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How to Grow Potatoes in a Barrel

By Edited Jul 10, 2016 2 10

Potato Barrel

Using a barrel to sow and grow your potatoes is a great idea especially if you are stuck for space. The barrel can be anything really so long as it contains the soil and more importantly allows excess water to drain away near the base. I began planting spuds in a barrel almost by chance as I had been using the barrel to collect rainwater from the roof of my house. I used this water on my vegetable patches as it is better that tap water and as a bonus it is completely free. This is important as many countries charge for water consumption via a water meter which gets installed near to the mains water scheme.

My water barrel froze badly a number of winters ago and the ice was so thick that it caused a crack in the barrel at its base. I was about to dispose of it as it was useless for water when I realized that it still had so life in it for potato growing. The beauty of this particular barrel was that it already had the drainage holes due to the cracked bottom.

Starting off potatoes

Potato tub barrel
Seed potatoes are best but old for the table spuds that have started chitting will work too. The chitting is the small eyes of the potato that start to sprout. This is where the new plant will grow from. Put some soil or a soil and manure mix at the bottom of the barrel or add some material from your compost pile. As little as 6 inches will do. Place your seed potatoes into the soil, one spud in the middle and the remainder around the sides of the tub or barrel.

A regular trash can size will take six plants, the center one will be orbited by the other five plants. Fewer plants will produce bigger potatoes but experience after a few years will guide you as to how many plants to use in a given barrel or tub. That’s it for now, your potatoes are planted. You can lightly water them at this point. As soon as the plants begin to show (after perhaaps 3 weeks) you can water them well.

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Barrel placement

Because the barrel will get too heavy to move later on do make sure that you have selected a good spot for it as part of your overall garden planning and maintenance activities. Potatoes like 6 to 8 hours of sunshine daily to grow well. A plentiful supply of earth or soil will be required near to the barrel.  

Keep an eye on it in the following weeks and when the plants peep through add more soil. This is called earthing up. Continue adding soil as the plants grow up and make sure to water them regularly. If you live in an area with plenty of rain you won’t even have to do this. When the barrel is full you simply leave the plant to flourish.

Harvesting barrel potatoes

When the potato plant leaves turn yellow (withered) you can reap what you have sown. Growing them this way is becoming more popular, especially in tight yards and limited spaces. Another advantage is when you collect the spuds because it is so easy the dig down through the barrel and harvest the goodies. I used a black plastic barrel, as shown, and found that black drew the heat very well and provided a bumper crop.


Tall potato barrel
Potato tub growing ideas

How to grow potatoes in bags, pots or sacks

The trashcan and barrel work really well but a strong plastic sack is successful too. The growing principal is the same; just make sure you puncture a few holes low down in the sack. It is possible to buy potato tubs and sacks from retailers but in reality it is so easy to make your own.

Wooden crate and boxes have been used and once you remember drainage then any container strong enough will do. Old car tires stacked one on top of the other also work for potato growing (3 tires high is usually enough).

Any old recepticle will do so, be inventive. If it does not work well this year then try another method next time. Don't forget that the tubs/barrels/containers can be used year after year.

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Potato Growing Methods

If you have a garden or large lawn area then you might light to grow potatoes using lazy beds or if you prefer the traditional methods you can make drills beforehand. Whichever method you decide to try you will have the benefit of benefit of beautiful potato meals for many weeks. You can grow potatoes indoors too but an outhouse or garage is a better option as potatoes flourish well if they are watered and ideally you do not want to have to clean up water spillages.

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Potato varieties

Why not try some new ones this year

There are so many varieties of potatoes to choose and I suggest that you try out new ones every year.  Early crops must be used as they won’t store well but if you are planting only a few barrels then this is not a concern. I am experimenting this year with older, rarer varieties such as Cups and Irish Apple. This is apart from my usual Bambino and Golden Wonders. There are over 200 varieties of potato that I know of, such as the Pixie, Highland Burgundy Red, British Queens and Peru Pinks and Purples but I suspect that there are many more varieties in existence throughout the world.

Growing potatoes is great fun so if you have never tried before I hope some of these growing suggestions will help you to get started. Keep an eye out for a disused barrel in the yard or garden and then put it to good use again growing potatoes. 

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Comments

May 19, 2011 7:47pm
bikesbikesbikes
Hey Tom, I love this idea. I'll have to give it a whirl sometime... if my fiance lets me!
May 20, 2011 3:33am
Tom_Carver
Thank you for your comments and thumbs up. It should not be too expensive even if you cannot afford new seed potatoes because you can use those that have chitted in your household supply of spuds. Seed potato providers do not recommend this method, due to disease introduction, but it has been successful for me. Everything is contained in the barrel, in any case. Good luck, and do give it a go.
May 20, 2011 11:12am
Lynsuz
Great article Tom. I've used this method for years, but need to change the soil regular, do you have that problem?
May 20, 2011 5:41pm
bikesbikesbikes
I want to do this on my balcony so it gets lots of sun, do you have a problem with water leaking out or overflowing?
May 20, 2011 6:23pm
Tom_Carver
Hi Lynsuz, Thank you for commenting. I always use new soil each year to prevent disease but some friends of mine recrop from the same seed potatoes for 3 years, using the same soil. I don't recommend this practice at all.
May 20, 2011 6:25pm
Lynsuz
I don't either Tom, I always rotate crops because potatoes take so much out of the soil.
May 20, 2011 6:28pm
Tom_Carver
bikesbikesbikes, Hi, and thank you for commenting. Balcony is great, especially for the heat that the potatoes do best in. You will get to know exactly how much water to give them to prevent overspill. Be careful at the beginning. A little and often works well but some old newspapers around the base will help too. Mine are in a yard so I don't have to worry too much about spills.
May 20, 2011 6:30pm
Tom_Carver
I agree Lynsuz, rotation is better, much the same way as you would rotate crops in a raised bed.
May 27, 2011 4:48pm
erinblakes
The barrel way to grow potatoes is interesting. Did not come across it before. Worth a shot.
May 28, 2011 6:39pm
Tom_Carver
Thank you for commenting on my potato growing methods. The potato barrel is a great way to grow spuds and I am very fond of this method and have had great success with my potato cropping in barrels for many years.
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