Growing potatoes in containers a snap

  • By Jackson Holtz Herald Writer
  • Tuesday, May 22, 2012 4:35pm
  • Life

The community garden plot I took over a few years ago was full of red potatoes.

I harvested several pounds as I turned the soil and cleared the way to plant other crops.

Nearly three years later, I’m still finding potatoes, and likely will for years to come. They’re a hearty crop.

This year, I’m purposefully planting potatoes. I’m doing it a different way by using a potato kit, growing spuds in a container. It’s a great way to produce an easy crop without having tubers take over an entire garden.

The potato kit I bought is made by Gardman and, for $17, includes two big bags made from a tarplike material.

“They are a great option for people who have limited garden space, because potatoes can take up a lot of real estate in the garden,” said Colin McCrate, co-owner of Seattle Urban Farm Co. and author of “Food Grown Right, in Your Backyard.”

The kits make planting a lot easier, McCrate said. Properly preparing a traditional potato bed can be a lot of work.

The idea with the bag is that you can easily grow a crop of potatoes in a container. You don’t need to use a special bag; you can plant potatoes in a tub or big bucket, or even in a garbage can. (Be sure to drill drainage holes.)

“Potato bags are also super easy to harvest from because you can basically just dump out the bag and scoop up the potatoes,” McCrate said.

The bag is 16 inches wide and 20 inches tall.

To start, I filled the bottom with about six inches of soil, then added potato starts.

As the plants start to grow, I’ll add more soil or compost until the bag is full.

“If you cover the stems, they’ll start producing roots off the stem. And from the roots, they’ll start producing potatoes,” said Josh Kirschenbaum, a potato expert at Territorial Seed Company. “You have the ability to maximize your yield.”

It’s best to use certified seed potatoes from a garden store instead of sprouted spuds from the grocery market. Potatoes grown for sale sometimes have chemicals that inhibit sprouting, which will slow down growth and limit production.

Also, store-bought potatoes can carry blight, a common disease, Kirschenbaum said.

If the seed potatoes are small, plant those. If they’re large, cut them into ice cube-sized bits, making sure each piece has at least three eyes, he said. It’s a good idea to leave cut potatoes in the sun for half a day before planting.

Kirschenbaum recommends adding fertilizer or bone meal, and plenty of watering.

One fun part of potato farming is choosing the variety. There are red, yellow gold, even purple potatoes. I selected Russian banana fingerlings, a variety that produces small, yellow-skinned tubers. Other varieties to consider are Ozette, a fingerling that was grown by native Northwest tribes, McCrate said.

Kirschenbaum likes German butterballs for their exquisite flavor and appearance.

You can harvest the potatoes from the bag during the summer, reaching into the soil to find “new” potatoes. My potato bag even has openings on the side to reach in for the new potatoes.

The other option is to wait until the plant dies back at the end of the season. Then there’s no need to go digging for potatoes.

“All you got to do is dump it out,” Kirschenbaum said.

Resources

You can find potato kits at your local nursery or garden store. Learn more at www.gardmanusa.com/growing and www.territorialseed.com.

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