One of the challenges of growing potatoes in our home garden is having enough space to accommodate their needs. It’s recommended that they be planted no more than once within three seasons to avoid soil borne diseases, and shouldn’t be rotated with strawberries, tomatoes, legumes (beans or peas), since these crops can be infected with some of the same diseases that infect potatoes. Harvesting potatoes from raised beds adds another difficulty.
We were intrigued by Liz’s approach at Suburban Tomato, and started experimenting last year with growing potatoes in containers. Our first attempt yielded a meager crop, however, the ease of hilling and harvesting made it worth trying again. Armed with what we learned from last season, we set up five containers and planted them with two varieties of potatoes — Yukon Gold and Red Cloud — from Wood Prairie Farm, a small organic family farm in Maine that’s also been involved in challenging Monsanto.
The first year of using wooden containers, we placed gravel at the bottom to aid drainage, then found it difficult to separate the gravel from the used soil after harvesting. Now, in place of the gravel, all of the wooden containers have drainage holes drilled through their bottoms. The seed potatoes were green-sprouted before planting by leaving them in the basement with access to light. They are then placed whole and uncut on top of 2 inches of soil in each container, then covered with an additional 3 inches of soil. The potato plants were hilled up with a dirt-compost mix; we’ve found straw too damp, while mulch attracted mice and voles. At the end of harvest, the soil is marked to keep it from being reused in beds where nightshades are being grown.
Caution: extreme garden geekery ahead. Two of the Yukon Gold seed potatoes were planted in each of three containers — one wooden and raised on bricks; another wooden and placed directly on the ground; and the third a fabric container that we purchased at the same time as the seed potatoes. The first container — wooden and raised on bricks — yielded a total of 3 lb. 6 oz. Yukon Golds, or 1 lb. 11 oz. per seed (shown above).
The second container — wooden and placed directly on the ground — yielded 4 lb. 2 oz. of Yukon Golds, or 2 lb. 1 oz. per seed. In addition to a higher yield, the soil was filled with earthworm activity. In comparison, the raised containers seemed to drain too quickly, while the other containers seemed to benefit from being placed directly on the ground, affording them a more even moisture level by capillary action.
The third container — fabric placed directly on the ground — yielded 5 lbs. 4 oz. of Yukon Golds. This higher yield may be due to the fact that the fabric container was larger than the wooden ones. The fabric kept the soil moist but also was a barrier to earthworms.
The last two containers, both wooden, were planted with Red Cloud. The raised container yielded 3 lb. 11 oz., or 1 lb. 13.5 oz. per seed potato (shown above). The container placed directly on the ground (shown below) gave us a whopping 7 lb. 8 oz. of Red Cloud, an unfair advantage as it was planted with three instead of two seed potatoes. When this is accounted for, the yield is still a high of 2 lb. 8 oz. per seed potato.
1. Yukon Gold, raised wooden container: 3 lb. 6 oz. / 1 lb. 11 oz. per seed
2. Yukon Gold, unraised wooden container: 4 lb. 2 oz. / 2 lb. 1 oz. per seed
3. Yukon Gold, unraised fabric container: 5 lb. 4 oz. / 2 lb. 10 oz. per seed
4. Red Cloud, raised wooden container: 3 lb. 11 oz. / 1 lb. 13.5 oz. per seed
5. Red Cloud, unraised wooden container: 7 lb. 8 oz. / 2 lb. 8 oz. per seed
11 oz. of seed potatoes yielded a total of 23 lb. 15 oz. potatoes. Overall, the containers placed directly on the ground had higher yields than the raised ones, with the Red Clouds slightly higher than the Yukon Golds. This is by no means a definitive trial, but we were surprised by the total amount that we eventually harvested, cause enough to try it again next season.
Note: If you decide to save seed from your own potatoes, this tells of the lovely surprises that await >