Container gardening is perfect for big potato yields
Last year I grew potatoes in a laundry basket. My Mom thought I was crazy, but it worked pretty well. I just had a reader ask me how it went so I thought I would give an update and talk about some other fun and inventive ways you can grow potatoes in containers.
Here’s the post from last summer – Yes Mom, You Can Grow Potatoes in a Laundry Basket!
My harvest from this basket was about 1.5 pounds of potatoes. Unfortunately, I was so excited I didn’t get a picture. One of the starts died while we were on vacation, so I learned that consistent water is necessary when you are planting potatoes in pots.
Besides the laundry basket, this year’s batch is going in the garden in my fancy potato grower. It’s basically just a long sheet of black plastic. It’s rigid so it will stand up, and has holes in it so the potatoes can grow out the sides. Think of it as a large laundry basket. I can make it as small or large as I want. I’ve used it for making compost in the past and I have no idea where I purchased it, but I’ve had it at least 15 years. It stores well in the off season, all I have to do is roll it up and secure it with zip ties.
It turns out that you can grow massive amounts of potatoes in very little space. Sometimes even as much as 40 pounds. The key is to grow them vertical instead of in rows.
Growing your own potatoes in the ground
First you should pre-sprout the potatoes – see the post “Chitting Potatoes” for directions. This year I’m growing seed potatoes with a blue skin that I purchased from a local nursery.
- Clear the soil to adjust to the size of your container. The soil needs to be light, not compact or you will have deformed potatoes.
- Place the sprouted potatoes in a circle (or in a row, if you’re planting that way) and cover them with soil.
- Water in and wait for the foliage to get 8 inches high.
- Cover the leaves with compost, soil or straw, leaving just 2 inches of leaves above the soil.
- Continue adding soil, compost or straw (leaving just 2 inches) every time the plant gets 8 inches high. Potatoes form tubers all along the stalk of the plant, so the taller you can get them, the more tubers you will harvest.
- Once the plant starts to flower, after 60 days or so, little tubers will begin to form on underground stems. Some varieties either bloom very late or not at all, so check for new potatoes after 65-75 days on plants that don’t bloom.
Harvesting your main crop from White Flower Farm:
“For your main potato crop, allow growth until vines naturally wither or until tubers have reached the desired size. Frost will encourage maturing. If tubers are fully formed and continue to produce vigorous top growth, break the tops off at ground level to stop growth. Allow the tubers to remain in the soil at least two weeks after tops have died back or have been broken off. Don’t water plants during this period. This provides time for skins to “set,” which increases storage life.
Dig potatoes carefully with a fork so as not to bruise or damage skins. Dig deeply and at a distance of up to 18in from the plant to locate all tubers. Injured tubers should be cooked and enjoyed right away.
Potatoes will turn green and taste bitter if stored in the presence of light. For this reason, we recommend storing them in brown paper bags at low temperatures; 35-40 degrees F is optimal. Cool temperatures retard sprout development and increase storage life. Do not store potatoes in the refrigerator; the atmosphere is too dry for them to keep well.” See the full article here
Other fun ways to grow potatoes
In a bag: Food52 is growing potatoes right in the bag they purchased. You can use a heavy bag like you would get from purchasing dog or cat food. Just make sure it’s plastic, paper will not hold up for the duration of the growing season.
In a tire tower: Troy Brooks, of American Preppers Network, takes his old tires, washes them thoroughly to remove road grime and then uses them as planters. This is a handy re-use / re-purpose for tires you might have around the yard. The link to the directions is here. I will leave it up to you to do your own research if chemical leaching is a concern to you.
In a plastic (or wooden) barrel or trash can: This is another inexpensive way to grow potatoes in something you probably already have around the yard. The key to this is drainage! Find directions from 1916 Home here.
In a 5 gallon bucket: This method will not provide as great a yield, but is a good alternative to those who don’t have the space. I might consider drilling big holes in the side and opening the bottom to the soil to increase the harvest and make sure you don’t get any rot. Here are directions from Five Gallon Ideas.
In towers: Oh my! A google search for “images of growing potatoes in towers” gave me a ton of ideas! You can find great websites with instructions using chicken wire, wood, fencing, bamboo and swimming pools. Here are a few links to get you started.
One Hundred Dollars a Month – potato tower update.
You Bet Your Garden – Home Grown Potatoes without the digging.
Feeding Big has directions for chicken wire towers.
The Daily Wild used reclaimed pallet boards and made a simple potato tower.
With straw added into the layers: Colorado State Univ has directions for growing your potatoes in straw here. The biggest benefit is easy harvesting – no digging required! Be sure to check this out because you can incorporate straw into your towers too.
In a Potato Grow Bag – This 20 inch deep flexible Potato Tub looks interesting. It’s easily cleaned and folded away when not in use. You’ll recognize the sturdy material and i’m sure anyone with a bit of sewing skill could create their own.
Organic Gardening tried growing them all these different ways (of course!) see their pro’s and con’s here.
A few words about growing your own potatoes
Why would I grow them if I can purchase 40 lbs for $25? Well, variety is one reason. I can get russet potatoes at the grocery on any day, but if I want to add heirloom varieties to our diet I’m going to need to grow them myself.
Price is another reason. I absolutely love fingerling potatoes, but they can be cost prohibitive on my budget. Purchasing a few fingerlings and planting my own, goes a long way in stretching our monthly grocery dollar.
I will have a supply of seed potatoes for next year, which is perhaps the best reason of all. My initial investment will keep me in potatoes for years to come.
Check out this comprehensive list of potato varieties from Washington State University and find your new favorite potato. And they really do mean comprehensive!
Learn how to preserve your potato harvest as I tell you about my bulk buy of Yukon Gold potatoes.
How do you grow your potatoes? Share your ideas in the comments section below.