try planting old sprouting potatoes, preferably organic ones.
2- Place the bags, pots or containers in a sunny spot and make sure the same spot does not suffer from draining issues, otherwise your crop can rot. If you do this with young children, make sure to place the bags somewhere accessible and safe for them.
3- Fill about one-third of the bag with soil then add the seed potatoes, we went for 3 per bag and got great results. The bags should be only half or two thirds full when you are done, the extra space is for adding soil as the plants grow tall. Water the bags to keep the soil moist especially in the period after planting and in dry weather. If it’s dry and warm you will need to water the bags 2-3 times a week.
4- When the growing period which is indicated on the seeds’ packet is finished, and the foliage of the plants looks dry and wilts (some plants will give you flowers, others might not), it’s time to dig up the potatoes. Do this gently, not to damage them. Since the growing bag is relatively small, you don’t need a fork or other special gardening tools, just use your hands.
5- Store your potatoes in a dark and cool place, and enjoy them!
I wrote this piece originally for Groei en Bloei Magazine, you can read the Dutch web-version here. I got lots of great responses from people who used this information to grow potatoes on their balconies for the first time, if you are giving it a try, let me know!