Thursday, July 15, 2010

Homestead Experiment #7-Growing Container Potatoes

Well, I guess I'm stretching this because it's not a true experiment for us this year. Last year it was, however, and what a really neat one it is! Have you ever grown potatoes in buckets? It's so very easy and really neat. Let me tell you how it's done and you'll see why !

First get some seed potatoes from your local gardening supply store. Now, the experts all agree that you want untreated seed potatoes for the best results, because the potatoes at the grocery store are chemically treated to keep them from sprouting. (However, this year I noticed that the Russian Fingerling potatoes in the organic section of my local grocery were sprouting wildly. So, I guess I could say that I am experimenting this year in that I mixed organic store potatoes with yukon gold and russet seed potatoes.) Anyway, I digress. Let's get back to the process.

1) Gather your potatoes. Place them on a plate and stick them somewhere warm and dark like a bathroom cabinet. Mist them with a spray bottle daily, then close the cabinet door. Within just a few days you should have sprouts taking over the surface of your spuds.

2) When you have sprouts that are an inch high, it's time to plant! This is where people get really creative with the options. When I was researching this I saw people use large planting pots, rubbermaid trash cans, old tires stacked up, bamboo fencing wrapped into a little cylinder, etc. The point is you want a deep container that will hold in the layers of soil. We're just using some "Potato Pots" that our landlord left us. I don't know that they are officially called that, but it's what she called them.

Put a couple of inches of soil in the bottom of your container, then your potatoes all around w/ the sprouts pointing up, and then more soil. You want to just cover the potatoes to where the leaves are barely poking out. Put in an area that gets several hours of full sun each day, and keep moist. **One tip I saw that has worked well for us is to line the walls of your container with aluminum foil if possible. This allows the sun's rays to be reflected off the walls and reach down to your little plants down at the bottom of your deep container.

3) Every day or two, be sure to check your plants. Once they take off they really get to going! Now here's the cool part: When you see your sprouts are more than 1" high, add another layer of soil so that only the very tops of the sprouts are showing again. In a few more days, repeat. This is what makes the experiment so intriguing for me. We all know that potatoes are tubers (root veggies). So by adding the soil and forcing the plant to grow higher, it will expand the root system, and thus, give you more potatoes as the end result!

Now, here is a picture of my buckets after a few layers of soil had been added already. (Sorry, I didn't think to take pics at the beginning of the spring when planting because I didn't know I'd be blogging on this).

Once the soil reaches the top of the bucket, then let the baby go!! It will get big and bushy, and eventually flower. Something I learned the hard way last year: potato stalks are flimsy. Do NOT water from above with a watering can or hose. They will break and start to die off too soon. We had to harvest them over a month early and only got about 27 'new' potatoes. This year I actually put some leftover little fencing around them as added support. You don't have to do this, in fact most people don't, but I wanted to do all I could to avoid a repeat of last year!

The plants will grow until they start to flower. Let them bloom, and then when the plants start to die back (usually September-ish up here in SE Alaska), then lay out a tarp, tip the buckets, and start mining for gold-Yukon Gold that is! ;)

So, all that being said, here's where we are as of July 18th. We have one little bloom already, and the plants are looking big and healthy. I'm keeping my fingers crossed for a good spud harvest this year!


  1. LOVE this idea Hill! We have been trying to figure out a way to put in a raised garden in the yard because Don LOVES his potatoes but the landlord won't let us "kill" the this would solve the problem :) We'll have to try this next spring for sure! You're so clever :P

  2. Thanks Heather :) I wish I could take credit for this, but it's quite the 'Juneau' thing to do in the summer. Don sounds like Brent; this is more his experiment than mine. He just really gets into this. Maybe it's a left-brain, techy thing? lol
    Happy plantin'!