Container Gardening…with Potatoes?
Container Gardening…with Potatoes?
By: Rob Sproule
We love our spuds, but we don’t necessarily love all the space they take up in our garden. Potatoes can be pot grown, too, and Rob has the dirt on how to make it happen.
“My idea of heaven is a great big baked potato and someone to share it with”.
– Oprah Winfrey
Spuds in Pots:
We love our spuds. Whether it’s their versatility, long shelf life through our winters, or because they’re just plain good comfort food, we can’t get enough of them. And why not? They’re high in fibre, protein and iron, not to mention vitamin B and C. The downside? You need a big back yard to grow them in. While other edibles graduated from the backyard veggie patch to the patio containers years ago, potatoes have been left behind. That’s changing. Spuds, as it turns out, are ideal for containers. They don’t get bugs, the soil is warmer so they mature faster, and you free up garden space for other vegetables. So how do you turn the back potato patch into a conversation starting containers?
• Buy seed potatoes early and put them in egg cartons. They’ll start to produce shoots.
• Plant them around the time of the last frost (I know it’s going to be your best guess).
• Choose a container at least 18 inches deep with ample drainage holes
• Plan for 1 seed potato per 10 litres of container volume
• Fill the container about half way. Cut the spud into pieces with 2+ growing eyes each and drop them in.
• Keep it well watered but not soggy.
Use soil that’s dark, rich, and drains well (and doesn’t just turn to mud). Ideally you want a pH of about 6, although that’s less important in containers than in the ground. Spuds love the sun, so keep them in a sunny spot but not necessarily the hottest spot (not for that south-facing spot under the white siding). A little high middle number fertilizer will help the tubers swell.
The Secret of Hilling:
Hilling makes the difference between a few baby taters and big, baked potato worthy spuds. With the tubers wanting to grow along underground stems, the secret is to lengthen those stems. When the vine is 6-8 inches high, pile nearby soil on top of it in a loose mound. Try to repeat the process 2-3 times (basically as many times as our growing season will allow). You’ll create layers of underground spuds. Traditionally, you’d start with your potato in a trench and end with a mound. Containers simplify this. Fill it halfway to plant the spud (ideally with 12-16 inches to spare). Aim to have the container as full and populated with spuds as possible. Getting to the spuds can be tricky. You can always dump the whole thing, which can be awkward with large containers. You have other options:
• If you’re not hung up on looks, use a burlap sack. Roll down the edges to plant and bring them up as you hill. Slice it carefully open at the end to access your bounty.
• If you’re handy, construct a frame of 4 braces and slot 2X4s into them. Add more planks when you hill, and remove to harvest.
• You can buy a specialized potato planter.
My wife and I tried the designer potato growing bags with cute little flaps on them for harvesting. They worked well, but in the end we dumped them upside down and harvested that way. It also may take a while to grow enough spuds to justify the expense.
When to Harvest:
You can technically harvest anytime after the plant starts blooming. You’ll get small but tender spuds. If you wait until the foliage starts to die back, you’ll get bigger (though not necessarily tastier) potatoes. Don’t dig in with a shovel unless you want french fries. Get in there with your hands, if you like, tip the whole thing over and pick through it. Tip it into the garden to make clean-up easier. Good soil is expensive, and potatoes don’t drain nutrients the way that peppers and corn does. Keep as much soil as possible, amending with some compost in the spring if it looks dusty.