Potatoes In Barrels – save space but keep the productivity

Let’s say you really want to grow potatoes, because let’s face it – who doesn’t. Potatoes are a great part of man’s menu because they can be cooked in many varieties, all of them delicious, they are nutritious and last but not least – rich in vitamins. But there’s a small problem with urban gardening – you are poor and lack enough space for a fabulous potato garden. Worry not, because great gardening minds came with the idea of container gardening to avoid such issues and still make your potato dream achievable.

Being a potato is sometimes stressful.

What is container gardening and why should you give it a try?

Container gardening is not only effective for successfully spacing your plants on small limited areas, making way more production per square foot possible, but it also keeps your plants well protected from weeding , unfriendly fungi and pests. Not to mention there is no more damaging your potatoes when trying to collect them but rather you just tip containers over and voila! It’s easy and upon reading further you will be convinced that it has numerous advantages over normal potato growing(Boring!)! Here is what you’ll need to do:

1. Find the proper container for the job

You should choose depending on the available space you have and also mind that the volume of the containers limits your production. Basically any container with holes or one that would not be a problem to cut will do. Barrels of any sort, be it plastic trash bucket, used food-grade drums, even a keg. The 55 gallon drums are perfect. After making the right choice you would want to clean the thing because uninvited guests could have a negative impact on your little barrel garden. A low on bleach solution should do the trick.

potato-barrelSince drainage is what will make your spuds grow healthy in container gardening, it is crucial you drill or cut some holes in the bottom of your barrel and on the bottom side. That will keep the potatoes dry, which is very important for the successful growing process. Roughly 20-25 holes in the bottom should be enough, 8-10 in the sides. Rot is bad, aeration is good! It is well known that potatoes require plenty of watering to grow healthy so it is logical good drainage conditions should be provided. It is very important you lift your container up where the air circulation would suffice and also the water would not be jailed inside the barrel from the ground underneath. So you did not just drill 25 holes in vain. You can just balance it on cinder blocks.

You will also need to make a choice about your soils. There are three criteria your soil should cover

  • Light. Really try to avoid heavy textures;
  • Nutrient rich;
  • Affordable!

Peat soils are best in that matter. The peat is able to stay light while holding the water, and the perlite in it allows good aeration of the soil. You would also want your soil damp, so a good idea would be to just dump your soil on a tarp and water spray it with your garden hose. Shake the sides of the tarp and then spray again in order to mix the soil well. If you have your hands on some worm poop (this came out so wrong) use it as well, because potatoes have no worries growing in almost anything if a good drainage is provided.

Clearly this lady only posed for the photo judging by her clean hands and fingernails.

2. Getting the right plant potato varieties

Spuds aren’t exactly grown from seed. If you don’t have them, go and get them. But this should only be a one-time purchase. Later on, when you have fully grown potato tubers, you can just chit the sprouts that grow out of the “eyes”. That is the potato seed. Wilja potatoes will do particularly good although ratte potatoes will not do bad too. Depends on your preferences.

Now it is time you get started. Put some 6 inches of soil and compost in the barrel and then add another 4 inches of sawdust. Chop the potatoes in slices each of which should contain two eyes and let the chopped spuds dry for about 48 hours. After that you can plant them but mind the soil should only cover them, no need to push them to the bottom. Dampen the sawdust and behold – in just few days you will notice sprouts victoriously making their way through the tree shavings. Always makes me cry.

This shot was taken after her potatoes sprouted.

3. Keep adding soil

Dump another layer of soil each time you see your young stems and foliage grown more than 6 inches. Soak it and always keep the soil damp ,but be cautious not to allow overwatering. Proceed doing so until the sprouts reach the top of the bucket/barrel. This “burying” process creates space for more potatoes to form above the parent eye, each time you perform it. Layer after layer and by the time you manage to fill your barrel with soil you will have around three feet of potatoes ready for harvesting. Quite impressive, right?

4. Harvest time

Flowering and yellowing of the plant usually takes up to 10 weeks(sometimes more). After that it is safe to assume they are ready to harvest. First do a little inspection – gently dig down with your hand to check the upper layer of soil. After that you are ready to collect them. As I mentioned no shovels and spading forks needed, simply dump the barrel on its side, tap it so it all comes off the walls, pour it out and see the magic for yourself. Another bonus is that after harvesting your magnificent spuds you can use the organic leftovers of the material for your soil garden.

Another classic shot of hands holding stuff dramatically. In this case – potatoes.

Some tips:

  • In order to save money and time for the next year, just save some potatoes from your previous harvesting and use them as seed;
  • Try combined growing of bush beans and potatoes. They get along really well;
  • You can try growing your spuds entirely in wood waste. No soil;
  • I encourage you to experiment! Try different buckets, different watering routines, different potato varieties.
Potatoes In Barrels – save space but keep the productivity

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