If you’ve ever had a homegrown potato, you know that they are a lot tastier than those you purchase at the grocery store. The flesh is crisp and the flavor of homegrown varieties is superb.
Potatoes are one of the easiest vegetables to grow. They do well in most garden soils and they are ideal for container gardening. In fact, growing potatoes in containers is a great way to include your children in the gardening process.
Almost any large container works well as a potato garden. While there are commercial “potato condo” containers and “Smart Pots” available for purchase, you can find plenty of alternatives around your house. Old wooden barrels cut in half and large plastic flowerpots are ideal. Try an old bathtub. Some people use trash bags or stacks of old tires. If you choose to use trash bags or tires, beware that the jury is still out on the subject of potential toxicity.
Good drainage is vital to raising a healthy crop of potatoes so be sure that the containers you choose have holes to allow excess water to escape. Add some if necessary. It is best if the soil stays moist, but too much water will cause the potatoes to rot. Try to keep the moisture at a consistent level. Inconsistent watering can cause the potatoes to be misshapen.
Once you’ve chosen the appropriate container, place it in an area where it will get six to eight hours of sunlight a day.
Use a high quality potting soil mix and add one shovel of pre-moistened peat moss to each one cubic foot of potting soil. Mix thoroughly and fill the potato container to about half full.
Next, add a timed-release fertilizer (read the labels to make sure the type you choose is suitable for potatoes) and mix it in. Water the soil thoroughly.
Now you’re ready to plant the potatoes. There are many varieties to choose from, including early harvest varieties such as Arran Pilot, Swift or Accent. Your climate and growing conditions will help determine the best varieties.
Experts disagree on the best way to prepare seed potatoes for growing. While most agree that small ones can be planted whole, master gardeners differ in opinion on how many eyes should be left with each piece. A safe rule of thumb is to cut the seed potatoes into pieces that contain two eyes.
Plant the potatoes pieces about four inches apart in the container in late spring. It is best to have about five inches of soil underneath them. Cover the seed potatoes with one to four inches of soil. If you live in a cooler climate, one to two inches is best. In warmer climates, three to four inches is good.
Give the container a through watering. As the plants grow, it is important to keep the soil moist without over-watering. A good means of testing the water content is to stick a finger into the soil at least an inch or two. Add water if the soil feels dry. You want the water to run out the bottom of the container.
Once the potatoes have six to eight inches of leaves sticking out of the soil, you need to begin “hilling” them. This means you will add a couple more inches of the soil and compost mixture after adding a little more timed-release fertilizer. Be gentle when adding the soil so as to not damage the plants. It is okay to cover the lower leaves of the potato plants. You may have to repeat this step several times throughout the growing season.
The tasty fun begins when small blossoms appear. This is a sign that you can harvest some tiny potatoes. Gently feel around in the container and remove what you want, but be careful not to disturb the root system.
Once the potato plants turn yellow and begin to dry up, the remaining potatoes should have reached full size. The easiest way to harvest is to pull the plants out of the ground.
Want to learn more about growing potatoes?
Visit About.com’s information on Potato Plants Growing in Containers for more helpful information.
Organic Gardening Magazine provides and easy-to-understand Slideshow on Planting Potatoes in the garden.
Check out this cool Potato Grow Bag!
The University of Maine has an article on Potato Facts that is a good source of information to help you understand the proper preparation of seed potatoes.