One thing I get asked about a lot is growing potatoes in containers. I have tried it, and I had good results, but there is one thing I would like you to keep in mind.
If you are going to do this, please don’t think about growing those giant baking potatoes or standard Idaho russet potatoes in pots!
You need a whole lot of land for that, and they are typically so cheap and abundant in stores, that it just doesn’t make sense to attempt it.
Now, if you do want to grow potatoes in containers, I recommend going for some of the varieties that are harder to find in stores or are typically more expensive. You will probably want to concentrate on new potatoes.
Any variety can be picked early and called new potatoes, but there are some varieties that make better new potatoes than others. I recommend any of the fingerling varieties, most of the smaller red-skinned varieties, and Yukon Gold.
Growing Potatoes In Containers
These are all typically fantastic when harvested small, and they even taste terrific raw!
Potatoes should be started from seed potatoes. This is very easy. Just put your seed potatoes in a shallow tray or egg carton and spritz them with a little water or seaweed fertilizer.
They will start to sprout.
Spritz them once or twice per day for about two weeks. Once the sprouts are about one inch long, you can transplant them into their main containers.
Potatoes obviously need large containers. You should use one that is around 30 inches deep and 20 inches wide. This container should be filled with a good organic potting mix about one third full.
Then you will lay the sprouted potatoes on the top of this soil about 6 inches apart, but keep them at least 4-6 inches from the sides of the container. Make sure the sprouts are facing upwards. Then cover the sprouted potatoes with about two inches of soil.
Now, here comes the “tricky” part. When the plants are about six inches tall, you will need to add another 3 inches or so of good potting soil.
You’ll have to do this several times, looking for about 6 inches of growth and adding 3 inches of soil, until the soil reaches between 1 and 3 inches from the top of the container.
Once you’ve reached this level, you’ll want to hill the soil up around each sprout and use your finger to draw a small trench at the base of each hill to collect water.
That’s really all there is to it! The first potatoes will be ready to harvest about two months after plant them. For varieties of potatoes that flower, the flowering is a sign that you can begin harvesting.
Harvesting is going to be messy. You have to get your hands into the soil up to your elbows and feel all the way down to the bottom for potatoes. Only pick the potatoes that are a decent size. You know what size your family prefers, so pick them whenever you feel comfortable with their size.
If it feels too small, just leave it a bit longer.
The lucky thing about growing potatoes in containers is the fact that you won’t have to contend with most types of diseases that plague potatoes. The soil you use will probably not be infected, and it isn’t likely to become infected since it is protected somewhat by the container. You may have problems with pests, most likely potato beetles.
These are creepy looking things, and they will absolutely destroy your potatoes. Luckily, they don’t live in all areas, so check with your local county extension office to see if they live in your area. If you do find them on your plants, watch the undersides of the leaves and remove any of the egg clusters you see.
At night, if you see bugs on the plants, pick them off and drop them into a bucket of soapy water.
The most important factor in successfully growing healthy potatoes is even watering. It is absolutely critical that you water often, and regularly. If the soil dries out, and then gets watered, and then dries out, and then gets watered, the potatoes will develop into lumpy, irregular, mealy things that won’t taste good.
Obviously, it is important not to over water, but you should water on a very regular schedule.
One last piece of advice that I have for you is regarding a good container that you can use for growing potatoes. Have you seen those large plastic storage bins?
They are found at places like Wal-Mart and Target and they are just about the right size for growing potatoes! You can get some of these, with lids, and drill some holes in the bottom for drainage, then you can use the lid as the drip tray to catch drainage water and protect the soil from being invaded from underneath!
Then, after you have harvested all of your potatoes at the end of the season, you can plug up the drainage holes with duct tape and put the lid on top of the container to store the soil for use next year! They are just perfect for this use, and they’re pretty inexpensive, too!