Enjoy potatoes in countless ways – baked, mashed, french fried, roasted – these versatile tubers are a beloved dietary cornerstone. However, the truest delight comes from a potato cultivated in your own backyard, where its fresh and crispy flavor becomes evident. If you wish to understand the process of cultivating potatoes in containers, you’re in the right spot.
1. Before embarking on container potato farming, grasp the growth process of potatoes
A potato bears several somewhat indented ‘eyes’ on its exterior. These eyes, given the suitable conditions, sprout – you might have observed this occur with a potato in your own kitchen.
When this sprout is planted, it metamorphoses into a stem. This stem shoots up into a plant above the soil surface, with surplus energy from this plant being directed downwards to the roots, accumulating in ‘tubers’. These tubers are simply thickened sections of the underground stem, commonly known as ‘potatoes’.
2. Opt for the suitable potato variety to cultivate
In shorter season climates, like the low desert of Arizona, opt to cultivate “early” and “mid-season” determinate varieties of potatoes. Determinate varieties are swift growing potatoes that yield a smaller harvest faster (60-90 days) than indeterminate varieties. Some of these varieties include Yukon Gold, Purple Viking, and All Red.
For those with a longer cultivation season, indeterminate (“late season”) potato varieties are ideal. These potatoes yield a larger harvest with multiple layers along the stem and require between 110 and 135 days to fully develop. Indeterminate varieties continue to form new potatoes along the stem until they’re harvested or terminated by frost. Some indeterminate varieties to try include Russian Blue, Canela Russet, and Ramona.
For the best outcomes, purchase certified disease-free seed potatoes from online vendors or gardening centers.
3. Condition the potato for planting
Place seed potatoes in an area with a temperature range of 60-70℉ and with exposure to light. This promotes potato sprouting, a process referred to as ‘chitting’. Once the potatoes have sprouted, if they are larger than an egg, slice them into pieces, ensuring each piece bears 2-3 eyes.
4. Time the potato planting properly
In cooler regions, plant your potatoes just after the final frost date. For those in the low desert of Arizona, planting can occur anytime from September through January.
Since potatoes are sensitive to frost, a hard frost will result in plant death. If frost kills your plants, ensure to harvest your potatoes, regardless of their size, within a week or two to prevent decay.
5. How to cultivate potatoes in containers? Select a suitable container
Potatoes aren’t fussy about their growth container. Choose from trash cans, compost sacks, or burlap bags. Growing potatoes in 40-gallon grow-bags is a preferred method. Adhere to the fundamental planting principles outlined below, and you’ll achieve success regardless of your chosen container.
6. Plant the appropriate quantity of potatoes for your chosen container
When using containers, it’s crucial to pair the quantity of seed potatoes with the size of the container. As a basic rule, each potato plant requires approximately 3 gallons to grow optimally. Overcrowding may result in smaller potatoes.
7. Plant potatoes correctly
Add a 3-4 inch layer of loose soil, fortified with compost, at the base of the container. (You may choose to fold down the container’s sides). Potatoes thrive in slightly acidic soil. Use a soil mix created for acid-loving plants or enhance your soil with an acid mix fertilizer as per package instructions.
Place the seed potatoes, sprouted-side upwards, into the soil, and cover with an additional 2-3 inches of soil.
As potato shoots emerge, cover the shoots halfway when they reach about 6 inches in height. Repeat this procedure until the top of the container is reached, at which point the plant will continue to grow without being covered.
The process of hilling potatoes ensures that determinate potatoes are not exposed to sunlight (which would turn them green) and fosters a larger yield of indeterminate varieties.
8. Prevent potatoes from drying out
Consistent moisture is key for potato growth. While ground-grown potatoes can seek moisture in the surrounding soil, container-grown potatoes are reliant on the moisture you provide.
For uniform watering, consider using a drip line inserted in each grow bag. It’s crucial to maintain soil that’s evenly moist, but not soaked. Allow a degree of drying between watering sessions.
Consider supplementing actively-growing potatoes with an acid-loving organic fertilizer or seaweed extract, each time you add more soil (or once or twice during the growing season). A layer of straw can help retain moisture.
9. Position your container in an optimal location
Potatoes need a minimum of 6 hours of sunlight for optimal growth. In the low desert, full sun is ideal for the fall planting of potatoes. Spring-planted potatoes perform best with a bit of afternoon shade to prevent them from drying out too rapidly.
10. Understand when to harvest potatoes
‘New potatoes’ are immature potatoes that are harvested before full maturity.
For determinate potatoes, check 60-90 days after planting, and for indeterminate varieties, check 100-120 days after planting. Probe near a stem with your hand to assess the size of the potatoes. Harvest any potatoes that are of a satisfactory size for consumption.
Harvest ‘new’ potatoes just after the plants flower (if your chosen variety flowers). For larger potatoes, wait until the tops begin to turn yellow and wilt.
To enhance potato storage longevity, allow them to remain in the ground for an additional 2 weeks after the plants die back.
When ready to harvest the entire container, carefully empty it into a wheelbarrow, taking care not to damage the potatoes. Allow potatoes to cure for several hours outdoors. Brush off loose soil from the potatoes, and store them in a cool, dry place until you’re ready to consume them.
Consume new potatoes within a few weeks of harvest. Mature potatoes free of blemishes will store for a longer duration.