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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.