I recently blogged about growing your own food to save money and did not mention potatoes in that post because by a pure dollars per acre metric potatoes tend to not save you as much money at the market as other crops. However, what if you could grow potatoes without needing to sacrifice any garden space to do so? Suddenly, it makes more sense.
This is where the trash can comes in, there are many tips and tricks to growing potatoes, but they all seem to center on one rather unique characteristic of the potato plant. You see, potatoes aren’t technically roots, they’re swollen stems or tubers, they grow off the stem of the plant, technically speaking. So, generally what you do to grow them is you plant them and then, as they grow, you mound dirt, or compost, or straw, or all three up around the stem, constantly burying the stem and building a little hill around it. This will allow the stem to create more potatoes as it ends up being buried deeper at the end of the season than it could have ever been buried (and still grown) at the beginning of the season.
Now, lets say you don’t want to mess with a hill though, you don’t need too. One method I’ve seen is to use tires and rebar. Pound a rod of rebar into the ground and put 1 tire over it, fill with dirt and plant the potatoes, after they’ve grown, add a second tire, fill more dirt, rinse repeat as they gain height. Then to harvest take it all apart.
But I like the trashcan method better. You get a 32 gallon trash can, or use one of those giant black plastic containers trees come in from the nursery. Make sure there is good drainage, drilling copious amounts of holes if you need to, and fill the bottom bit with maybe 10 inches of soil, plant your spuds 4 or so inches deep. Then, as they grow throughout the year, continue to add more soil (potting mix, it is technically a pot), compost, or whatever. At the end of the season when you want to harvest simply dump the whole thing out onto a tarp and pick out the potatoes, no digging required.
Your trashcan does best in full sun, and if it is black plastic the added heat from that seems to help as well. It isn’t recommend to reuse the same soil every year because potatoes are so vulnerable to pests and diseases, so after harvest toss the soil into your garden or use it to plant something unrelated to the potato in it. Its like crop rotation, but in this case you’re rotating out the soil, not the location.
This is a great way to recycle/reuse old things as well. If you have a trash can that has been scraped on the cement so many times it has huge holes in the bottom… make it a potato planter. Those big tree pots from the nursery, potato planter. You get the idea.
As for what kind to plant? What kind do you like? I wanted to plant peruvian purple potatoes this year because of the added antioxidants and the fact that I can’t find them locally to eat (they taste the same, are just dark purple with the same type of antioxidants as blueberries), but I couldn’t find the seed potatoes. So I’m growing plain old yukon golds, if you’d like to learn more about the different types of spuds though and what they’re best for, try here at my not-so-actively-written cooking blog.