Potatoes have undoubtedly captured hearts around the world. They’ve cornered the junk food market with potato chips and French fries, but at the same time, they’ve worked their way into healthier salads too. Baked potatoes can comprise a whole and well-balanced meal, or a scoop of garlic mashed alongside veggies can be the perfect accompaniment to a lentil loaf. We know them in soup, in casseroles, in stews and curries. We know them scalloped from the oven, shredded into hash browns, or diced as home fries. They’re no oddity at breakfast, lunch, or dinner and make a great snack to boot.
Potatoes are fantastically versatile way to fill a hungry stomach, and that is the exact reason why they are a great component to include in a home garden. Plus, they are amazingly easy to grow. They work well in containers, which can help to keep them out of harm’s way, from bugs, rot and disease. They come in nearly as many varieties as ways in which we eat them, from Yukon Gold to Purple Peruvian, each with its own particular talents. We need only find our favorites and start growing them.
Materials Check List
There are two very popular ways of growing potatoes in containers: buckets and bags. For the bucket variety, we’ll need a standard five-gallon bucket (check with restaurants as they often get food supplies in them and might give them away for free) or an equivalently sized planter pot if you are looking for something decorative. For warmer places, it might be more advisable to go with bags, which will keep them a bit cooler. There are also larger bins on the market for those who really want to go in full gusto. So, that’s the container.
Otherwise, we’ll need seed potatoes, which technically can be any organic potato with a couple of eyes on it; however, it is sometimes recommended to buy certified seed potatoes to insure they are in the best of health. We’ll need some slightly acidic compost (spent coffee grounds are great for this) to plant the potatoes in, and some straw or wood chips to cover them with. Some gravel or broken chunks of clay pots will help to keep the drainage holes clear. Then, it’s time to get started.
How to Plant Potatoes
For those who’ve opted to go the bag route, the construction is already done, but for those of us with buckets, we need to make a few alterations to help our potatoes do well. Bucket people, before we begin, we have to make a few drainage holes in the bottom, something that will allow water to escape so as not to rot our crop. After that, we are all on the same bag. If this is an inside project, remember to get an underneath liner to catch any water that drains out.
With our containers at the ready, we start to build the layers upon which to plant our potatoes. Layer number one should be something to aid with the drainage situation, maybe gravel, the remnants of clay pots or whatever else seems similar and handy. Next we add about a four-inch layer of compost and/or soil, ideally (but not absolutely necessary) with pH balance somewhere around five. Plant the potatoes, a couple per five-gallon bucket, with the eyes or sprouts pointing upwards. After that, the potatoes can be covered over with good layer of straw or sawdust, such that no light reaches the potato itself.
How to Grow those Spuds
Once the spuds are planted, they should get a good watering so as to settle the soil around them. Be sure to put the pots in a sunny place but remember that they are not exactly hot weather plants. Early spring and fall are good times for potato growing. They should get enough water to keep the soil moist but not sodden and the crop will yield more if they aren’t fertilized with too much nitrogen (look for something with seaweed), as that will encourage plant growth rather than roots. As the plant grows, keep filling the container with compost or straw because this will cause the plant to produce more roots, i.e. potatoes, to harvest.
Beyond that, it’s just a bit of waiting. New potatoes can be harvest as early as two months after planting, but if what we are after is a deluxe baking potato, it could be up to three or four months. The easiest way to harvest the bounty is to simply take them all at once, dumping all the contents from the bucket. However, in attempt to produce both mature and new potatoes, it is possible to feel around beneath the surface (much easier with straw) and harvest some, leaving others to continue growing.
Then, it’s time to eat, and that’s when things get a bit more difficult: Just which dish are we going to make now?
Lead Image Source: Dill Pickle French Fries