Last night as I was perusing our grocery store mailers, one in particular was advertising a 10 pound bag of potatoes for one dollar. I was pretty tickled about that price. Why? Because that means I can have ONE HUNDRED POUNDS of potatoes for only 1 dollar. How? Because it’s easy to convert 10 pounds of potatoes into 100 pounds of potatoes, even if you don’t have any more space than a deck or a small patio.
It’s all about layered potato growing.
Cut your potatoes into quarters. Make sure each quarter has a couple of eyes in it in about 4 inches of dirt. Be sure you don’t pat the dirt down – you want it nice and light. (As an alternative, you can use peat moss instead if you like.) You can do this at the bottom of a 55 gallon drum that has no lid, an old wooden barrel, in the middle of an old tire, or you can simply nail four 4-inch boards together forming a square. Tend to the potato plant like you would any other with sun and occasional watering. Be sure you don’t keep the soil too wet though or you will have blight.
Wait until the potato “vine” protrudes from the soil about 5-6 inches from the ground. Once it’s grown to that length, add another layer of soil, covering the growth. This will force the seedling to send out shoots underground where your potatoes actually grow. When you add another layer of dirt you can add another layer of tires or boards if you’re building it as you go. (Personally, I think using the 55 gallon dark-colored barrel is the better way to go, because it then also acts as a sort of a root cellar for the potatoes. Yes, drill a few holes at the bottom for drainage.) Continue this repeated process through your growing season. By the end of the season, you’ll have 100 pounds of potatoes in very little space. The potatoes at the bottom of your barrel will be the largest, but the ones at the top are great as well. And better yet, you know what chemicals were (or were NOT) put on the plants while they grew!
This process can be started with seed potatoes instead of the regular ones that you buy in the store, so long as you’re sure they haven’t been treated with chemicals. Keep in mind if the potatoes have been treated with chemicals, they won’t germinate. With the seed potatoes (which can be acquired from your local greenhouse), you will have a more bounteous harvest. The potatoes will grow as tall as you let them. Isn’t that just one more cool thing that we have to be grateful for?
You can leave the covered potatoes in the container during the winter until needed. Be sure to keep them covered though as the sun will aid them in becoming green and toxic. You can also “steal” some potatoes along the way as well – no need to wait until the end of the year to get some yummy potatoes! Just be sure to cover the rest of them back up once you’re done “digging” for potatoes.
My favorites are New Potatoes or any of the fingerling kinds as well as the Edsel Blue variety.
While potatoes are obviously a great source of starch, they are also a good source of vitamin C and B6, as well as potassium, manganese, tryptophan, and a few other trace minerals such as copper. Contrary to their bad rap among “low carb conscience dieters” the phenolic content of New Potatoes rivals that of broccoli, spinach, and Brussels sprouts. They are also a good fiber source, depending on how you cook them. In my opinion they taste better and are more flavorful if steamed, not boiled. When I’m making mashed potatoes, I love cooking them for just a few minutes in my pressure cooker (obviously!) and then running them through a potato ricer. YUM-MEE. They are so fluffy that way, not waxy.
Well, guess it seems pretty easy now for you to have a year’s worth of spuds!
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Actually, Shawna, since you have a warm season most of the year, if it were me I'd start right away.
We're getting an early cold winter here it looks like, so I'm going to wait until early spring for my next batch.
That is a great idea! What a good way to repurpose old tires!
Plus the heat benefit for those of us in colder climates for a longer growing season ;)
I have my potatoes covered in my square foot garden boxes for now, but This is such a more space efficient way to grow them.. LOVE IT :)
OMGosh! How easy is that? I would like to get started right away (at least as soon as my broken ankle is healed.) Can you plant them anytime of the year? Or is one season better than another? I live in the Phx metropolitan area, so it much hotter here than where you are. Thank again for the information Kellen, you're the best and I love reading your articles. ~Shawna
You know I have never seen 10lbs of tatters for $1 here. Maybe I don't look hard enough, but it seems that you have really good deals in your area.
If you don't want to use dirt, when you hill them you can use straw or even shredded newspaper as long as no light reaches the potatoes. It makes the harvest a lot easier, you don't have to wash the spuds.
Thank you for all your help. Do I just use the dirt we already have here, or do I need to do something special?
Nope. You don't NEED to eat the bottom ones first. They will jsut get bigger the longer you grow them. So long as you keep them covered and out sun exposure they'll be fine. Your dirt and container will act as an insulation, much like a root cellar. If you start them in the spring, you should have potatoes to last through the winter. The next spring, what you don't eat, use as seedlings. You don't want to use the same dirt more than 3 growing seasons though, just FYI. So perhaps having a second barrel for your next season is a good idea.
The ones you buy in the store are chemically treated. That's why they go bad so quickly.
Okay, I'm thinking about doing this but I've never grown anything, so I have questions. Do you need to eat the bottom ones first? If so, how do you get to them. Or can you just start at the top and work your way down to the bottom? We live where it sometimes gets down below 20 in the winter. Will the potatoes be okay if they freeze, or do I need to insulate my barrel? How long will they keep like this? If I start them in the spring will they last me all the way until next spring (if I plant enough, that is:) Thanks for answering all these questions. We are trying to prepare ourselves and we love potatoes, but I couldn't figure out how I was going to store them. The ones I buy at the store often go bad in a month.
Yes, it will work with nespaper as well.
You don't need special dirt. Personally I prefer peat moss to all of the methods.
Kate, you are correct. Barrels alone will not insulate your potatoes. However, dirt, newspaper, etc will, just like a cellar would. I did this last year and we had a rough winter in Utah.
How fun is this? I can't wait to try this in the spring. My kids will love to find the potatoes. Will it really work with newspaper instead of dirt? I get 4 papers every weekend and this would be a great way to use them besides recycling. Thanks for the great info.
I've heard about using newspaper. Has anyone tried and how did it work?
I tried to plant potatoes in a 5 gal bucket filling in the soil as the vine grew. Everything was going great, until about 2 weeks after the bucket was full, the vine just died off. I did not have holes in the bottom of the bucket and only watered when the top soil was dry. Do you have any idea why the vine died?
Yes, I believe I do. You do need to have slits or holes at the bottom of your container for drainage.
This is an excellent tutorial. Very easy to understand and detailed. I am wanting to try this for sure. The potatoes may not cost me a dollar like yours but it will definitely be huge savings and homegrown to boot.
I think this is great! We have only tried potatoes in the garden as an afterthought and cute idea for the kids, but I think I neeed to take it more seriously next year like I do our beans, corn, pepper, berries, etc. Thanks for the great idea.
Newspaper will work, but you might want to alternate shredded newspaper with soil for nutrients in the soil.
I once got a bumper crop from my compost. I had thrown in some potatoes to decompose and they spouted instead. As I added kitchen scrap, weeds, lawn trimming, leaves....the potatoes just kept grown. By fall I turned my compost and dug up 5 5Gallon pails of potatoes.
One pile I just left for the season and then turned it at the end into a 2nd compost that overwintered ready for spring.
GREAT IDEA! We have a bunch of old tires in our backyard, but I'm hesitant to grow anything in them...any idea if there's any danger of chemicals leeching from the tires into the potatoes? I also have some empty 50 gal. plastic barrels, so I may just use those...sure would be nice to find a way to "recycle" those tires though...
To Kellene, if the temperature stays below freezing for an extended period of time even the barrels will not protect the potatoes. They will freeze. You will need to put them in a cellar in some sort of covered container to protect them from the light.
I have read on the internet not to use tires. However lots of people do it and they have not shown any one to have died by tire poising.
U also need to put some gravel in the bottom of your container in addition to the holes to let water drain out better. putting some old polyester pants fabric on top the gravel will preserve your soil from washing through the gravel( an old t shirt would work for one year)
You recommend planting now in a warm climate.
How do the vines do with frost? Will they keep growing?
You might consider doing this with organic potatoes only. Many non-organic grocery potatoes are sprayed with an anti-emergent chemical (to keep them from growing). Besides the nasty chemicla aspect, if they don't grow, kind of defeats the purpose. :)
We have tried this the last few years and been unsucessful. I think we just need to figure out the correct combination of water and what we are growing them in (dirt, straw, etc.)
how..when buying in grocery..can you know the potatoes have NOT been chemically treated? aren't they all? unless you buy organic..or seed .
will appreciate your input
call the manufacturer and ask.
Here in Texas its hot and humid I use the peatmoss with a little dirt in one of those big plastic pails from the garden shop,,the really big blue ones and always throw in some DE cuz otherwise bugs and worms get into everything.
does the tire put out a chemical as it breaks down?