Growing potatoes in containers and why you should do it.
Editors Note: This is a great post “From the Vault” that has been updated and amended.I have never met a potato I did not like. Seriously. There was period during the 80s that I refer to as
my potato years. I shunned meats of any kind and pretty much subsisted for weeks at a time on baked potatoes, asiago cheese, and apples. That, plus my morning latte was it. I would go weeks and weeks on a steady diet of potatoes and little else.
Somewhere along the line, I gave up such foolishness and started eating a bit more normally. Well, maybe not normally but certainly with a lot more in the way of variety and protein foods.
I wrote about my teensy weensy garden in Getting Prepared Week 6: Planning the food garden. Back then, I promised a progress report but to tell the truth, there just isn’t any progress to report yet. My seedlings are scrawny and barely alive. Too cold and not enough light would be my guess. I am going to start anew when the weather dries out a bit and yes, I am going to have to purchase some starts.
But in the meantime, I bought a couple of small seed potatoes (40 cents worth to be exact – the clerk thought I was nuts, only two?) and set my sights on growing a few taters in a tub.
Here is the plan, although I will be using an old Rubbermaid tub (see above) and not a compost bag or potato growing bag.
Is it going to work? Sure hope so. The seed potato variety is called “Cal White” and according to our local garden center, they are of the early season type. Here in the Pacific NW, a short season variety is crucial if we expect a harvest of anything before October.
Pallets are sometimes easy to get. Feed stores and other places sometimes will give you a few or you can buy them for a dollar or two. Most are made of pine that is untreated and put together with small nails. The really heavy ones are made of hardwood and not as common. Either one can be used to make a box to grow potatoes. The idea is to put 4 pallets together to form a box that you can fill with growing medium. This is lasagna gardening with potatoes. Add some compost or dirt and then plant potatos.
Only fill about ¼ full and then keep adding dirt as the green growth starts poking its way through. This causes a heavy root system that goes deep and allows for taters all the way down. When they are ready to harvest you can remove a side and harvest with no digging.
You can also reuse the soil but it might require some shoveling back into your box. You can grow a lot of potatoes in a small space like this. A standard pallet is 4 feet x 4 feet so you get 16 sq ft of growing space with a mere 4 pallets but the amount of potatos that you get is far greater than you would get off of a comparable space that is not done using the layered method.
Smaller containersYou can absolutely grow using smaller containers. Potato blossoms are actually quite pretty and the foliage is green and nice. It is recommended that if you choose smaller containers that you
BarrelsIt is possible to use a barrel cut in two for growing potatos. Use a hacksaw or reciprocating saw to cut a food grade plastic barrel in half. This gives you a bottomless circle that you can move wherever you want to grow potatoes. When they are ready to harvest you can wiggle the container and lift up. No digging no problem.
So why grow some taters in a tub? Let me count the ways!
1. Space or lack thereof. If blessed or cursed (depending on your perspective) with a small yard, you can isolate some potatoes in a container in an out of the way space or on a porch or deck and not worry about the tubers taking over your landscaping.
2. Potatoes in the garden can suffer from blight which is a fungus that will dash your green thumb victory in a heartbeat. By growing your spuds in a tub, you can use fresh soil and compost each year, thus reducing the likelihood that the blight will prosper and carry over to next year’s crop.
3. Simplicity. No seedlings to deal with. No monitoring dainty little baby plants as they grow to adulthood. The potato is a sturdy, macho veggie that does not require tenderness.
4. Potatoes are delicious. They can serve as the base for all kinds of good things when composing a one dish meal. I still love grated asiago or feta cheese on my potato plus, with the addition of some fresh chopped broccoli, I have the ultimate comfort food.
5. They store well. Given some space, you could grow lots of potatoes in pots and bags tucked in throughout the landscape. After harvesting, store your bounty in a cool place for use over the entire winter months.
6. Survival food: they can bake up in a fire pit without a problem. Top with some canned beans and there you go. Or shall I say there I go talking about comfort food again. Yummy.
7. Spuds are a nutrition powerhouse. One medium, skin-on potato contains only 110 calories and is full of vitamins and minerals essential for good health. They are an excellent source of potassium and vitamin C, and also a source of dietary fiber and iron. There’s more. Potatoes contain no saturated, trans fat or cholesterol and very little sodium.
Need move convincing? Check out this free nutrition handbook from the United States Potato Board.
Types of potatoThere are 100s of different types of potato out there yet mostly what is grown is your classic Russet Burbank. These can often be bought for a mere $0.50 a lb and they are the workhouse potato of the country. If you get fries at a restaurant I would bet money that is what you are eating.
FingerlingsFingerlings are a fancy potato. They are not at every grocery store and the seed potatos are expensive to buy but you can expand and keep them going with ease so consider it a one time expense with some luck.
Look at the different flavor profiles before buying or get a convenient mix pack to try out your first season.
This collection includes Yellow Russian Banana, Rose Finn Apple, and Swedish Peanut so you have an opportunity to find out what you like best but if you like to eat potatoes then you are probably going to have a hard time resisting all of them. 30 plants is a good start and enough that you may want to split up this collection with a gardening friend.
Yellow Russian Banana has light skin and yellow flesh whereas the Rose Finn is red with yellow flesh. The Swedish Peanut has a unique shape like a tear drop and is known for being buttery and creamy. You get your first crop in about 3 months with any of these varieties.
The Maine Potato Lady
This is a wonderful resource for all types of potatoes from good stock. You can download a catalog on her website and also browse around to learn about all types of odd yet delicious taters you can grow!
Sweet PotatoesDid you know that you can grow sweet potatoes even in a northern climate? Thanks to the huge variety of taters out there I am not surprised.
HybridizationIf you grow a lot of different types of potatoes there is a chance they will hybridize. This occurs when one variety pollinates the other. This is only something to worry about if you plan on saving some taters for seed next year. The potatoes you get may even look like the exact same one you planted the year before but still be different genetically. Even if this does happen the resulting varietal is not going to be harmful to eat or anything of that nature but you will no longer have a true varietal.
Shipping RestrictionsUntil researching sources of good quality seed taters, I did not know how restricted the shipping of some is. If you live in a major tater growing area you may have to find a local source of some varities since you cannot have them shippied. Most suppliers are very good about putting a list right where you can see in the product description.
If you grow a lot of different types of potatoes there is a chance they will hybridize. This occurs when one variety pollinates the other. This is only something to worry about if you plan on saving some taters for seed next year. The potatoes you get may even look like the exact same one you planted the year before but still be different genetically. Even if this does happen the resulting varietal is not going to be harmful to eat or anything of that nature but you will no longer have a true varietal.
Taters are no longer just a bland item
I hope these tips might encourage you to explore the world of potatoes. Different containers will allow you to experiment with different varieties and find out what ones you like the most. Blue potoatos can be fund for kids to grow and made for some interesting chips, fries, and more.
At the moment, my two little seed potatoes are sitting on the window sill, getting themselves ready to sprout. They will be headed for the tub this weekend. Let the potato party begin!
Enjoy your next adventure, wherever it takes you!