by Julie Christensen
Potatoes, taters or spuds — whatever you call them — there’s never been a better time to grow them. Potatoes are widely available in grocery stores and reasonably priced, but there’s something magical about growing them at home. First, the plants themselves are beautiful. They have green serrated leaves, purple flowers and a bushy, rounded form. And, harvesting potatoes is a little like going on a treasure hunt. Pop a seed potato in the soil, wait a few weeks, and voila—tucked away from view is a bounteous harvest just waiting to be found.
Another reason to grow potatoes is for variety. A generation ago, gardeners contented themselves with growing two types of potatoes – red potatoes and russets. Today, you can try blue, gold or fingerling potatoes. These potatoes command a premium price at the grocery store and are marketed as “gourmet.” However, they take no more work in the garden than regular old russets, and you can find the seed potatoes at garden centers and feed stores for a song.
Probably the main reason most people don’t grow potatoes is because of a lack of space. Like tomatoes, potatoes do take up more space in the garden than, say, lettuce or carrots. Their per plant yield is high, though. If you’ve avoided growing potatoes because you don’t have the room, take heart. Potatoes can be grown in containers with great success. Below we’ve corralled a few of our favorite ideas for growing spuds.
Potato Tower. This 4-foot tower is absolutely brilliant because you can harvest 25 pounds or more of potatoes growing in a 2 foot space. The simple plan calls for a chicken wire enclosure filled with compost and straw. The potatoes are planted in layers spaced 1 foot apart. Like strawberries in a strawberry planter, the potato plants grow on the outside of the chicken wire enclosure, completely engulfing it by summer’s end. The potatoes themselves have plenty of room to grow in the compost.
Potato Box. Developed by Greg Lutovsky, owner of Irish Eyes Garden Seeds, a family-run farm in Washington, this strategy is similar to the potato tower. Lutovsky builds a simple wooden box and layers potatoes with lightweight soil or compost. He recommends using disease-free, long-season potato varieties and coiling a soaker hose through the box to keep the layers moist. He says he’s grown 80 pounds of potatoes in one 4 foot box, although one customer grew 125 pounds of potatoes!
The Barrel Method. If you don’t favor building a container out of chicken wire or wood, try the fast and easy version. Grow potatoes in any large container, such as a plastic trash can or a whiskey barrel. Use lightweight soil, layer the potatoes and keep the soil consistently moist. This no muss, no fuss strategy can yield 50 to 80 pounds of potatoes.
Recycled Materials. If you like to use what you already have on hand, try planting potatoes in a cardboard box. At the end of the season, the cardboard box will have almost disintegrated and you can toss it out with no guilt. Or how about using old tires as a container for potatoes? Simply stack two or three tires on top of each other and fill the tires with compost, according to Vegetable Gardener.
Grow Bags. For those of you favoring a more high-tech approach, why not try the grow bag, available at nurseries or online. These reusable felt bags can hold up to 15 gallons of soil or compost. Their main advantage is that they provide excellent drainage – a must for growing tasty potatoes. They also fold down for compact storage during the winter. Grow bags will typically last for several years.
Homemade Grow Bags. Like the idea of grow bags, but cringe at the price? Try making your own from landscaping fabric.
Trash Bags. Here’s one of the simplest methods for growing potatoes in a container – a large, heavy-duty trash bag. Make some holes in the bag for adequate drainage and fill the bag with compost. Layer the potatoes and line the bag with straw. Black trash bags collect heat from the sun so the potatoes grow well even in cooler climates.