Remember what potatoes used to be like…hot and steaming from the oven, full of fluffy white goodness, and with an earthy flavor that didn’t need the help of butter or sour cream? Well, you can raise your own spuds, and recapture that special flavor, and you won’t have to do a lot of backbreaking digging, either.
You can grow potatoes in a barrel – placed in any sunny part of your patio, backyard, or apartment balcony – and that container can be filled with sawdust, dirt, mulch, or rotting leaves. Here’s how its done.
First, get a barrel, a discarded keg, or even a metal or plastic trash can. (The larger the container, the more spuds you’ll eventually harvest, so make your selection accordingly.) To prepare your growing bin, punch several holes, spaced about six inches apart, in the bottom of the container. The drainage these provide will help keep your crop’s “feet”dry, which is an important consideration. Then spread a layer of large pebbles in the bottom of the barrel, and put about six inches of soil over that. Next, put in a four-inch layer of well-rotted (not fresh) sawdust, and you can also add some soil if you’d like. Now you’re ready to plant.
Potatoes, unlike most vegetables, aren’t usually raised from seed…they’re sprouted from the eyes of fully grown tubers that are known as seed potatoes. If you, or someone you know, grew a crop of spuds last year and set some of the beauties aside, you’re ahead of the game as these can be your source of new potatoes. But if you don’t have this advantage, you’ll need to visit a garden shop, nursery, or farm supply store that sells seed potatoes. Those store-bought spuds that may be hibernating in the pantry won’t do. These commercial tubers have usually been sprayed with an antisprouting chemical, so even the ones that do put forth new growth will do poorly.
Slice your seed potatoes so that each chunk contains two eyes, and let the pieces sit for a day or two while their cut surfaces dry. Next, take the “seeds” and push them down into the layer of planting medium in the barrel – just far enough so they’re covered – and dampen the soil. In only a few days you should find little plants sprouting through. Each time these sprouts grow a couple of inches, dump in enough well-rotted sawdust (possibly mixed with soil) to cover them up, and give the crop a soaking. Since the new potatoes form above their parent eye, you are- in effect – creating room for more down-home delicacies each time you bury the plant. By the time the container is full, you’ll have two or three feet of barrel-grown beauties to harvest.
Come September, when it’s time to gather your spring planted crop, you can forget about your spading fork. Simply tilt the barrel over on its side, give it a shake or two, and pour out the most beautiful spuds you’ve ever seen!