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12.11.10

Growing Potatoes In Buckets Or Trash Cans

When I think of potatoes I don’t often think about growing them on a porch in a city and I certainly don’t think about them growing in buckets or trash cans. The last couple of years there has been a lot written about growing spuds in trash cans and buckets in urban gardens and part of the reason I decided to grow them for the first time above ground. Growing potatoes in buckets or trash cans is so easy that I’d recommend it for any small-space urban gardeners and for container gardening enthusiasts. While not as glamorous as growing tomatoes in small spaces growing your own potatoes is just as rewarding when you sit down and take a bite of spuds you grew yourself.

Small-Space-Urban-Farming-Potatoes


Let’s start at the beginning. Last winter I decided this year was going to be the year for small space urban farming in my garden. I purchased seed potatoes from the D. Landreth Seed Company in March. Seed potatoes are not actually seeds, they’re immature tubers. I stored them in a cool dry location and forgot about them. It wasn’t until June that I remembered I had seed potatoes to plant. My potato seeds were already beginning to sprout and shrivel. OOPS.

Growing Potatoes in Containers

I chose to grow my potatoes in a plastic bucket I bought at a discount store, but you can use a trash can or any container that has drainage holes or that you can create drainage holes in. You can also grow potatoes in containers like wooden boxes and wine crates. The one thing you want to keep in mind is the height of the container you grow your potatoes in. Taller containers are best for growing potatoes. If your potatoes haven’t sprouted before your plant them they may require chitting before planting. Chitting is done to encourage the tuber to break dormancy and sprout. Potatoes need a lot of sun to grow best; my container grown potatoes were placed in full-sun.

Growing Potatoes In Buckets or Trash Cans

The D. Landreth Seed Company recommended I grow my bucket potatoes using cheap top soil from the garden center. After I poked a couple of holes in my bucket, for drainage, I added a couple of inches of potting soil and laid my potatoes on top and covered them with soil. So far growing potatoes in a bucket isn't very hard, right?

Potato Foliage in a bucket

Within a couple of days the potatoes had sprouted and shoots were sent out and above the soil line. This picture of the potato leaves and stems was taken on 6/21. Potato foliage looks rather strong, but it can easily break if you're not careful.

Growing Potatoes in a bucket in urban garden

I took this photo on 6/24. There was a lot of foliage growth in just three days. As the potato stems get taller you just add more soil to your container, being careful not to break the stems. I continued to add soil, mounding it around and in between the stems, until the potatoes began to flower. 

Potato flowers growing potatoes in a bucket

Do potato flowers look familiar to you? They should, potatoes are in the Solanaceae family of plants that include chili peppers, tomatoes and eggplants. My potato flowers didn’t produce seeds but if yours do they can be collected and sown the following year to grow potatoes.

Harvesting potatoes grown in a bucket

When the foliage begins to turn brown and dries it is time to harvest your potatoes. Harvesting the potatoes was my favorite part of growing them in a container; I got a chance to dig around the soil pulling up the tubers. Unlike growing potatoes in the ground there wasn’t much need for soil preparation. The nutrients were already in the top soil and compost I added to the bucket as the potato stems grew. Even watering wasn’t much of hassle since the potatoes were growing out on the porch. The potatoes were grown in the yellow bucket pictured below.

small-space-urban-balcony-garden


If you’ve never thought of growing potatoes because you only have a small space to garden, give growing potatoes in a bucket (or can) a shot. No urban farm is complete without a few potatoes and you don’t need to build a raised bed or dig. My inspiration for growing potatoes this year came from reading Grow Great Grub and I found the blog Mustard Plaster to be nice companion reading to my potato growing experiment. As a beginner to growing potatoes in containers like buckets and cans I realize I'll never feed a family growing small amounts of potatoes, but it is fun to try new things in the garden and grow some of the vegetables I like to eat. I've already got plans to expand the potato growing next year and try a few heirloom varieties of potatoes. Have any recommendations? See part two of this post on chitting seed potatoes before planting.

22 comments:

  1. Ya - I did mine this year on the roof in heavy cotton pillow cases from thrift store and they worked really well - just kind of rotting & giving away now as I'm harvesting them ...

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  2. What a great idea. Altho we belong to a CSA, I find that I am growing more and more food in my garden and it's been years since I grew potatoes. Have stayed away because I didn't want to dig a bed and fight the wire grass. I am definitely going to try this next year. Great info - as always.

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  3. Wish I'd done a better job documenting my potatoes in a plastic storage container. I have a ton of garden space, but my soil is hard and clay-y, and I loved having a single container I could fill with decent soil and compost. Digging the taters out in this medium was WAY WAY easier than it would have been digging in the ground. It's the only way I'll ever grow potatoes, and I'm getting a second bin next year. :) P.S. I got smaller-size ones for growing in the bin and that worked out well.

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  4. I grew Yukon gold this year, and the taste was awesome. I'm not sure if they have an heirloom variety. I've been thinking about possibly growing potatoes in containers. My friend owns a coffee company, I might beg her for some burlap bags. I was thinking of growing some potatoes in burlap.

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  5. I grew potatoes in wire fence cylinders this year, and that worked pretty well -- I may try growing in a storage bin or trash can next year, just to see which method I like better. The soil dries out pretty quickly with the wire fencing method.

    'Yellow Fin' and 'Dark Red Norland' are two heirloom varieties I've grown that I've really liked. 'Yellow Fin' is really creamy and tasty -- good for mashed potatoes or just boiled and slathered in butter. I want to try some of the blue heirloom potatoes this year, I think.

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  6. There is a way to grow them on top of the ground...no digging...Claude over at Random Rants and Prickly Plants posted about doing it last year. I will find the post and bring it back here for you...be right back! I thought it sounded wonderful!!!

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  7. I just want to say thinks for posting about growing the potatos in a bucket! I have been growing more and more in buckets lately because I don't trust the tires anymore for vegie growing. I have eight 5 gallon buckets now with eggplant, okra and carrots in them. I can't get any decent growth in the sand here! The buckets make it all worthwhile...a sure fire way to feel you will actually end up with something! I may try potatos both this way, and Claudes way. I became so interested in the Ruth Stout way of gardening after reading this post of his, that I found one of her books at the library and read it overnight! Very interesting stuff. Scroll down a ways in this post, and enjoy! Claudes way of growing potatos. Have a load of fun whatever way you try nest season!!!

    Oh...P.S. I DID just set up a bunch of kale starts in a tire with all new soil/compost today. As long as I have fresh dirt each time, I feel OK with it. (Just sayin, since I had said above that I didn't really trust the vegoe tires anymore. :)

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  8. Very cool MBT! I've never grown potatoes before and prolly don't have enough sun for them. Might be interesting to give them a try in a garbage can though. We have a bunch of extra cans stacked up in the garage, and I brought home a ton of potting soil from one of my clients' many, many containers, so all I'd need is the seed potatoes. It would be a cheap, and possibly rewarding experiment.

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  9. Mr Browtnthumb,
    again, a wonderful post! Makes me want to go get a bucket from a dollar store! :-) I am def. going to try growing potatoes..I like the part abt adding soil as they grow.. :-)

    Btw I looed at ure Amaryllis posting and planted a bulb soon after...its growing tall and straight! How r your bulbs doing?

    Thanks,
    Shalmali

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  10. I've grown potatoes in 5 gallon buckets when I lived in the city. But thankfully, I have plenty of land now so don't need to limit the space.

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  11. Cool post. I've always wanted to grow potatoes but I've never tried. It doesn't seem as hard as I thought it would be.

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  12. @GardenBre, I was going to use something like pillow cases, but couldn't source any freebies. Everything else (cloth) that I wanted to use turned out to be more expensive than this bucket. Hope your potato harvest is awesome.

    @Webb,Glad you found it useful and I hope you get a chance to grow more potatoes next year.

    @Monica, I wish I would've done a better job of documenting my potatoes too. But honestly, I forgot that I was growing them after a while. LOL.

    @MeemsNYC, Yeah, the burlap bags would probably work great and they'd be FREE. Come to think of it, there's a lot of vegetables you could grow in them.

    @Colleen, Thanks for the recommendation. I may try 'Yellow Fin' since I lurve me some mashed potatoes. The blue ones are really unsual, I think I'm adding one too.

    @Julie, Thanks for the info. I may try some in tires (if I ever find a space) because I've seen other people grow potatoes that way and always wanted to try them.

    @Garden Girl, Make it even cheaper by planting one of the small potatoes you buy at the grocer. If it grows well with your amount of shade, then you could try some of the fancy varieties.

    @Spice-is-Nice, Glad you liked the post. My Amaryllis bulbs are doing "Ok." They're still outside--I'm trying to get the foliage to die down more before I bring them indoors.

    @Vegetable Garden Cook, I hope to one day have a lot of land too to grow some more potatoes and sweet potatoes too.

    @Emmy, It is really, really easy! Give growing potatoes in a container a shot.

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  13. FYI for Garden Girl, my potatoes did amazingly well in very little sun.

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  14. This is really amazing! I'm going to give this a try next year, Mr. Brown Thumb.
    Here on the Canadian Shield, it's impossible to dig more than a few inches without hitting rock.
    I have raised beds, but this opens up many more possibilities.
    Will share this with my local gardening friends, too.

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  15. Hi MBT,

    I grew potatoes many years ago. My kids loved seeing me pull them out of the ground. It would be fun to grow them in a big bucket or bag.

    Eileen

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  16. Anonymous5:27 PM

    Potatoes are very heterozygotic (like apples), so if you plant seeds you will not end up with the potatoes you planted. You may end with something tasty or something horrible. That's why spuds are always started from tubers.

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  17. I am re-visiting your post here. I am going to try the potatoes in 5 gallon buckets...but I think I have to wait till winter here. I will check...I love my buckets!!! Thanks again for the potato growing ideas!

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  18. We also grew potatoes this year in a container. We harvested several and they tasted great. We'll try again next year hoping for a bigger yield! Did you get very many from your experiment?

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  19. Thanks for sharing this! I think it is crazy that you grew potatoes in trash containers!

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  20. Any tips for watering?

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  21. Anonymous3:29 PM

    My husband is sick battling cancer so I got him started growing potatoes in a wire cage and a trash can as a little project for him while I maintain our large garden. It is going well. He loves it and is so proud. The information I found here is so helpful. I would highly recomend growing potatoes in containers as a great project for the sick, handicapped and elderly.

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  22. I've seen potatoes grown in buckets even in larger back yard gardens, the buckets were planted 3/4 into the ground to keep the soil cool and moist. The buckets protected the potatoes from insects, conserved space in the garden and could be pulled out of the ground for easy harvesting. Awesome ideas!

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