Grow potatoes in bags

How to Grow Potatoes in a Bag

Irish potatoes can be grown in a small space and on a small scale in any kind of bag that holds at least two or three gallons of soil. Because it is inexpensive, simple, and interesting, growing potatoes in a bag is a method often used by teachers in school gardening classes.

First Things: How Potatoes Grow

Potato tubers form on short stems called stolons which sprout from the lower stems of new potato plants. The potato plants themselves are grown from small pieces of mature “seed potatoes” sold in garden centers or online, certified to be free of diseases; potatoes sold in grocery stores are usually not the best varieties for growing in home gardens, and are often treated to prevent sprouting in stores.

Potatoes take up to four months to grow, and require cool weather – they cannot tolerate hard freezes, and stop growing and producing potatoes when temperatures start to stay in the 80s. This usually means planting in late spring, usually March through May depending on your climate.

The plants require at least six or eight hours of direct sunshine daily, a little fertilizer, and regular watering, especially close to harvest. After about three months potatoes begin to fill out, usually about when the plants begin to flower. Most plants start to turn yellow when it is time to harvest, but some gardeners cut the plants down after about four months and allow the tubers in the ground to toughen up a bit before digging.

It is very important, as plants begin to grow, to keep the lower stems covered with fresh soil or mulch to keep them in total darkness; stems exposed to sunlight may not produce tubers, or if they do the tubers may turn green and taste bitter – and even become a little poisonous to eat.

Using growbags couldn’t be easier, here is how to grow potatoes in a bag. The great thing about potatoes is that they can be grown almost anywhere, even if space is
limited like in an urban setting. Reusable potato growbags are available and are ideal for
growing your own potatoes on a patio, balcony, greenhouse, polytunnel, or by the back
door.

What You Need:

  • Your choice of seed potatoes, (if it is your first time growing potatoes, choose an early
    variety of seed potato, like Homeguard, Duke of York or Orla as they will be ready to harvest sooner than maincrop varieties and thus avoid the worst of the blight season.).
  • One or more potato planters or growbags, also called potato tubs.
  • A good multi-purpose compost, (or 60/40 mix of compost/topsoil).
  • A potato fertilizer is optional but is recommended for a maximum yield.

Where to place potato grow bags
First off, choose a light, warm sunny spot to place your grow bag or planter in, if possible choose an area with at least 6 hrs of direct sun per day.

Most potatoes should be planted between mid March to late April, however they can be planted as early as February in a greenhouse, polytunnel or conservatory and either grown in situ or moved outside after all danger of frost has passed.

Chitting Potatoes
Chit the potatoes to produce sturdy shoots, encouraging quicker establishment and better growth. Chitting means leaving the potatoes in an open egg box or similar for approx 4 weeks to allow them to sprout.

Place the potatoes with with the most ‘eyes’ facing upwards and leave them in a light, cool and frost free place. The eyes of a potato are the tiny buds in the skin where the new shoots come from.

Planting Potatoes
Fill the planter to approximately 20cm with your multi-purpose compost or top soil/compost mix. Evenly spread 3 or 4 seed potatoes on top of the compost and cover with another 10cm of compost.

As the plants grow gently cover the shoots with more compost until the level is just below the top of the bag or planter. Remember to keep the compost moist but
not saturated, occasional heavy watering is better than regular light watering as the water needs to get down to the lower roots.

A potato feed with a high potash content will help increase the potato yield substantially, our orgainc potato fertilizer is perfect and gives you all the information you need on the pack. Don’t use feeds high in nitrogen as these will give excess leafy growth at the expense of the potato crop.

Potato blight can rear it’s ugly head from July on. Many traditional methods of controlling blight like Bordeaux mixture are no longer available on the market so either growing early varieties is recommended as above but there are also a range of blight resistant seed potatoes available like Sarpo Mira, Setanta or Orla.

Harvesting Potatoes
Early varieties of potato should be harvested as they are needed because they don’t store very well. Maincrop varieties can remain in the bags until needed, store the bags indoors to avoid freezing on cold

Otherwise potatoes can be stored in hessian bags or in sand in a cool, frost free environment. They should be checked occasionally for signs of rot, and the affected tubers removed so as not to infect the other potatoes.

First Earlies are best harvested in small quantities and eaten straightaway when fresh in June and July.

Second Earlies and Salad varieties can also be harvested in small quantities and eaten when fresh in June and July. Alternatively, if the skins are allowed to ‘set’ – i.e. they don’t rub off when lifted – cut the foliage down to stop continued growth, lift in September and store as per Maincrop varieties.

Maincrop varieties can be lifted from September onwards and stored as long as the tubers are lifted in dry conditions or are properly stored. Store in a hessian sack in a cool, dark, frost-free area.

The 7 Secrets to Growing Success with Potato Growing Bags

Follow these 7 points to grow the best Grow Bag produced potatoes.
Chitting Potatoes – Chit tubers (to produce sturdy shoots) in a cool light place before planting to encourage quicker establishment and growth.
When to plant potatoes in growing bags– Start your grow sacks in greenhouse or conservatory from as early as February and move outside when all risk of frost is past.
Where to grow potatoes – All potatoes do best grown in a light, warm sunny spot.
Soil and Compost – use a good proprietary compost or an equal mix of compost and soil and place a layer 4-6 inches in the bottom. Place potatoes on compost and cover with a further 4-6 inches of compost.
Earthing Up Potatoes – Potatoes grow from the stem beneath the surface. So keep covering the foliage with more compost as it grows until the sacks are full to within 4 inches of the top.
Feeding and Irrigation – This really is the big the secret. Mix potato fertiliser or a good general purpose fertiliser such as Growmore with the compost during planting and earthing up. Keep compost consistently moist (but not over wet) and you will reap dividends for your crop.
Potato Pest Control – Finally, Potato Blight can be a major problem from July with later yielding crops. Help fight this fungal disease with ‘Vitax Bourdeau Mixture’, a traditional, protective fungicide, available in ‘pest control’ section.

Growing Potatoes in Containers

Growing potatoes in containers is a lot of fun for kids and adults, plus it doesn’t require tons of garden space.

There are a few benefits to growing potatoes in containers:

  1. The plants are less likely to be harmed by bugs or other pests;
  2. The potatoes will grow more quickly, giving you fresh potatoes earlier in the season;
  3. Because you control all aspects of the growing environment, you won’t have to worry about the potatoes rotting.

Everybody who sees your container of spuds will be delighted – it’s quite a sight! There is no comparison between home-grown and supermarket potatoes, the flavor difference is truly dramatic.

Getting started

Find a clean garbage can, 1/2 whisky barrel, recycle bin or even a 10 gallon pot will work. Just remember the larger the container the more difficult it will be to move around and also harvest your potatoes.

Next, drill drainage holes in the bottom, and sides of the container, about an inch from the bottom. To keep the container from having direct soil contact on the ground, elevate it using bricks or a plant dollie with wheels.

The Soil

Use a good quality potting mix mixed with pre-moistened peat. Add about one shovelful of pre-moistened peat moss to each 1 cubic foot bag of potting mix. The peat moss provides the potatoes with the acidity they require.

Mix a slow-release fertilizer into the soil. Espoma’s Garden Food 10-10-10 works well. Follow the directions on the label. You could also add composted manure or compost instead.

Make sure the holes in the bottom of the container are covered with newspaper or broken clay pot pieces or rocks to keep the soil from coming out of the holes. Next, FILL the container with 4 to 6 inches of soil.

The Potato Seeds

The potatoes you will purchase aren’t actually seeds, they are potatoes that have not been treated and have been grown in controlled conditions to minimize the chance of disease. Space potatoes 5 inches apart from each other and 5 inches away from the sides of the container. You’ll need 3 to 8 seeds, depending on the size of the container.

Planting the Spuds

Separate the potatoes from the package, and push them into the planting mix until they are covered by 2 inches of soil. Maintain the spacing.

Water thoroughly until the water comes out the bottom of your container. From this point forward, the soil must not dry out, otherwise the potatoes could get disfigured and lumpy or not grow at all.

Watering

Keep the container moist, but not soggy. In a few weeks the plants will break through the surface. When the plants measure 4 inches tall, cover them (leaves and all) with more planting mix until only 2 inches of the new growth shows. Every time the plants reach 4 inches above the soil, add another couple of inches of planting mix. Remember to keep watering each time you add soil, until water drains out the bottom.

Watering may be necessary two or three times a week, particularly as it gets warmer.

Stop adding soil when you’ve reached 3 inches from the top of the container.

At this point, plant some bush beans in between the potato plants. This serves two purposes: the bean plants keep the potato beetle away and the potato plant keeps the bean beetle away. (It’s called companion planting). The top growth of the potato will grow to 3 feet tall and will require staking so they don’t fall over or break.

Harvest Time

When small blossoms appear on the plants, the tiny, tender “new potatoes” are ready to harvest. Simply feel around in the container and pick some, trying not to disturb the root system of the others. Or leave them to grow into full size potatoes.

Usually people can’t wait to try them. They are delicious boiled and then buttered with parsley and chives. When the plants turn yellow and start to dry up, the rest of the potatoes have matured to full size. Dump the whole container and harvest your potatoes, or gently dig up your container.

Store your Potatoes

Store potatoes in a dark, cool location or in a paper bag. DO NOT RINSE the potatoes until they have hardened for a few days. Just lightly brush them off with your hands.

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Growing Potatoes in a Bag or a Bucket

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Potatoes are almost foolproof. They’ll grow and produce as long as the soil is fertile, water is available, the sun shines, and the plant doesn’t freeze. Growing potatoes in a bag or bucket will allow you to harvest them even if the sun only shines on a cement slab.

How Potatoes Grow

Potatoes are one of the few nightshade crops from which the fruit is not eaten. Though some varieties do produce “potato fruit” or “true seeds,” the fruit is toxic. Instead, the tuber is cultivated, dug, and cooked prior to consumption.

Like all nightshades, potatoes are frost-sensitive. Gardeners may plant them before all danger of frost has passed, and they will be fine if leaves don’t emerge before a light cold snap rolls in, but temperatures below 32 degrees will damage or kill foliage. Gardeners have best results if they protect their plants from freezing weather.

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But like other nightshades, stems that are covered with loose soil turn into roots. This is why tomato seedlings are transplanted up to the bottom leaves. A stronger root system supports a stronger plant. With potatoes, it gives them more root from which tubers can grow.

Potatoes that are never mounded-up don’t produce much. A “seed” sunk six inches into the soil only produces tubers in those six inches. But if the stem is covered with dirt as the plant reaches up, those six inches can extend to twelve or eighteen. A pot of potatoes placed on a driveway will never grow down. But by growing potatoes in a bag or bucket, five gallons of soil can be filled in to surround the stem as it reaches up. Eventually, the gardener has up to two feet of soil potential.

Eventually, the plant dies. Growing potatoes doesn’t go on forever. Though new potatoes can be harvested when the plant is semi-mature, they store best if gardeners wait until the tops die back. Then the entire bag can be upturned into a wheelbarrow. Potatoes are harvested and the dirt is stored until next year.

Benefits to Growing Potatoes in a Bag or Bucket

The primary reason for growing potatoes in bags or buckets is to utilize space. Many vegetables don’t grow as well in containers so gardeners with small properties choose corn or pumpkins for their precious ground. Containers can be set on porches, blacktop driveways, or atop barren dirt.

Second, homesteaders settling into new properties often find their soil needs extensive amending before it can produce. By growing potatoes in a bag, they can till the ground and amend during the first year while still reaping a harvest from containers. A few bags of potting soil and some chopped straw feed the potatoes during the growing season. When the frost settles in, that material can be dumped out to contribute to amendment efforts.

Pest control is a third reason. By researching potato bug facts, you learn that the Colorado potato beetle burrows into the soil to pupate. Purchasing straw and potting soil eliminates the possibility of potato bug pupae within the dirt. Containers keep the potatoes up and out of infested dirt so you can use the ground for crops which are not in danger from the bugs.

Fourth is environmental control. By growing potatoes in a bag, you can plant early within a greenhouse then harden a mature plant off and transport outside. By starting or completing growth within the greenhouse you can harvest three to four crops per year from the same container. Growing in containers also allows you to control the amount of moisture. Potatoes don’t like too much water. If you’re cultivating during a rainy season, you can move the bags or buckets into a drier area.

The Right Container

Growing vegetables in pots don’t require spending an entire paycheck at a garden center. Though you can purchase attractive and expensive planters, growing potatoes in bags or recycled five-gallon buckets will work just as well.

First of all, let’s address a common urban myth. Pictures circulate around Facebook, showing pots with removable bottoms, allowing you to harvest “new” potatoes while allowing the plant to grow. Others claim you can cultivate one hundred pounds of potatoes within a single wooden tower. But those tutorials are either inaccurate or incomplete.

The photo with the two-part potato planter shows a duo of two-gallon-sized pots. One hand removes the inner pot while another plucks baby potatoes from the soil. This photo is inaccurate. It shows several young plants, perhaps two weeks old, above a pot bursting with new potatoes. Plants that young rarely produce new potatoes and the output isn’t that prolific. The pot could sustain one plant at the most. Also, potatoes prefer more than two gallons of soil.

Another tutorial instructs creating a box of upright beams and a square base. As potatoes grow, more 2×4 slats are attached to the beams to extend the box upward and more dirt is filled in. This works with how potatoes grow and the concept is sound. However, some tutorials don’t address what kind of soil to use, leading new gardeners to throw in barren clay from their yards. It also exaggerates the output. A successful plant within that box would produce fifteen to twenty pounds, but one hundred would be a rare miracle.

Though those pictures are misleading, you can still cultivate a satisfying harvest by growing potatoes in a bag or bucket.

The Bags: Choose bags with good ventilation. You can purchase cloth “grow bags” made specifically for potatoes, but they can top $45 apiece. Try woven feed sacks or old pillowcases instead. If you don’t have either and you might need to move your potatoes to different locations, purchase reusable shopping bags. But get the right ones. Some are made of toxic plastic that will leak chemicals into your potatoes. Look for “cloth” bags made from recycled milk jugs. The tag attached to the bag will tell you if the material is safe. Feed sacks won’t last more than a year but they’re free if you have livestock. Reusable shopping bags and pillowcases can last three to five years with the right care, for $1 to $5 each.

The Buckets: Pass by those flower pots and select the largest planters you can find. Each pot must hold at least four gallons of soil to allow potatoes to develop, and the more space you have the more potatoes you will get. You will need good drainage; if you purchase a container with a solid bottom, drill plenty of holes. Also, avoid dark-colored containers unless you’re growing in chilly weather. Potatoes grow best when the tops are warm and sitting in full sun but the roots stay cool within the ground.

To save money and keep plastic out of landfills at the same time, purchase five-gallon buckets from restaurants and delis then turn them into planters. Ensure the buckets have enough drainage by drilling small holes in the bottom. Do not set buckets directly onto grass or soft ground because that may clog the holes and impede drainage. Instead, set them on a pair of bricks or pieces of wood.

The Right Dirt

Never use soil from your garden, especially if it has any percentage of clay. The best material is potting soil, perhaps mixed with straw to cut costs. Clay compacts tightly and pulls away from the sides of the pot. It also doesn’t wick or retain water as well. Since potatoes don’t need a lot of fertilizer, potting soil can be purchased then used a couple years in a row as long as it’s composed of loose material.

If potatoes are grown in straw, they do need a bit of fertilizer within the bottom layer. Choose natural material such as compost or aged manure. Chemical fertilizers aren’t the best for potatoes because they contain high levels of nitrogen which will promote foliage growth but impede tuber development.

Planting and Growing Potatoes

Do not purchase potatoes from the grocery store unless they are organic. Most conventional potatoes have been sprayed with a chemical to inhibit sprouting. Also, grocery store potatoes can come from locations which may have viruses or fungus within the soil. For the best results, and to avoid adding diseases to your garden, find certified seed potatoes online or at a garden center. Avoid russets if you are growing potatoes in a bag or other containers because they require too much space. Instead, look for small varieties which set tubers close to the plant. Fingerlings are excellent for containers and taste better than any russets on the market.

Fill containers with up to six inches of soil. This should be the most fertile of all material used and can contain compost, rabbit manure, or aged manure from horses, chickens, or sheep.

Place three to five “eyes” within each container. A potato can have many eyes (the dimples in the skin) and each eye potentially produces one new plant. A six-eyed potato can start six new plants. Either place small, whole potatoes with only a few eyes within the soil or cut up a larger tuber so each piece has at least one eye. Three pieces is sufficient for a five-gallon bucket. Cover the potato pieces with another inch of soil and water lightly.

Sunlight isn’t necessary until leaves emerge, but warm, moist soil is. Do not allow the soil to remain wet because it will cause the potatoes to rot before they can sprout. Within two weeks, leaves will poke through and grow quickly. Place the containers in the sun, a greenhouse, or under strong plant lights.

When the foliage is at least six inches high, lightly pack soil and straw around the leaves and stems, leaving about one inch of foliage showing. Allow the potatoes to grow for another week or so until they are six inches high once again, then pack more material around the stems. Continue in this manner until soil or straw reaches the top of the bag or bucket. After that, let potatoes grow. Water only when necessary, remembering to keep the soil moist but never wet. Watch for signs of over-watering, such as stunted and curled foliage. If that happens, water less often.

Most potatoes form blossoms and some even form “fruit,” but some varieties never do. When blossoms form, or about a month before maturity, you can gently dig within the soil or straw to remove baby potatoes.

In 90 to 120 days, depending on variety, tops will turn yellow. The plant appears ill but it’s reaching the end of its life cycle. Once the tops have died back, carefully dump the soil into a wheelbarrow if you want to save it for next year or directly into the garden. Search through the material to remove potatoes. Throw away or burn plant tops, in case there is any chance they became infected with a virus or blight.

Brush soil from the potatoes but do not wash them until you are ready to use them. Potatoes that are washed may never fully dry, leading to rot. Leave potatoes in a warm, dry environment for a few days to “cure” them, then store in a cool, dark location.

What kind of harvest can you reap by growing potatoes in a bag or bucket? Honestly, a garden full of loamy and fertile soil is the best for any crop. But when that’s not possible, bags with good potting soil are the second best option. Five pounds per bag is attainable, and the materials can be reused the next year to lower the cost even more. Plus, you can grow better potatoes than what is available in stores. If you want to save space and avoid problems with bugs or bad soil, try growing potatoes in bags.

Originally published in 2016 and regularly vetted for accuracy.

Growing potatoes is easy in well-prepared soil. Spring rains give the potatoes a head start without effort. We’ve harvested potatoes that volunteered in a compost pile!

Growing potatoes in a planting bag filled with potting soil is rewarding and simple. Potato grow-bags have several advantages over conventional garden growing. They drain well, and they are easy to harvest.

Grow your Potatoes the Easy Way!

Prepare
Cut seed potatoes into chunks having at least two eyes each. Allow the pieces to be dry and callous at least overnight or dust with sulfur.

Fill the container about 1/3 full with a 50/50 mixture of Master Nursery Bumper Crop and either garden soil, or Master Nursery Potting Soil.

Plant
Plant one seed potato for every 3 gallons of fabric pot capacity. For the #10 container, for example, plant three to four seed potatoes. Place the seed potatoes evenly in the pot.

Water the soil thoroughly. It should be moist but not soggy.

Care
Soon, you will see little stems pop through the soil. Mound up more soil/compost mix, on the stem without covering the top set of leaves. The leaves need sun and air exposure.

As the potatoes continue growing, keep adding the soil/compost mix until you reach the top of the container.

In June, when the plants begin to bloom, you can harvest “new” or young potatoes. Or for larger more mature potatoes, wait until mid to late summer the potato leaves and stems will begin to turn yellow. Timing will vary somewhat depending on the potato variety.

When the foliage has died back, stop all watering about two weeks before harvest. The leaves and stems will turn almost all yellow. You are ready to harvest.

Harvest
Don’t use a spade or sharp instrument! Pull out all the stems and leaves, wearing gloves. Dig in and find your hidden potatoes.

Store
Arrange potatoes in a single row for a day and allow to dry. Then brush off the soil. Store potatoes in a cool, dry area with ventilation. Do not store potatoes in the refrigerator!

Bag Care
Potato planting bags are reusable! Shake out any extra soil and allow the container to dry. Store in a dry location until you are ready to start again next spring.

Read more about growing potatoes.

Follow us in Social MediaYou want to grow those delicious, colorful, often heirloom potatoes that you see at Farmers Markets and local restaurants, the kind you just can’t find in the stores. But you don’t have the room. Why not grow them in containers?

Even limited to a patio, container growing can give you a small bounty of spuds ready for boiling, baking, frying, and roasting. Homegrown potatoes, like homegrown tomatoes, are tastier and have better texture than store bought. And growing them in containers can be a lot of fun for you and the kids.

In a garden, potatoes require generous spacing and enough soil for “hilling” (periodically mounding soil around all but the tops of the potato vines; encourages tuber production). Even one or two potato hills can smother a large part of your garden. The space needed for a row or two in a home can be prohibitive.

Potatoes planted in container pots grow vertically. Hilling is easy and contained inside the pot. Give your spuds the right soil and moisture conditions, and they’ll produce bumper crops relative to the size of the container.

NATURAL & ORGANIC

Get your container grown gardens off to a great start and keep them productive with our quality organic potting soils. Need advice? Our Soils Blog provides the ideas, information and practical experience you need to get the job done right.

Containers provide the opportunity to experiment with various heirloom potatoes and different-colored spuds — yellow Finns, purple Majesty, red Cloud, and Adirondack blue — all neatly separated in their own container. You can grow fingerlings in one container, late-season keepers in another. And harvesting container-grown potatoes is easier and more exciting than digging them from the ground which, of course, can be pretty fun, too.

You might even find that growing potatoes in pots can add a decorative touch to patios and landscapes. Potatoes flower attractively before the growing season ends. Pots spilling with sweet potato vines are particularly attractive.

The same techniques that apply to growing potatoes in the ground apply to growing them in containers. In addition to compost and soil, they can be raised in coir, perlite, and other mediums that make growing simple and tidy. Growers have success with pots and containers of all kinds, including those fabricated from chicken wire, bins built from kits or scratch, even plastic totes and recycled buckets.

Containers

Big pots of all sorts make for good potato growing. They should be a minimum of 14 inches wide at the bottom and deep enough to allow for hilling as the season progresses. Use at least two dry gallons of soil per start (England’s Royal Horticultural Society recommends eight liters of soil for each potato start, a bit less than two, dry-measure gallons). More is a good thing. Crowding starts will result in smaller harvests of smaller spuds.

Potatoes, usually spaced 10 inches apart, can be crowded a bit (but only a bit), when planted in containers. A pot with a 14-inch diameter at the bottom will have plenty of room for three starts. The deeper the pot, the better, but it should be at least 15 inches deep. This allows for at least two inches of growing medium under the starts and room for modest hilling.

Good drainage is crucial. Make sure your container has drainage holes if at all possible. If the container you’re using doesn’t have drainage out the bottom (and you can’t safely create it), lay down an inch or two of stones and gravel at the bottom of the container. Water carefully and don’t saturate soil.

Big pots can be extremely heavy when heaped with damp soil. Be sure to find a place for your pot before you fill it. Or consider heavy-duty rolling plant stands. Remember that potatoes do best in full sun. Also consider that tipping over the pot, the preferred method of harvest, can make quite a mess on your newly finished deck.

In addition to garden pots, there are a variety of containers that can serve as potato producers.

Grow bags and Smart Pots are particularly suited for potato growing. Don’t skimp on the size.

The chicken fence potato tower is a easy and productive means of growing potatoes, especially when using straw. The design can be as simple as driving four snow-fence posts at corners in a square, then tightly binding the fencing around the poles. in Resourceful backyard gardeners fashion potato towers from chicken fence or other wire fencing. Repurposed wooden palettes can also be used to construct potato growing bins.

COMMERCIAL GRADE

Just add your favorite soil! The Hydrofarm® Dirt Pot Box is a framed fabric raised bed that provides superior drainage and aeration for roots, ensuring a healthy, massive harvest. Built stronger than similar products, with a sturdy PVC frame that supports the entire planter.

Towers can also be made from outdoor shades or screens made from bamboo or other reeds. These screens are usually wide and turned on their sides can provide plenty of much-needed depth. Roll them length wise into the desired size (doing it around a right-sized pile of straw or loosely around a barrel can make it easier) bind with hemp twine top, middle, and bottom.

Standing compost containers, including the GEOBIN make excellent containers for potato growing. You can purchase commercial wooden potato planters (often requiring assembly) that feature doors near the bottom for potato harvesting.

Potatoes have been grown successfully in everything from five-gallon buckets to plastic laundry bins. Wooden bushel barrels also work well. Using your imagination can have its rewards.

Here are detailed plans for a wooden potato tower from Washington State University. And the University of Minnesota extension service offers this potato tower project to do with your kids.

Galvanized steel cans and containers are gaining popularity among patio gardeners. And we’ve seen incredible pictures of sweet potato vines growing from shiny metal trash cans. But we’ve also encountered recommendations against using metal containers.

Be aware that the safety of using galvanized containers –small stock tanks and the like –for vegetable crops is in dispute and the internet hosts various opinions taking one side or another. (The Cooperative Extension Foundation provides a thoughtful take on the issue.)

Galvanized containers have a long history of providing water to humans and livestock. Containers are galvanized with zinc and, often, cadmium, which shouldn’t leach under most normal conditions (“most” because it’s speculated that acidic soils may encourage corrosion). The safety of new, galvanized containers is widely accepted for landscape growing, less so for food crops. Some suggest lining galvanized containers with plastic but this seems like substituting one problem for another. If you intend to recycle older cans, avoid those that show signs of rust or other damage or have been used to throw away pesticides, household cleaners, motor-oil and other lubricant containers, and other toxic products.

Growing potatoes in stacks of old tires, a way to keep tires out of landfills, is tried and true. But contamination safety is also an issue with tires. Those that say growing in tires is okay claim that the contaminants, such as heavy metals and carcinogens including benzene, are bonded in and don’t leach out unless the tire is burned. Some leaching has been noticed when tires are “chipped” to be used as playground surfaces.

Planting Medium

Like garden-grown potatoes, container-grown potatoes need a rich, well-drained loamy, soil. A mix of potting soil and compost with added sand (about 20% of the total) serves potatoes well. Add a handful of well-balanced organic fertilizer as you’re making your soil-compost mix. Potatoes aren’t heavy feeders but do require small amounts of trace nutrients for maximum production.

Don’t rely on garden soil for potato pots (or any container growing for that matter) as it tends to compact too easily (it’s fine in small amounts). Well-finished compost is ideal. Remember that too much organic material can encourage disease.

Soil should be acidic, around 5.0 (7 is neutral). Potatoes grown in soil with a pH higher than 6.0 are susceptible to potato scab. Adding elemental sulfur or some other acid raising supplement will bring your potting soil into acceptable limits. Never add ashes or lime to soil you might use to grow potatoes. It will increase alkalinity.

JUST ADD WATER!

Made of 100% pure compressed coconut husk fibers, Roots Organics® Coco Coir is a terrific addition to your planting mixes, possessing a near perfect natural pH level of 5.2-6.3 for ideal nutrient plant intake.

Once potatoes starts are placed on soil, they can be covered with more soil-compost-sand mix or straw. Once the vines emerge, they can be hilled with soil or straw as well.

If using straw, pack it into the container tightly. Too much air space will allow the pot to dry out too quickly. You can improve straw’s moisture retention by adding peat or coir to the mix (remember to soak it thoroughly before adding to the mix). Using partially decomposed straw will make tight packing easier.

Any straw or hay that you use should be as free of seeds as possible as potatoes don’t do well when competing with weeds. Container advantage: growing in pots makes spotting and pulling weeds easy.

Coir and peat can be used in place of straw. Both afford better water retention. Peat (pH of 3.6 to 4.5) tends to be more acidic than coir (5.5 to 6.8). Coir, on the other hand, holds water better.

Perlite is another growing medium that works well. Because perlite has no nutrients, potato plants should be given a modest dose of liquid fertilizer with each watering. Here are detailed instructions for raising potatoes in storage containers using perlite from the University of Florida’s Gardening Solutions website.

Cultivars

As you would with garden potatoes, choose cultivars known to do well in your area. Buy from reputable nurseries and local growers. Most grocery store potatoes have been treated with tuber inhibitors and the chances are you won’t get much of a crop. Though they’ll often work, they may carry diseases that will spread from your garden to the neighbors.

As a rule of thumb, early and mid-season potatoes do best in containers. The long growing season needed by keeper potatoes gives diseases including potato varieties

Planting and Care

Consider where your container will go before planting. Potatoes need full sun a minimum of six hour a day. Don’t place containers under eaves or tree limbs that might funnel rain water into the container.

Once the seed potato eyes begin to sprout — put them near a sunny window for a day or two to encourage sprouting– they can be cut into golf ball sized pieces with at least two eyes for planting. Plant them in your outside container beginning a week or two before the average date of last frost (potato vines are very susceptible to frost). They should be 10 to 12 inches apart and four to five inches from the side of your container on a bed of two inches or so of soil (more is a waste). Don’t water directly after planting but make sure your soil bed is moist. Wait until the first vines appear, then keep soil moist but not damp. Crumbly might be the best description.

Containers holding potatoes will dry out more quickly than the soil in your garden. Careful monitoring is required to keep your potato container uniformly moist. Potatoes need at least an inch of water a week, 1 1/2 inches for maximum production, particularly after tubers have started to form. Container growing makes it easy to check. Just reach in to judge conditions.

Watering is a good time to introduce a liquid fertilizer. Applications of foliar sprays or seaweed extract two or three times during the growing period will also encourage healthy tuber growth.

Who knew that vegetables loved fish? Neptune’s Harvest is a top-selling Fish and Seaweed Fertilizer that uses North Atlantic ocean harvests and gets great results from gardeners. OMRI Listed for use in organic production.

The time to hill is when vines reach ten inches or so and begin to trail. Tuck soil, to a depth that leaves only the top leafs visible. Mound the soil, finished compost, straw or other growing medium around the stems being careful not to break them. Cover all but the last two or three inches making sure to keep some leaves above the soil.

Hill again as many times necessary as plants continue to grow. You can add a few shovelfuls of finished compost as you hill to provide your plants nutrients and possibly some elemental sulfur to maintain the acidity that potatoes crave.

Harvest

Harvesting container-grown potatoes is easy and something of a treasure hunt. And, since you can do most of the work with your hands, there’s no damage to your crop from spades and garden forks. When ready to harvest, just tip the container over. Grow your potatoes on a deck or patio? You might want to put down a tarp to make cleanup easier.

Towers filled with straw or other growing medium can be lifted off the stack or dug out as needed.

Plants will produce small attractive flowers well before the vines start to die off. They’re especially attractive when growing from containers. Enjoy them. They’re also a signal that the plants will soon be ready for harvest.

Don’t be afraid to harvest some potatoes early. These “new potatoes” are especially tasty with thin skins and a toothsome texture. Use them as soon as possible. Those thin skins keep them from lasting long.

Stop watering when vines begin to yellow and wither. For storage potatoes, allow the vines to die back completely before harvesting. Dry a day or two as necessary before putting up.

Tips & Tricks

Plant a container of early-harvest potatoes such as Dark Red Norland or White Rose beginning in March or April as soon as conditions allow so that you’ll have fingerling and baby-potatoes for use in July.

Is container growing as productive as growing them in the ground? Here’s a head-to-head contest conducted by the University of California Master Gardeners of San Mateo and San Francisco. The results may not surprise you but all the thinking the growers put in to their evaluation is fascinating. Spoiler Alert: They conclude growing potatoes in containers is worth it. We think so, too.

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