The Amazing Air Potato

I was reading Eric Toensmeier’s amazing book “Perennial Vegetables – from Artichoke to Zuiki Taro, a gardener’s guide to over 100 delicious, easy to grow  edibles”, when I came across the air potato.

It’s basically a vine that grows up to 4o feet high, that instead of having tubers in the ground like a potato plant puts them on its branches like a hardy kiwi. It throws out an enormous quantity of these aerial tubers over a period of some months so that you have truly lengthy harvesting season.  Great if you’re looking for self sufficiency, or supplying a small but constant stream to a farmer’s market, in a local park, not so great if you’re a farmer wanting a fast succession of plants and a short harvest season. Makes it ideal in cities.

Another things that really interested me was that it seems ideal for growing up the outside of fire escapes in apartment buildings,  or up windowless walls.  Shade a building like that in the torrid heat of a Tokyo summer and you could turn your air conditioning down a tad.

I  swear Japanese architects are solar oven enthusiasts conspiring with air conditioning salesmen and the electricity companies to fleece the general public.  I walk out the door and it’s ten degrees cooler outside the house than in.

Now here’s what I’m thinking. You want a dark wall in winter, so that it captures as much solar heat as it can and helps keep the building warm. You want a light coloured wall in summer so that it reflects all the heat. However a vine that grows like crazy in the spring and shades the wall does a better job than white paint.

Turn down your air conditioner.

And when summer is over and the temperature drops the vine dies all the way down to its roots. Well then, the black wall is then revealed and absorbs solar radiation warming the building in the process.

Turn down the heating.

So with one plant and a dark wall you’ve got yourself a potato field that feeds you for five months.

You’ve also got a massive plant for  feeding to earthworms and black soldier fly when it dies back in winter, which in turn feeds the fish in your aquaponics system.

You’ve also got an AC cost reduction system in summer.

You’ve also got a heating cost reduction system.

That’s one plant, one wall/fire escape.

Think what you could if you could extend this thinking to every balcony, every rooftop.

I looked around and came across a site talking about this plant and its relations. It was actually pretty funny. If you grow it in the wrong place it can be a nightmare. Everyone who grows it in Florida regrets it, frothing at the mouth about how horrible it is.

Everyone who grows it in the colder northern areas love it.

Very few people seem to recognize the fact that colder weather is how you control it. Grow it in a tropical environment like Florida where it never gets cold and you’re going to look like Seymour from Little Shop of Horrors.  Tokyo, where I am,  gets a light coating of snow every winter, so we’re going to have to be careful with it.

On the other hand, the Japanese in Tokyo would have this invasive for breakfast. Put it in a container plant and it’s not going anywhere. You can take an axe to it.


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