If you like the idea of growing your own vegetables, you don’t have to stick with convention. Some gardeners are having considerable success growing vegetables in bags or bins.
It’s very easy to grow potatoes in a bin. This is one of the easiest things that you can do in the garden. Especially if you don’t have much space and you feel like having a go at growing something that will produce something that you can eat.
It works like this.
You need a container, preferably plastic, that measures approximately 2 feet high and 1foot x 1foot wide but this isn’t critical. Any plastic bin will do but use a size that is physically usable.
Looking at growing potatoes in a bin
You can use any type of container but there must be good drainage. You can grow potatoes in a bag of any type. An ideal bag is the burlap type because these are made from a very porous material. This provides ample drainage and allows the free movement of air. Plant roots and potato tubers need some air during any growing period.
What do potatoes need to grow?
Wait until there are no signs of frost before starting on this. If you plant potatoes too early in the year you run the risk of losing them but if you do get caught by a late frost you can try covering the young plants with 2 or 3 layers of newspaper. You will need to do this before the frost strikes so keep an eye on the weather forecast for your area.
I’ve also heard it said that, if the leave on potatoes become frosted because they weren’t covered, you can wash the frost from the leaves provided you do this before it starts to thaw. As a last resort this could be an option.
With the conditions suitable you can make a start and prepare the container. Make a few drainage holes in the base and load in marble-sized drainage stones to a depth of 1 to 2 inches. There needs to be free drainage just like any other pot plant. Then load in the best quality soil that you can find but only half fill the container.
Next load in 1 to 2 inches of some well-made compost. This can be from any source but mature, black and crumbly compost will give the best outcome. If you want to know what’s the best fertilizer for growing potatoes, you needn’t look any further than well made compost. We have a number of posts that cover the subject of making compost. Take look at ‘Composting’ to find out more.
Which variety of potatoes to grow?
There are three main categories of potatoes. These are the ‘1st early’, ‘2nd early’ and ‘main crop’. The ‘1st earlies’ are usually ready for the beginning of the Summer. These are usually small and, therefore, ideal for salads. If you go for ‘1st earlies’ you are less likely to bothered by blight but you can’t rule it out completely. The ‘2nd earlies’ should be ready 2 or 3 weeks later. The main crop varieties are usually ready to be harvested in the Autumn/fall time. These will be much bigger and ideal for chips or roasting.
So your first decision will be ‘earlies’ or ‘main crop’. Because you will be wanting to get your hands on some potatoes as soon as possible, you will probably want to go for a ‘1st early’ variety. Then you have to choose which named variety. This will often depend on what is available. If you go to a store and see the range remember that you are looking for ‘1st earlies’ and, I suspect, with good preparation, you will get a good result from any of the varieties on offer.
What nutrients are needed to grow potatoes?
The main nutrient required by potatoes is Potash (Potassium) together with Nitrogen and Phosphorus.
Beyond that which will be provided by good quality compost it’s unlikely that you will need to add any artificial fertilising nutrients. If you don’t have enough compost then use some time-release fertilizer. For a single container project like we’re considering here, just a tablespoon for the one plant should suffice for the whole growing season. You can get artificial fertilizer from most garden stores. Another option is to use an organic fertiliser. Look for chicken manure pellets. This provides good source of nitrogen.
Hydrated lime on potatoes
If you are a connoisseur when it comes to growing potatoes, and who wouldn’t want to be, you would feel the need to check the PH acidity level of the soil that you are using. Potatoes perform badly in acidic soil. You could test the soil that you want to use but whatever the test result, it won’t do any harm to scatter some hydrated lime regardless. Just a light dusting that colours the soil surface should suffice.
About growing potatoes in a bin
If the potatoes have a rough skin with what appears to be scabs then this is a sign of acid soil. A scatter of lime will reduce the chance of this happening quite significantly.
You can get a bag of hydrated lime from most gardening stores. When you get a bag, unless you intend to use it all in one go, you need to take care of it and store it so that it remains dry. If moist air gets at it, in long periods of storage, the lime will go solid like concrete at which point it’s unusable for anything.
You can avoid the problem by placing the bag of hydrated lime inside a plastic bag and sealing it fully.
What is the best type of soil for growing potatoes?
Potatoes will grow in most soil types. The ideal soil for growing potatoes will be a light soil with plenty of humus material which will provide an open structure. This will allow air to pass through the soil and allow for free drainage of excess water. Roots and potato tubers need air. They also need water but any surplus must drain away. If you have heavy clay soil then you need to mix in some well rotted organic material to open up the solid structure that clay creates.
Spending some time preparing the soil is always worthwhile. A heavy clay soil tends to solidify into large lumps. These can’t be broken down when the crop is growing so you must do any preparation before planting seeds.
But you don’t have to use soil at all. Some growers have had success growing potatoes in perlite which is a naturally occurring material generated from volcanic output. This appears an extreme thing to do but if you can get it to work then it’s right. Most gardeners mix perlite with soil to keep the soil open for drainage. Perlite is porous and can absorb moisture when watered. Holding onto it like a rock-hard sponge, it will release the water into the surrounding soil as it dries.
When selecting a grade of perlite, go for coarse type for growing potatoes.
You are now ready to start planting your seed potatoes. You will only need one healthy seed potato for the one bin. If you have a long, deep container then you can grow more potato plants but don’t put them too close together. Allow no less than 12 inches apart.
Seed potatoes tend to be small, each one being a single seed for one plant. Occasionally there are larger seed potatoes which can be halved or quartered. I would avoid doing this unless you know exactly what to do. Each piece must have at least one ‘eye’ which is the growing point from which the plants early shoots begin. These will become more prominent if you place the seed potatoes out in daylight about a week before planting.
If you are using a small single-plant bin, place one seed potato in the middle of the container on top of the compost. Then cover the potato with 1 to 2 inches of good quality soil.
Give the soil a good watering, enough to make the soil damp. You will need to water the plant regularly as the growing potato plant needs a generous amount of water. This will ensure that the potato tubers (crop) develop to their full potential.
It won’t be many days before you will see the green leaves of the potato plant pushing through the soil surface. The first roots of the plant will be feeding from the rich dark compost that you’ve provided.
With this combination you should find that the plant will grow quickly. You need to make sure that the plant is watered enough and as the plant grows up you will need to add more good quality soil to the container. This will ensure that the developing tubers remain beneath the soil surface.
If you don’t do this the growing tubers will become visible on the soil surface. This must be avoided because they need to be away from light. If the light gets at them then they will turn green and will be no use as edible potatoes.
Topping up with soil is going to be a routine part of the growing process so be prepared to get into the habit of doing this. Don’t bury the plant leaves completely but it won’t be a problem if some of the lower leaves become submerged in soil.
The potato plant is very strong and will push its way through. Provided it’s watered regularly and placed where there is good light, it should flourish and produce a good crop. The plant should be a dark green colour with a thick population of leaves. The potatoes in the ground should be white with no hint of any green.
How do you prevent blight?
This is a potential problem which can ruin the whole project. In drier parts of the world it’s unlikely that you will have a problem at all. Blight can happen where the climate tends to be damp or the rain fall is higher than usual for the growing season. Potato blight is a windborne fungus. There are sprays that can be successful at preventing it from getting a hold. Look for potato blight sprays. You need to treat potato plants in anticipation of blight arriving. If you see dark patches appear on a few leaves then, if you move quickly, you can cut them off and burn them. Then spray the rest of the plant to try and prevent the disease from progressing. Be prepared to treat for blight more than once in the growing season.
What are the signs of potato blight?
If you aren’t sure of what to look for to identify blight on a potato plant, look out for black spots appearing on the leaves. If you see this and catch it in the early stages it’s possible to prevent the problem from affecting the potato crop in the ground.
Very often blight will strike as the plant reaches full maturity. By this time the potato crop under the plant will have formed enough to provide a crop worth having. The plant will still be green and feeding the developing tubers.
The best thing you can do if you see evidence of blight at this stage is to cut off the plant at ground level and burn the infected foliage. Doing this at the first signs of blight will prevent the disease from spreading down through the plant to the potatoes. You can then dig up the potato crop and store them somewhere dark. This practice is all about making the best of what you have. You can save the crop this way but it does mean harvesting earlier than you would do in normal conditions.
Can you eat a potato with blight?
You can eat blighted potatoes but when you see the dark stains when peeling, you probably won’t want to. From the outside they may look like healthy potatoes but there is no mistaking when you cut open a blighted potato. It’s possible that a mild infection has only left a few small patches on a potato. These can be trimmed out and you can cook and eat the remainder without a problem.
There is also a some concern that if pregnant women eat blighted potatoes that this may cause birth defects. There is, to date, no clear evidence of this but if there is any doubt it must be wise to avoid the eating blighted potatoes.
When should I lift my potatoes?
You should lift your potatoes when the plant above ground has died. At this point the crop will have finished developing. The growing phase will now be over so you must stop watering because the plant is now dead and the potato tubers don’t need any more. The number of potatoes in the crop will be set as will the potato sizes. You don’t have to lift them straight away. They can stay in the soil for a long time until it’s convenient for you to lift or if you are waiting for suitable dry weather conditions. Lifting potatoes from dry soil is more fun than digging through wet soil. Wet soil is mud.
You don’t have to wait for the plant to die off before harvesting. If you carefully dig down and find potato tubers that are big enough for what you want for an impending salad then start using them. Potatoes like these are often considered the best. These are ‘new’ potatoes, the won’t need to be peeled, just scraped before being boiled or steamed. Don’t forget to add some fresh mint or parsley when they are nearly finished cooking.
Harvesting the potatoes will always be the best part. If you have cared for the plant throughout the growing period you will be rewarded with a crop. If you have been lucky enough to avoid the dreaded blight then the potato plant will reach its fullest maturity having fed the tubers below ground to produce a good quality crop of potatoes.
Can you grow potatoes from old potatoes?
Yes, any potato can be planted in soil and have the potential to produce a crop. But, if you are serious about producing a healthy crop of potatoes it makes more sense to get seed potatoes that have been prepared and specially selected for cropping.
If you use any old potato that’s just turned up, you will not know its history. You can’t be sure of which variety it is and then there is the issue of diseases. It could be carrying a blight infection which will be hiding out of sight under the skin. This will then spread through the plant from the beginning of germination if indeed it germinates at all.
If you are going to the trouble and effort of growing potatoes it will always be wise to buy quality seed potatoes. These will be specially selected and guaranteed to be free of disease. They will have been stored at the correct temperature by suppliers before they are made available to you. You will also be able to choose from nameable varieties so you will know exactly what you are growing.
When choosing a variety, select an early maturing type. These will take about 70 to 90 days before harvesting can be expected. Later maturing varieties tend to take upto 120 days before harvesting.
How often do you have to water potatoes?
An ideal approach to this is to monitor the soil moisture around the potato plants every couple of days. If the soil feels less than damp then add water. Make sure that the moisture from watering goes down at least 8 inches. A light watering that only dampens the surface will do nothing.
Plants that don’t get enough water suffer from drought-stress. If water is added after a prolonged drought period the plant goes into an erratic growth phase which will almost inevitably be detrimental to the developing crop. This, in the case of potatoes, leads to the tubers splitting and becoming hollow in the middle.
Maintaining consistent crop development requires a regular routine. Monitor the plants progress through the growing season and have in place a regular watering strategy that will ensure a fruitful outcome.
Find out more about using compost as an organic plant food, see: can you use compost for growing vegetables?