Have a small garden? Maybe just a sunny porch? Love potatoes? If you are a small space gardener, like I am, growing potatoes in a container is the way to go! Tupperware bin or even a burlap bag, it’s easy to grow your own spuds. I like to grown mine in big garbage bins!
You’ll want to start your plants after all danger of frost has passed. I live in the Seattle and the climate is somewhat mild, so St. Patrick’s Day is when I plant. Yes, I admit there’s a twisted irony to planting potatoes on St. Paddy’s because, well, there was that potato famine. But for me it’s a good reminder: St. Paddy’s—->Irish potato famine—>plant potatoes.
Want to try it? Start with seed potatoes, not the leftovers from Sunday’s dinner. You can buy them at most garden stores and they are preferred because there is less chance of disease (again see Potato Famine).
Select a potato variety that works with your growing season. There are three basic categories: early, mid and late season. You can find suggestions on which varieties to try, based on your growing season, in this great article about potato varieties. This year I’m growing Germain Butterballs and Ozettes. German Butterball potatoes are tender and, like their name, buttery. The flavorful, but lumpy, Ozette potato is our local star. Brought to the Pacific Northwest from Peru by Spanish galleons. Even if they won’t win any awards for beauty, I love their rich, nutty flavor!
Small seed potatoes can be planted whole, but cut larger ones into 2-inch pieces, making sure there are several eyes on each piece. Plant the pieces in your container-of-choice by placing them about 5-7 inches apart on about 4-inches of free-draining soil mixture with a small handful of fertilizer added in.
Cover your potatoes with more soil and then, after the plants grow about 6-inches, continue to cover the them until you reach the top of your container. You have to do this somewhat carefully, in my opinion, so as not to break the newly growing plants. You’ll want to keep your plants watered but don’t over-water lest you end up with soggy plants. Also, be sure to cut or drill holes for drainage into your container if it didn’t ‘t come with drainage holes to begin with.
For best results, place your container where the plants will get six to eight hours of light and temperatures of around 60 degrees Fahrenheit. You’ll know it’s time to harvest when your plants flower and then turn yellow. You can also remove new potatoes before flowering. Once the stems turn yellow, stop watering and wait a week.
Dig out the potatoes or just dump the container and sort through the soil for the tubers. Brush dirt off the potatoes (but don’t wash them in water until you’re ready to eat them) and let them “cure” for two weeks in a cool, dark spot (like a basement). Our family has a great time at our annual “potato dumping.” We haul out a tarp and tip over the cans. It’s great fun for little kids to dig around in the dirt, collect and count their haul.
Important note: You can reuse potato soil in your garden, just NOT in vegetable beds (flowers and other plants are okay). This is because they are in the nightshade family (like tomatoes) and the spent soil is more likely to cause disease in other vegetables, if you use it again.
Go forth–plant potatoes! And Happy St. Paddy’s.
It’s all about the journey,