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Friday, August 31, 2012

The Container Potatoes are a Success!

I really enjoy growing potatoes, even though my results are pretty mediocre.  I love having an excuse to plant something in March, and I like to see how long I can keep myself from sticking my hands into the hills to find new potatoes.  I also love the Easter-egg-hunt quality of the harvest; you don't know what is down there until the vines die back and you dig into the hills.

But I have been harboring doubts that growing potatoes is the best use of our land.  We have put in a couple of rows of potatoes the past couple of years, and we really get maybe the equivalent of a bag of potatoes back.  This is after a lot of digging for planting by Mr. FC&G, and it is after injuring quite a few potatoes that, in spite of liberal additions of mulch to the hill, still seem to get embedded in the clay-y soil and then accidentally get hit by a shovel.  Truly, I have to admit that there is little ROI in this project.  It isn't Fast or Cheap, with the saving grace being a small supply of organically-grown specialty potatoes like the blue ones I so love.

So, this year I experimented as well with the container method.  I put about 6-8 leftover potatoes (maybe 3 Yukon Golds and 5 Blue) in the bottom of a large pot (about 2 feet in diameter), and I covered the vines as they grew.  When they got over the top, I just let them go and ignored them.

The vines lasted way longer than my other potatoes; I put these in the container sometime in April, and I just moments ago (that is, August 31) tipped the container over in the garden to see what I had.  I had what you see above and below:

The total harvest gave me 7 ounces of Yukon Gold and a full pound of Blue.  Not a huge amount, but that's a couple of meals right there, and I really didn't use up any land to do it; I just had that container sitting in a corner of the yard.  Also, all of the potatoes were perfect and uninjured, because I didn't have to stick a sharp shovel into their growing space to find them.

That's the way I'm doing my potatoes from now on.  I have the container ready again, and I have a handful of small Blue seed potatoes sitting out in the sunroom to green up.  Once they do, I'm planting another round, and hopefully I'll have a harvest in January.  The sunroom, where the container will ultimately reside, stays in the 50s year round, so I think the potatoes will love it.

The Analysis

Fast:  This was much quicker and easier, as far as prep and harvest, than the in-ground method.  Let's save Mr. FC&G's muscles for breaking more sod in the spring.

Cheap:  There is no cost difference with the in-ground method, but this method seems to give me larger and more potatoes per seed potato, so definitely a bigger payoff.  Also, if I can get potatoes growing year-round, that is a small additional weight off the food budget in mid-winter just when the canned and frozen goods start to give out.

Good:  I'm a pretty happy camper on this one.  From now on, my potatoes all go in containers.
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5 comments:

  1. My friend took a half barrel and put about six inches of dirt in the bottom and put lots of potatoes that had started growing in the kitchen storage. She put no more dirt in the barrel. She just put in lots of dry pine needles that fell in the yard. I think I would have to sprinkle in at least one handful of dirt in with each layer of straw...lol.

    You can grow in a very tall barrel or a wooden structure. Potatoes don't like clay, so anything light and mulch-like will give better results.

    I accidentally grew a little over 2 lbs accidentally when potatoes were accidentally thrown in my 4x4 box in the yard, the one that WAS for sq ft gardening.

    Congratulations!

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  2. I have wanted to try this. Do I need special potaoes to start them? Sounds like maybe regular potatoes will work fine from the comment above :)Thanks!

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    1. Diane:

      You can use regular store-bought potatoes. (That's what I did with the Yukon Gold.) Watch out, however, that you use only organic potatoes. The conventional store-bought potatoes are treated with a chemical that prevents greening and sprouting, which of course means they won't grow as easily in the ground either, although I have done it once.

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  3. Thank you so much for posting this. I have always wanted to try growing potatoes in containers. I’m not sure what I will use for a container. Any ideas?

    I would love it if you would share this at the Smart Solutions linky party. You can link up here:

    http://theprudentpantryblog.blogspot.com/2012/09/prudent-projects-smart-solutions-week-10.html

    Have a great day!

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    Replies
    1. Prudent Pantry:

      I'll head over to link up! Thanks for the invite.

      For me, tall is better than wide for this project. The potato plant forms very shallow roots, but it forms new potatoes along the entire length of the stem that is buried, so you want as much room to bury stem as you can. I'm using one of those 3ft-tall plastic decorative planters from the hardware store, but you could use a half barrel (or a whole one with the top off) or any clean industrial container (just one that didn't hold chemicals or oil or something like that). Just watch out that you don't choose something so big that you can't move it to the garden or outdoors when the time comes so you can tip it over and harvest your potatoes -- I find my 3 ft-tall, 2 ft-diameter planter is at the edge of what I can comfortably move to the garden and tip, and I'm actually fairly strong for my size.

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