Monthly Archives: June 2014

Growing Potatoes in Containers and Bags

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.

Potato Bags Before Trimming

The potato bags as they were June 26th before I trimmed one back

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.

Potato Bags After Trimming

After the right side plant was trimmed.

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.

Potato Bags Rolled Up

The bags were rolled up to allow for some peat moss to fill them up.

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.

Potato Bags Filled

After the peat moss is in and well watered all I have left to do is wait for them to grow some more, then repeat the process until the bag is unrolled all the way.

Trash Can

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.

Growing Potatoes in Containers Before

The potatoes in here grow incredibly fast, likely due to the sides shading the plants at the start, but they are still strong and ready to have their stems buried.

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.

Growing Potatoes in Containers After Filled

The can is full up to where I thought it would be safe for a few plants to help catch up to the others.

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.

Growing Potatoes in Containers Close Up

Just a close up of the smaller plants so that you can see why I stopped myself from filling the can all the way up. (Update: These small plants have already grown about six or eight inches since I filled the container, soon it will be time to fill it again.)

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.

Garden Bed Ideas: Turn Boring Lawns into a Great Garden Spaces

Last year I received a raised bed gardening kit as a birthday present, but I never had time to put it out and plant it. I made up a bunch of garden bed ideas for it over the winter and finally decided to add a couple more beds to an unused area of lawn by purchasing another raised bed kit, and by moving the bed that the corn was in the last few years alongside them.

The plan extends further with refinishing the shed, and adding some grape vines and a flower garden, but that will all come in the next few years. For right now all I am planning is adding the rhubarb and blueberries close to the edge of the mulch and moving the remaining raspberries from behind the house to the bed with the rest of them. I will also need to build a trellis, as I am planting beans and peas in the middle bed of the three.

Before

Before

Bland, boring and weed filled. Something had to be done…

As you can see, there wasn’t much to the space before I started with the new garden area. The lawn here has a lot of dandelions that you can’t really see in the picture because it was just mowed the day before, but trust me, they’re plentiful. Along with the dandelions the dandelions there was a bit of clover and a bunch of quack grass mixed in with the lawn.

Step 1:

Step 1

This is just after the step one described, but you get the idea.

I thought about putting down some cardboard with some landscape fabric on top to hold it down, and cedar mulch on top of that. This works for broad leaf weeds, and for stopping new weeds from germinating in the area, but eventually the quack grass always seems to make its way up through once the cardboard is gone. This makes it almost impossible to remove, as when it you pull up the grass, it pulls up the cloth as well, and this was not ideal for the area I was working in since there is so much quack grass there.

I decided on using tarps because they covered a large area and were cheap when compared to the other options I looked into, and they are thick enough not to allow the quack grass through. The downside is that over time they can end up ruining the soil underneath them, which I am fine with, since this is going to be a permanent fixture in the yard. I wouldn’t recommend tarps for covering any area which might be changed around after a season or two.

Tarps will work for preparing a garden area a season in advance much like many people do by setting out garbage bags to cover an area to get rid of any vegetation before removing them the next season and planting in the spot where they were. Tarps can catch wind under them easily, and rip out landscape staples though, so you should also set something on them along the edges to keep them in place.

Step 2:

Step 2

The centers have been cut out of two of the three beds.

I set out the raised beds on the tarps where they needed to go, and cut the tarp out of the middle of the beds. I made sure to leave a small overhang of tarp (about an inch) on the inside of each bed to help hold the tarp down leaving a little extra would compensate for the tarp settling into its final position as the vegetation underneath dies.

Step 3:

Step 3

The sod has been removed, and the cardboard is in place.

Once the tarp was cut away, I dug out all of the sod in the left hand bed with my garden fork, removed any quack grass rhizomes and weed roots, and returned the soil to the bed. To get the soil back I just removed it from the old sod by shaking it, and pulling away at any big chunks. I then tossed the sod aside and it will be used to fill in a dip in the yard later on.

With the other two beds I thought it would be safe just to put cardboard over the entirety of the openings to keep the weeds down. I figure that this should work, for them, since by the time the cardboard degrades, the weeds will be gone, and there should be enough tarp in between the beds and the edge that the quack grass can’t find its way through. I have decided to plant some shallow rooted vegetables and flowers in those beds this season as well, so there was no need to dig down like I did in the corn bed.

Step 4:

Step 4 Part 1

Just lift the ends of the tarp to roll and mix the compost.

I mixed three kinds of compost with some peat moss and vermiculite to make some “Mels Mix” to start filling the beds, and I used the soil from the old corn bed to finish filling them. I put all of the ingredients on yet another tarp, and roll them into each other to mix the pile easier.

Step 4 Part 2

All of the compost and soil is in place.

Step 5:

Finished

It took a few days but in the end I could not be happier with the results.

It took eight bags of cedar mulch, but a good thick layer was needed to add weight to the tarps in case of a big wind storm (which we are actually having as I write this) so that they don’t fly away, or tear and let the weeds through. It also makes the whole area look really nice, and though the area wasn’t leveled, it looks more like it was now as well thanks to the mulch.

With the beds in place, and filled with the compost mix, I can get out there and plant them. The left hand bed will get corn in it once again, but instead of the four to six inches of compost mix it was growing in before, it now has about a foot of room for the roots. The middle one will have a trellis and some assorted vegetables, and I haven’t decided yet on the last one, though I think this year I might just put some flowers in it and collect the seeds for next year.

As always, I will keep you all updated on how they come along.