Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Vertical potatoes in a barrel

While I generally do not like growing potatoes in the garden because they take up a lot of space and are a low value crop, I will be trying to grow them vertically this winter in an old barrel.  By growing potatoes vertically in the barrel, hopefully we can produce a barrel full of potatoes.  Potatoes are remarkably easy to grow and a simple web search yields numerous ways to grow them such as in old tires, bags, straw, cages, and others.  We have an old half of a plastic 55 gallon drum on hand which I have tried to grow potatoes in before but have failed.  Last winter the potato barrel failed I believe because of too little and bad soil.  So this winter I am trying again.  To begin, a plastic 55 gallon barrel half with many 1/2 inch holes drilled into the bottom for drainage was filled with 12 inches of a well draining soil mix.  The barrel was elevated off of the ground to improve light exposure and drainage (The barrel was elevated above the shadow of a wall).  12 potato "eyes" were then planted in the soil and watered.  12 eyes is way to many but I over did it in case some don't come up or don't grow as vigorously, the extras will be thinned out later.  To obtain sprouting eyes you can simply cut a chunk of potato out from around an eye from a store bought potato.  Once the chunk is cut out let it dry for about a day.  A lot of gardening resources advise against this due to transfer of diseases but I never had a problem (yet!).  Unfortunately, for us in Phoenix our potato growing season begins in the fall and ends in May or June and seed companies usually don't sell certified disease free seed potatoes until March.  So this is currently the only way I know of planting potatoes for the Phoenix growing season.

Some of the potato eyes I used to start my potato barrel.  There are red, russet, and purple potatoes for starting.  They were cut from store bought potatoes and dried for one day before planting.

Once the potatoes sprout and are about four to six inches tall the plants will be bury with four inches of soil.  This will be repeated until the barrel is full of soil.  Potatoes are supposed to grow in each layer of soil, thus filling the barrel.  Then the potatoes will be left to grow in the barrel until May or June.  Hopefully I can get it to work this winter but we'll see.  I already think there may be a problem with the barrel shading much of the soil due to the low angle of the the winter sun.  Hopefully, the potatoes will still grow partially shaded.  Once the potato plants reach the top of the barrel and it is full of soil, shading will no longer be an issue.

Potato barrel made from half of a plastic 55 gallon drum with many 1/2 inch holes drilled in the bottom.  About 12 inches of well draining potting soil was placed in the bottom and the potato eyes were planted about an inch deep.  Note the barrel is shading some of the soil due to the low angle of the winter sun.  When the plants are about six inches tall, four inches of soil will be added to partially bury the plants.  This will be repeated until the barrel is full of soil.  Hopefully potatoes begin to grow in each of the soil layers and we'll have a barrel full of potatoes.

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