I have had varying degrees of luck over the three years that I have tried planting potatoes. The first year, I planted them in a new Rubbermaid garbage can that I drilled drainage holes into and had great success; I probably got 20 to 30 lbs of potatoes from it with my first try.
The second year, I had absolutely zero success, as when I went to find the seed potatoes, there were none available. Of course I could have just sprouted some from our kitchen, but I didn’t know about that yet, and by the time I realized it could be done, it was much too late.
Last year I had okay success, I probably got 10 lbs out of the trash barrel, which I found odd, since I was growing in the same soil, in the same spot and had planted the same type of potatoes. I got to thinking back to what the differences could be, and remembered that I had used some of the soil (Mel’s Mix from the Square Foot Gardening method) to fill up a couple of other pots the year that I didn’t have any potatoes.
This loss of soil made it so that even though I planted at the same depth from the bottom of the barrel, the potatoes didn’t have the same amount of soil on top to grow up through, and so the stems couldn’t sprout as many new tubers as in the first year.
This year, I made it my mission to remedy this, as well as adding a few new containers to grow in, so let’s take a look at what I’ve done.
Potato Grow Bags
One of the problems with only having the one container to plant my potatoes in was that I would only use four or five of the seed potatoes that I bought and would have to either give the rest away, or throw them out if I couldn’t find anyone to give them to.
This was a big waste to me and I hated to do it, so this year, after some research and learning how to grow potatoes in bags, I saw that some were on sale for $6.99 each so I bought two potato bags from the local hardware store. I could have made due with canvas shopping bags, but I think these ones are taller so I can fill them fuller for more potatoes, and they have a Velcro “window” in them that I can open to check how things are going inside.
The first thing I did was to fill the bags 1/3 full with the soil mix from the garbage can that I had been growing them in previously.
Next, I planted four potatoes in each bag on May 23 and waited for them to grow to be about a 18 inches (approximately 45 cm) tall so I could bury the stems with peat moss. I chose peat moss because I have heard that potatoes like a bit of an acidic soil and I needed something light so that the new potatoes could push the material away as they grow. The peat moss covers both of these needs for the plants, and I am going to try to reuse it in the coming years as well.
The first thing I did to start burying the stems was to cut off some of the lower branches on the plants in one of the bags to see if it makes a difference in the amount of potatoes I get. Some people say to do this; while others say it doesn’t matter so I thought I would try one of each so we can find out together at harvest time.
The next step was to roll up the bags, to allow for the peat moss to be added. This is a good advantage that the bags have over the trash can, they can photosynthesis with all of their leaves from the time they start growing, as you will see, that’s not entirely the case with the barrel.
The last step was to add the peat moss, and water it in well. I don’t know how much difference it will make, but I tried to make sure to get almost all of the peat off of the leaves as I watered.
To me the trash can has a huge advantage over the grow bags simply because it’s so much bigger. The potatoes can grow taller, and as it is filled up, this leads to a lot more potatoes. You can also plant more potatoes than in the bags; I think I planted six or seven seed potatoes in it, which is nearly as much as I did in both bags combined.
With the trash barrel, I didn’t feel the need to remove lower branches as I did with the one bag and you don’t have anything to roll up, so I just started by adding peat to it.
As mentioned earlier, the bags have a distinct advantage over the barrel when it comes to allowing photosynthesis and plant growth early on. The barrel, even though I had it tilted toward the sun, has tall sides and some of the plants were shaded, and even though I rotated the barrel to get more sun to them. There were still a few plants that were much smaller than the others. I decided only to fill the peat moss up to them, and I cut away a few branches to let the sun hit the smaller plants as well.
From now on with the barrel, I will be filling it up according to the height of these two smaller plants. The only things that would change that is if they don’t seem to be growing as fast well as the others, or if the others start getting too tall over the top of the barrel. Then I will fill the barrel up to leave about 8 inches to a foot of leaves above, like I did with the bags.
I am excited about harvesting the potatoes this year; I think using the three containers that I have will get me a lot of spuds. If the bags work out well, as I am sure they will, I am going to be scouring all of the flyers to find more on sale. At $6.99 I think they are a steal, but regular price is quite a bit more if I recall correctly, so I likely wouldn’t bite at full price.