HOW TO SAVE SPACE WHEN GROWING POTATOES
You want to grow the delicious, colorful, and often heirloom potatoes that you see at farmers’ markets and local restaurants, but can’t find in stores. But you don’t have enough space. Why not grow them in plant containers? Even if you only have a small patio, container gardening can provide you with a small bounty of spuds ready for boiling, baking, frying, and roasting. Homegrown potatoes, like homegrown tomatoes, are tastier and more tender than store-bought potatoes. Growing them in containers can also be a lot of fun for you and your children.
In a garden, potatoes require plenty of space and soil for “hilling” (periodically mounding soil around all but the tops of the potato vines; this encourages tuber production). Even just one or two potato hills can suffocate a large portion of your garden. The amount of space required in a home for a row or two can be prohibitively expensive. Potatoes grown in containers grow vertically. Hilling is simple and contained within the pot. If you provide your spuds with the proper soil and moisture conditions, they will produce a bumper crop in relation to the size of the container.
Plant containers allow you to experiment with different heirloom potatoes and spud colors—yellow Finns, purple Majesty, red Cloud, and Adirondack blue—all neatly separated in their own container. Fingerlings can be grown in one container and late-season keepers in another. And harvesting container-grown potatoes is easier and more exciting than digging them from the ground, which can also be enjoyable.
Growing potatoes in pots can even add a decorative touch to patios and landscapes. Before the growing season is over, potatoes bloom in a beautiful way. Sweet potato vines spilling over pots are especially appealing.
Growing potatoes in plant containers use the same techniques as growing them in the ground. They can be raised in coir, perlite, and other media that make growing simple and tidy, in addition to compost and soil. Growers have had success with a variety of pots and containers, including those made of chicken wire, bins built from kits or from scratch, and even plastic totes and recycled buckets.
Potatoes grow well in large pots of various sizes. They should be at least 14 inches wide at the bottom and deep enough to accommodate hilling as the season progresses. Use at least two dry gallons of soil per start (the Royal Horticultural Society of England recommends eight liters of soil for each potato start, which is slightly less than two dry gallons). More is always a good thing. Overcrowding at the start will result in smaller harvests of smaller spuds. When planted in containers, potatoes, which are typically spaced 10 inches apart, can become a little (but only a little) crowded. A 14-inch-diameter pot with a 14-inch-diameter bottom will have plenty of room for three starts. The deeper the pot, the better, but it should be at least this deep.