You don’t need 50 acres to be able to grow your own potatoes, you can grow potatoes in pots or containers on your patio, along the side of your drive or even on a balcony and growing potatoes is not nearly as complicated as most people think.
We use large buckets or tubs placed around the farm car parks to grow new potatoes for salads during the summer and in containers in the barn or greenhouse for winter (we planted the winter potato containers last week, using the pots we harvested the summer crop from).
It’s impossible to describe the taste difference between home grown and supermarket bought potatoes but once you have tried growing your own you will never buy a supermarket potato again (other than in desperation or for kids to make potato pictures with).
If you’re a regular reader of this blog then you’ll know that we don’t go in for buying expensive equipment or taking the long winded route to making my own, a good example is my no patience blackcurrant jelly recipe.
The Royal Horticultural Society sets out the long winded method of going off and buying seed potatoes, then chitting them over winter … while I’m sure this works brilliantly I simply don’t have the patience.
This is how we grow our own beautiful new potatoes in containers this summer and the winter potato crop is now in.
What and When?
With over 400 varieties of potato to choose from and technical terms like “first early” and “chitting” being bandied about it’s not surprising many people don’t bother trying to grow their own potatoes but that’s all for the experienced gardener to worry about.
First early, second early and maincrop simply means the time it takes between planting and harvesting (between 10 and 20 weeks). We tend to stick to the ‘bung em in and wait til they’re ready’ approach, not very technical I admit but works for us.
It’s certainly easier to grow potatoes in summer, as potatoes are not frost hardy, but with a little care winter potatoes can grow very successfully (sometimes more successfully than summer crops).
For summer potatoes we would start planting in about March and winter potatoes go in during September. We space out the planting so we don’t end up with a bumper crop and then a famine.
Preparing the Container:
You can use a large plastic bucket, plant pot, old plastic dustbin, a large grow bag or even a sack (as you can see in the photo above we use large plastic tubs which we paid £4 each for and have lasted 5 years so far).
If you live near a farm then ask your local farmer if he has any old plastic cattle feed buckets or sheep lick buckets, they are great for growing your own.
Clean the container well before trying to plant your potatoes.
Most plastic buckets or barrels are horribly bright colours and won’t blend into the garden at all, so just slap a bit of external paint on the outside of the bucket (yes I know, ours need a recoat).
Drill drainage holes in the bottom of the tub and put about 2 inches of gravel in the bottom to help drainage.
Some people prefer to leave the potatoes ready for planting in a dark place until the eyes are protruding from the potato (chitting). We have found that by putting them into the soil, even without eyes, they will grow very successfully … nature just takes it’s course.
But if you’re going to buy seed potatoes I would suggest heritage potatoes and Wiggly Wigglers have a nice variety of Heritage Seed Potatoes.
You can usually plant potatoes bought at the supermarket but for flavour and higher success rate it’s better to nip to a farmers market and just grab a few locally grown potatoes (they don’t need to be seed potatoes).
The Allotment Growing website has a super list of potato varieties for boiling, baking, roasting, chipping, mashing and salads but we tend to go by taste, if we buy some we like the taste of then we keep some back for planting.
On top of the drainage gravel place 3 inches of soil for summer crops or for winter crops place about 4 inches of prepared mulch or old leaves/straw (as this rots down it will produce heat and protect the plants from the cold weather) and then the 3 inches of soil.
If you can get to a farm then ask for some mole hill soil, we find potatoes grow really well in it.
Place 5 – 6 potatoes in a container the size of the one in the photo above and add another 5 inches of soil.
Once the plant appears above the soil add a further 3-4 inches of soil and repeat this process until the container is full.
Caring for Your Potatoes:
We don’t use any fertiliser (except the natural mulch for the winter potatoes) as we’ve found potaotes grow perfectly well without added chemicals and natural manure tends to burn the young roots.
When it’s dry and hot lightly water but don’t over do it.
Once the drum is full the plants will grow to 2 or more feet above the drum. After 2-3 weeks they will flower.
A following 3-4 weeks the leaves will turn yellow and the stalks will fall over.
At this stage potatoes can be found. Left a further 2-3 weeks larger potatoes will be found when the container is emptied.
Bagged soil from a garden centred can cost up to £12 for 3 bags, which will do you for 1 and a half containers, so weigh up the costs and look for cheaper alternatives before growing your own potatoes in pots.
These are the potatoes we harvested from one container which had just 4 potatoes planted and they tasted scrummy:
Now if I can do it then anyone can, so have a bash and grow your own potatoes in containers.