Potatoes have been a staple food that keeps civilizations safe from the dangers of famine for hundreds of years, from the Incas to the Irish. Growing them yourself will provide you with a source of nutrition and energy that will last, as well as saving you money on groceries in the long run. It doesn’t matter if you’re an apartment dweller without a lot of space, or if you don’t even have a garden plot – just grow your potatoes in a pot!
The great thing about this project is you don’t need much to get started. Potatoes usually grow best in a cool climate, so make sure that wherever you are setting up your pots won’t have a lot of heat trapped in the space, and that it gets plenty of sunlight, as they’ll need about 6-8 hours of full sun per day. The best time to plant potatoes is in spring after the final frost. The pot you choose can be just about any size, although the bigger the container, the more potatoes you will have. You can find pots at your local garden store, or maybe you have some left laying around from other gardening projects. You could even use an old laundry basket, or a 30 gallon trash can. Just make sure that there is plenty of drainage, so if your container has no way to let water run off you’re going to need to drill or cut some holes in the bottom.
Next you’re going to need some soil. You can usually find garden soil at your local garden shop or grange. Mixing it with some good organic compost will add plenty of nutrients. If you’re worried about drainage you can even mix in some sand. Just make sure not to use beach sand – salt in the soil means dead plants.
For your potatoes, it’s best not to use the ones you can find from the grocery store. Those ones are often treated with a retardant to keep them from sprouting and to give them a longer shelf life, so your chances of success with them (while not completely impossible) are less likely. Plus, there are so many other varieties of potato that are so much more delicious than what you can find at the store, in my opinion! You’re going to want to find “seed potatoes” to grow. These can be ordered online, from a garden catalogue, or found at your local garden center. Some of my personal favorite varieties are Yukon Gold, although Kennebec is tasty too and keeps well.
So now you have your container, and you have your potatoes – it’s time to get planting! Put a 3-5 inch layer of damp soil in the bottom of your container. Looking at your potatoes, you’ll see that there are small dimples or raised spots, some that look to be sprouting. These are the “eyes.” Use a sharp knife to cut up your potato into pieces, with each piece having at least two eyes. Then place the pieces cut side down onto the soil about 5 inches apart and cover everything with another 3 inches of soil. Water your potato starts well so the soil is moist. If you are worried about water running (maybe you’ve got your pots set up on a porch, or even inside) you can place a tray of some sort underneath. Some plastic storage container lids would work well.
As your potato plants grow, keep adding 3-5 inches of soil on top of the plant sprout until you reach the top of the container during the 2-3 month growing period. This will encourage your plants to grow the most potatoes possible. Keep your pots well-watered, but not completely drenched all the time. Once the plant produces flowers, turns yellow and starts withering, it’s time to harvest (although you can always dig up the small, young tubers which are incredibly tender and delicious when sautéed in butter). Just dump out the potatoes, and brush of the dirt (don’t rinse them, as this creates a chance for rot), and sort through them to check for any bad ones. If the potato has green parts make sure to remove them before eating, or just toss it out altogether. The green color is caused by light exposure, and actually makes the potato turn poisonous.
If you want to store your potatoes, it is best to keep them at about 35-40 degrees Fahrenheit (2-4 degrees Celsius) in a dark area in well ventilated containers. Refrigerating them will actually cause the starch to convert into sugar, so it’s not the ideal solution. For long-term storage, you can try curing your potatoes first by letting them sit undisturbed for about two weeks at 50-60 degrees Fahrenheit (10-15 degrees Celsius). After curing, the potato’s skins will be thickened, and any scrapes or cuts will heal. If stored properly, cured potatoes can last for about six months. Make sure to periodically check for rot, as one bad potato can spoil the entire batch!
Growing potatoes in containers is a great method for growing your food in a space and cost-effective way. With a little creativity and patience, you’ll have plenty of hash browns, baked potatoes and more to carry you through the winter.