Over the past few years I have tried growing potatoes. Not wanting to use precious garden space for experimenting with potato’s – I tried growing them in containers.
I found it surprisingly easy. In the Spring of 2010 I planted 27 buckets and had great success. Potatoes are generally started in cooler weather. For those that have never tried bucket potatoes – this is for you.
Bucket potatoes not only take up minimal space, but they require minimal equipment, too. I like growing potatoes in buckets, as opposed to raised beds, because you can use far less soil and still get pretty impressive yields. Usually, a five gallon bucket will yield a couple of pounds of potatoes per harvest.
You can start a bucket potato garden no mater where you live – you can even grow potatoes indoors or on a balcony! They offer maximum convenience and are perfect for the novice gardener.
Best Varieties of Potatoes for Growing in Buckets
You can grow just about any kind of potato in a bucket- even sweet potatoes! However, first and second early varieties’ of potatoes tend to be the best for growing in any kind of container, but particularly potatoes.
These cultivars are usually done before the threat of potato blight appears in the late summer.
Some good varieties to consider include Charlotte, Anya, Rocket, or Lady Christi.
To grow your own potatoes in a bucket – here is how I do it –
You Will Need
- A bucket (at least 12 – 16 inches in diameter – the bigger the better)
- Compost/Rich Soil
- Seed Potatoes
Steps to Growing Potatoes in Buckets
Step 1: Get Your Seed Potatoes
A seed potato is nothing more than a potato that has sprouted. You can get these sometimes from the grocery store, online from a seed supplier, or from a local farmers market.
Buy your potatoes as early as you can and get them out of the nursery net. You can sprout them first by chitting them this involves simply lying them on a container, like an egg carton, with the eyes facing up. Keep them in a light, cool palace, where they will produce dark green shoots.
I generally look through the potatoes at my local grocery store and will find some that are starting to sprout – and bring those home (I have had no problem with red potatoes – but it is said that some store bought potatoes are treated so as not to sprout).
The process of chitting is a good idea because it keeps your potatoes fresh and viable until you are ready to plant them. It’s not necessary, so if you skip this step, don’t stress -but it can help your potatoes be stronger when you get them in the ground.
I have had success planting potatoes that have short sprouts of only an inch or so.
Make sure you match your number of seed potatoes to the size of the container you are growing in. usually, one potato will need about two and a half gallons.
If you don’t leave enough space, your potatoes will still develop, but they will likely be extremely small. The average bucket can hold around four plants.
Step 2: Prepare Your Bucket
I use orange Home Depot buckets the most – but any similar sized bucket or larger will work (don’t use black if the temperature gets hot in your area).
You need to drill several holes on the sides toward the bottom of the bucket to allow draining. Holes should be 1/4″ to ½” in diameter. Next – pour 1 – 2 inches of inches of gravel in the bottom of the bucket.
The gravel helps make certain the drainage holes do not get plugged up. Now – place your soil mixture in the bucket so that you have 4-6 inches at the bottom.
The soil mixture can be a combination of your local soil, potting soil, compost, and inexpensive top soil. If the combination is too hard and stiff – add a little sand to loosen it up. After watering the soil will compact down and this is to be expected.
Step 3: Plant Your Potatoes
Take your seed potatoes and push them into the soil in the bucket so that the upper half – the part with the sprouts – are pointing up. Now – cover with approx 3-4 inches of soil.
Depending upon the size of the bucket and the potato – place one or two potatoes in each bucket. If you use something very large – like a tire or the bottom of a 55-gallon barrel – many potatoes can be planted.
If the potato is large with multiple eyes you can cut it in half dividing the potato so there are sprouts on both halves. You can then plant each half separately.
One thing to keep in mind is if you do cut it in half – set the cuts in a window sill for 2-3 days to “cure” the cut surfaces – this will help reduce the chance of mold.
When you plant the potatoes, try to make sure there is at least four inches of soil on top. Otherwise, you may find that the potatoes rot as they are exposed to the air.
Step 4: Water Them
It is important that the soil remains moist – but not too much. I water the buckets about every other day depending upon rain and temperature.
Generally, I will provide water until I see some coming out the bottom thru the holes. I have used liquid Miracle Grow in the past – have no idea if it helped or not.
Light. I always place all my buckets in direct sunlight. I actually use the buckets around the outside of my garden.
Watch Them Grow
As the potato plant grows, you need to cover the new growth to facilitate more potatoes. Generally.
Once the plant has grown above the top of the soil 4-5 inches I will dump new soil until just the tip of the plant is showing.
Only the tips of the top leaves should be sticking out. This will encourage the plant to keep growing upward and to set more potatoes along the stem that’s underground.
I continue this until the bucket is full. Like I said, new potatoes form on new growth once it is covered with soil.
I recommend adding sawdust or straw over growing potatoes. This will not only help mulch the soil and protect if from weeds, but it will also reduce the likelihood of it drying out.
You don’t need to do much in the way of fertilizing, but if you’d like, you can add low-nitrogen fertilizer, compost, or compost tea every now and then.
Just make sure it’s not too strong and high in nitrogen, as this can cause the prolific growth of new greenery at the expense of the spud’s root development.
Once the plant itself turns yellow and die’s off – you can empty the bucket and collect your potatoes.
As soon as your plant begins to bloom and then die back, your potatoes are ready for harvest.
If you aren’t sure whether your potatoes are ready for harvest, all you need to do is feel around for the potatoes and pull free those that are at least the size of an egg – or leave them if you want them to get bigger.
However, as soon as that foliage starts to die back, you need to harvest all of your potatoes. There is no benefit to keeping them in the ground unless you want to store them in soil for long-term storage purposes.
To harvest, just dump out the soil. You can also dig around in the bucket to feel for the potatoes, but that takes much more time and you might miss some.
Potato Pests and Diseases
Luckily, one of the biggest advantages of growing potatoes in buckets is that you really won’t have many pests or diseases to contend with. However, you’ll still want to keep an eye out for the Colorado potato beetle, the flea beetle, and the aphid.
All of these can be prevented by practicing good plant hygiene – avoiding overwatering, underwatering, and too little fertilizer. If you see these bugs, they can be controlled by manually removing them.
You can also use Bt spray (which is a natural pesticide that works quickly without being harmful to beneficial insects), fabric row covers, or insecticidal soap, too.
When it comes to diseases, really, the only diseases that tend to affect potatoes are early and late blight. Early blight tends to attack foliage and causes small, dark brown spots. Mulching can help prevent this disease, as can sticking to planting only certified seed stock.
Late blight can be tougher to prevent. It strikes in cold, wet weather and spreads rapidly as soon as the weather warms up. It is caused by the downy mildew fungus and can be prevented by using certified seed and treating with potato dust.
Storing Your Potatoes
Potatoes can easily be frozen or canned, but in my opinion, the easiest way to store potatoes for the year ahead is to stash them in a dark, cool place.
Keep them covered in soil, which will allow them to remain fresh and protected from the air. They can usually be stored in this fashion (often in a basement or rot cellar) and will last for several months.
If you don’t use them all, you can always use them as seed potatoes for next year, too!
Growing your own potatoes can be very rewarding. It’s also a great idea if you’re prepping to bug in or out, because you can move the containers either inside your home, or in your bug out vehicle.
In fact, container gardening is probably the best type of gardening for preppers on a budget, who prep to both bug in or out.
In a long-term survival situation combined with normal gardening – these bucket potatoes can be a great addition to establishing sources for food.