Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Garbage Can Potato Harvest!

I like to try new things in the garden. Every year I find new things to grow and new methods to try. One of the "experiments" this year was trying to maximize yield by growing potatoes in a garbage can. I have been receiving many questions about the status of these potatoes. Well, we finally knocked over the can to see if it worked.

The idea is that you plant the seed potatoes down in the bottom of the can. As the plants grow, you fill more soil around them. Eventually, the can is filled to the top with soil and the plants are growing out of the top like this:

With proper nutrients and moisture, the potato plants send out new tuber growth all along the buried stems. The hope is that at harvest time, the garbage can would be filled with potatoes. You can see my first two posts about this idea here and here.

So it is finally time to harvest these garbage can potatoes. Here we go:

Wow, looks great doesn't it?

I could stop with the above pictures and say that everyone should switch to this method, but I won't. I always say that the purpose of this blog is to document happenings in my organic garden - to report what works and what doesn't.

Writing about what works is more fun, but this potato can actually didn't work very well. Here is a picture of the complete harvest:

That's not any more than I would have gotten if I had just planted these potato plants in the ground. So what happened?

First of all, I had four or five plants growing out of the can in the first picture of this post. All but one plant died in July. This is what the can looked like before I knocked it over:

All of these puny little potatoes might have come from this one plant. The bigger problem I think I had was that the plants didn't get enough water. When I try it again next year (and I will), I think I should change my soil mix. This mix was mostly compost, peat and regular garden soil. Next year I will add sand and have much bigger drainage holes at the bottom of the can. I want to be able to water more often and more thoroughly without the worry of being too wet.

What about you? Do you have any ideas about how to make this concept work? I know it can work. We have done it before on a smaller scale. My daughter had success with this last year with potatoes in her garden bed by enclosing two plants with wood and raising the soil around them. I know other gardeners who have raised potatoes like this in tires and even in garbage cans. What is the secret? If you have had success with this, please let us know. I know I've read about this on other good blogs but I don't remember where. If you have posted about this, please share the link for us. And if you haven't written about it, but have had some success with potato growing like this, please give us some tips.

I'm sorry to say that I am not an expert on this yet (obviously), but together I think we can perfect this method. It does work - but how?

15 comments:

Our Home

Hiya, I grow potatoes like this and also in black rubbish bags. I find that a good layer of well rotted manure in the bottom of the container really helps. Also I grow potaoes during the winter in the greenhouse using this method. If they are started early enough (september ish) you get new potatoes for Xmas. If you plant around xmas and keep the haulms frost free you often can get new potatoes by easter. I'm in the UK by the way.

Regards Babs

jacqui jones

the idea sounds great to me
im new to the total idea of growing more than just lettuce in the garden, but i love that u could use it year around.
also good for someone wanting to get start but who has no beds to get started in yet
i think we will give this a go this week. some potatos is better than no potatos and missing out on the season altogether.

Dan

Here is a drainage idea for you:

1. put a few inchs of gravel in the base of the bin.
2. put a 3" pvc pipe from the bottom to the top in the center with holes drilled along the length of the pipe.
3. fill with your better draining soil

Now the pipe will supply air to the center of the bin which will greatly reduce dampness as well as provide a method of watering the center of the bin. I have read about people having problems getting the center of the bins wet in the warm season.

I also have been fallowing Sinfonian's blog and he found out there are specific potato varieties that will grow potatoes along the whole stem. I don't recall the kinds but if you check out his link above and drop him a line I am sure he could fill you in.

Anonymous

Well I am actually interested in seeing how this worked for others. We also tried this method this year...and same as you...got fewer potatoes that we would have expected. I was soooo excited to get them...then there wasnt much to talk about. I remember hearing something about the nutrients that need to be added. Will have to look into it.
Lisa

Susy

I did the raised wood boxes around my potatoes this year, I haven't harvested them yet so I don't know how they did.

Dani

I've tried this before with similar success to you. I'm fairly sure soil quality was my issue. I've rotated my potatoes to a half wine barrel this time but aim to try the garbage bin again taking some of the tips from the comments here. It's sucha compact way of doing things, I'm determined to make it work.

Matron

I have grown potatoes in a garbage can (black dustbin here in the UK!) They usually grow quite well, but it is difficult to water as much as they need. The water tends to run down the inside and out the bottom. Otherwise it's a great way to grow maincrop potatoes in a small space.

Entangled

Last year I grew potatoes in bins made of chicken wire and filled with straw (starting with a thin layer of straw and topsoil, and adding more straw as the plants grew). We had a bountiful harvest. This year with the dry weather, they barely grew at all. A couple of months ago, in desperation, I pulled some of the plants out and put them in the ground and now they're fine (haven't harvested yet). I think the problem was mostly due to the drought. I couldn't keep the straw wet enough this year.

Woody

I did sweet potato in a cattle panel that had been cut in half length ways and then wired into a hoop. I filled with straw and compost. Our results were outstanding but I feel that the advantage with this system is in the harvesting. I only had to flip the hoop over and pull the tubers out. We had the wettest spring/summer on record here. I don't think this would work as well if our weather had been drier.

SubtropicalHappiness

vbxfaI have grown mine in potato sacks the ones that come with the spuds in them to the grocery stores. Works a treat.

Dianne

This method looks very interesting...think we'll give it a try! Thanks for sharing the pics and the idea. I enjoy your blog!

Growthumbs

Seems it should work. Maybe the plants weren't getting enough sun also.

Anonymous

An idea I'm going to try this Spring is to use a wire fence hoop, fill it about one foot with compost, straw etc. toss potatoes on top and then take an old hose with pin holes in it, lay it on top and repeat the layers. The potatoes will grow out the sides and the hose will spiral around the inside and keep the taters watered evenly. We'll see.

Amy

Apparently the variety you plant makes a big difference. Early varieties will only produce once so you won't get the can full, just a layer at the bottom near the seed. Later varieties will continue to produce as you cover them.

Amy

If you plant an early variety, you won't get a can full of potatoes, just a layer at the bottom near the seed as they'll only produce once. Later varieties will produce more along the stem as you cover the plant giving you a better chance of seeing the results you were looking for.

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