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 root 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.
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28 thoughts on “Growing Potatoes in Buckets”
The use of Home Depot buckets concerns me. Having previously researched this company’s buckets myself for my own projects, I have found them to be NOT of food-grade material and therefore not suitable for storage or even planting of food. A few good sources for cheap or free food-grade buckets are the bakeries of such stores as Wal-Mart and Meijer. The icings they use come in such buckets and, since the assocites just throw them away, are more than happy to give to customers that inquire.
Lowes (at least my local one) carries a white bucket of food-grade material, as I have verified this with the manufacturer via information provided on the actual container.
Lastly, thank you Rourke for the article and all of your content that you share.
Thanks for the comments.
100% correct – the Big Box Store “paint buckets” are not FDA food grade – some store chains are now including the certified buckets in their shelf inventory – but – be aware the “BPA Free” is still not food grade ….
I purchased my buckets from wal- mart and they are food grade buckets you can also ask your local bakery if they have empty buckets
Rourke, are those 5 gal. buckets?
I’ve tried growing potatoes in towers with no success, I like the bucket growing idea though and may give it a try this year. thanks!
What kind of towers?
I have had no success with russett potatoes at all – only red and yukon gold. Right now Wal-Mart has seed potaotes in stock. I also use some from gorcery stores.
Excellent post. Now I know what I can do with those extra buckets I have laying around. Potatos are a great starch and supplement any meal. The idea of buckets makes them so much easier to harvest than pulling them up from the ground. I like it. Thanks Rourke.
No problem – definently try it – so easy.
Loved all the Info here. Thanks to Everyone
Rourke, did you grow these last year? what was your yield if so? Just curious what your results were…
Also, instead of buying buckets, most grocery store bakeries, doughnut shops or bakeries will give away the buckets from their frosting for free. Just stop in and ask…its great because they are food grade!
I did 27 buckets last year and hope to have at least 40 containers of various sizes this year. I averaged 12 potatoes in each – of varying sizes.
Regarding growing potatos, I applaud your efforts using the five gallon buckets. Very effective way to move space around in your garden. I would caution your readers about using the “stack the tires” method of potato vertical growth. Over time the chemicals used to make the tires (compounds) and the vulcanization process can leech into the water/soil that is absorbed by the plant.
Several manufacturers now offer cloth bags to grow potatoes the same way, with little to no soil loss when you water them but still allowing good drainage.
Thanks for another interesting article. The photos on your blogs bring a certain freshness to your site. Keep up the great work!
Instead of buckets, I use the old tires I saved, off my pick-up. Start with planting in the bottom tire; as the plant grows, add another tire and soil to cover all but the top thre ar four branches; keep adding tires over time, til you have a stack of 4 or 5 tires. Allow to grow. then when it’s time to harvest, just pull off each tire to access spuds. Should yield up to 50 lbs. of spuds.
Real cute, changin’ the span question!
I have some bags that do the same thing. I have not tried them out yet so it will be interesting to see how well they work-hold up. The initial cost on the bags is low versus the buckets.
last season, i had excellent success with sweet potatoes in containers on the porch.
if you live in an area that has a long enough growing period, do try some sweet potatoes.
I have never tried sweet potatoes. Will have to give that a shot as well.
Take care – Rourke
I was concerned, at first of any “chemical leeching” from tires, but I learned that it is best to use older tires, reducing the chance of ‘leeching”. ‘Couse, there has been no evidence of this reported.
a doz. potatoes/bucket! Wow, that really sounds good to me!
Not to turn Rourke’s thread into a garden thread but, did you do anything special to the soil?
we are extremely cramped for garden space here and I’m always looking for new ways to extend area with container gardening ideas.
also, I used really old tires too.
I have used a varriety of soils – but mostly store bought top soil/potting soil mixed with local soil. If the soil was too hard – I would add some sand to it as well as some commpost.
This year I will be using some soil out of the garden – as well as a ixture of compost and chopped up dead leaves to keep the soil loose.
I am wanting to get to 40 containers all together – so if I come up short on soil I will be buying some. Goal for me is to use what I already have as if I am buying soil that is taking away from the cost savings.
Just came back from my local Farmers Exchange and bought a bunch of Red Pontiac and Yukon Gold seed potatoes.
Thanks – Rourke
Make sure you get the right type of potatoes. The early ones (like Yukon Gold) only set potatoes once and are done. The mid-season types of potatoes will keep setting. These include Yellow Fin and Binjte.
Thanks for the post Rourke, just did 3 buckets today using seed potatoes from a local nursery. This is our first try hence only using 3 buckets.
Just getting our feet wet the last few years gardening and looking forward to many more.
Good luck Joe –
So far I am on course for 10 buckets or so a week.
Take care –
I ended up with some potatoes left from planting and I think I’ll try the buckets with them.
Last year we had great success with the sweet potatoes grown in big containers and buckets so I’ll be this will work out real good.
I love container gardening!
Thanks for the article! We will be moving soon and using the buckets will enable us to plant a garden then take it with us without digging up the yard. A friend provided us with 16 buckets for free then we picked up free compost from our local city composting site, bought the seed potatoes on sale, and now looking for cheap gravel. The kids and I are having a great time putting the buckets together.
more preppers should be aware of this gardening technique & tip ….
going to be an urgent need to start gardens or expand into previously untilled ground – planting potatoes and most other root crops invite an invasion of boring insects when planting in recently “green grass” turned ground – 2nd and even the 3rd gardening season is more advisable ….
I saw a guy once who nested one bucket inside the other and threw some big rocks between the two so they could be taken apart easily. Then the top bucket he cut big panels out of the sides. Then part way through the season would lift the top bucket and harvest just some of the potatoes through the cutouts and leve the rest of the crop growing. Drop the top bucket back down inside the bottom one and let it grow and do this multiple times. Anyone try that? any suggestions of what tatoes could be used for that? Hopefully I described it ok?
My neighbor gave me several large black pots that azalea came in. I don’t think they are 5 gal though.
Are there ok? Do I have to wait for the potatoes in my pantry to sprout?