Tale of two potato bins, with photos

Ohiofem(6a Ohio)August 1, 2011

In the beginning of April I planted two potato bins. One was the result of careful planning, and involved purchasing $30 worth of materials and $12 of certified organic Rose Finn Apple fingerling potatoes specially ordered online, and the other was a lark involving a $5 plastic tote on sale at the hardware store and a five organic "baby red potatoes" from the grocery store that sprouted in the back of the cupboard. I wrote a GW post about my plans for the Rose Finn fingerlings and optimistically titled it "Potato Dreams." I was hoping to keep adding straw and potting mix until there was a good two feet of soil for them to grow in. I never told anyone about the grocery store spuds because I knew they violated all the rules. Guess which scheme was successful?

You got it: Five store bought red potatoes weighing a little more than a pound planted on April 3 yeilded almost 20 pounds of large, beautiful and tasty red potatoes on July 20. One pound of Rose Finn Apple fingerlings (15 tubers) planted on April 10 yeilded a total of six teeny, tiny runts on July 31. Believe me, I sifted a ton of soil looking for more potatoes, but they were nowhere to be found. Not even have nibbled remnants. There were no signs that voles or moles or anyone else had entered the soil.

I planted the fingerlings in a Geobin composter measuring 3.5 feet in diameter and three feet tall. While not technically a container, I count it as one because I used almost one cubic foot of 5 parts pine bark fines and 2 parts compost to create a 6 inch deep bed at the bottom. I laid out the tubers and then another four inches of soil. I planted the red potatoes in the same soil mix with four inches of soil under them and another four inches on top. As the plants grew in each container, I used straw and potting mix to cover the growth each time it got about six inches above the soil level. I watered each planting as needed. The potting mix included Osmocote Plus, and I added Tomatotone each time I hilled them.

Here are the fingerlings when I planted them:

Here are the fingerlings on June 3 after being hilled a couple times with six inches of straw and 5-1-1 mix:

Here are the red potatoes after similar hilling (The plants were actually abut the same height as the fingerlings, but due to the pot size, they were in a lot less soil):

Here are the red potatoes I harvested July 20:

And here are the fingerlings I harvested July 30:

If I didn't have many other success stories in my container garden, I might be tempted to cry. Instead, I guess I'll have to chalk this up to another lesson from the school of hard knocks. And a cautionary tale for folks like me with potato dreams.

I'd love to hear your potato tales.

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My tale is a sad one...

This was my first time attempting potatoes, and I only did it because I found a bag of kennebac seeds on sale for $1 at Calloways. I planted some in cardboard boxes, some in bags and some in the ground. I used a mixture of compost, topsoil and leaves to hill them, and I watered every few days. They looked like they were doing well until they started dying one by one. I did not get one single potato from the whole bunch!

Woe is me! I'm still debating whether I will try again next year.

    Bookmark   August 1, 2011 at 8:40PM
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I've been wanting to do potatoes but find them intimidating for some reason. Not sure whether your post scares me or gives me hope since I'd almost certainly be going the storebought potato in a $5 tub route!

    Bookmark   August 1, 2011 at 8:49PM
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edweather(Zone 5a/b Central NY)

I've had potatoes growing in 2 wooden containers for almost 4 months, and they still look healthy. I'm tempted to harvest them, but in the past I've always just waited until the tops die. The way they are growing, that might not be for at least another month. I'm assuming that as long as the plants are green, the potatoes are still getting larger.

    Bookmark   August 2, 2011 at 10:19AM
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Ohiofem(6a Ohio)

Sun-n-clay: I also grew Anoka potatoes in a 20-gallon "potato bag" last year. They are supposed to be moderately early white, russet types. The Anokas and the two I grew last year never flowered. I harvested them when they had mostly died back. Last year, I thought the Anokas were a complete fail since they didn't bloom and showed a lot of insect damage, but when I emptied the pot, I found a lot of small "new potatoes" in the bottom, unblemished and quite tasty. But I only harvested about 5 pounds from a pound of tubers. Because of that experience, I wasn't concerned when the two varieties I grew this year didn't bloom. I think I should have harvested the red potatoes sooner than 110 days. They would have been smaller, but they might have been more tender. There was no point in waiting more than 110 days for the fingerlings once they died back. I really don't know if they succumbed to disease or were just a bunch of duds.

btbarbara: I'm surprised that a lowly potato would intimidate the lady who grew watermelons and pumpkins in containers! I've found vining vegetables to be more work and less reliable in containers than potatoes. Potatoes are definitely easier to grow. They do attract a lot of insects, and they are pretty ugly above the soil, but in most cases you can keep the insects in check with organic insecticides, and the baby potatoes are all edible and unblemished in any case. I'm pretty sure I'm going to stick to the $5 tub route in the future and give up the potato tower dream. I've searched GardenWeb and the Internet high and low for someone who succeeded in producing a lot of potatoes in a potato tower, and only found one person who showed evidence that the potatoes grew anywhere but in the very bottom of the container. I haven't even calculated how much I spent on extra soil and straw trying to build a tower. Too much!

edweather: I agree that you should wait until the tops die back before harvesting, unless you're growing them to harvest new potatoes. I harvested the Anokas too soon last year, when the tops looked awful, but hadn't really died all the way back, so they were mostly golf ball size when they were supposed to be much bigger. Although the seed sellers give days to harvest, I understand there can be a huge variation depending on your soil and weather conditions. I just wish my potatoes would have flowered so I'd have some better indication of how far along they were. Anyone out there recommend a good variety to grow in Southwest Ohio?

    Bookmark   August 2, 2011 at 12:50PM
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It is silly isn't it? I think it's too late for this year even down here but I might have to give it a try in the spring. Maybe I'll start small with some garlic this fall. What I really want is sweet potatoes but I've read about how they grow and THAT'S scary (even for the woman with 300 miles of watermelon vines in her front yard!)

    Bookmark   August 2, 2011 at 11:07PM
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edweather(Zone 5a/b Central NY)

Re: Potatoes flowering, it's funny you mentioned that. My russets flowered very nicely about 2 months ago, and even formed seed pods where the flowers had been. I've never seen that before. The pods are about the size of a grape, and there is 1-3 per plant. I'm assuming that the pods are full of seeds, I haven't opened one up yet. I've continued to water and feed the potato plants, and a few days ago I noticed that one of the plants is going to flower again. That's unusual in my experience. When I finally turn over the bin & dump the potatoes, I'll post a picture of the hopefully good results.

    Bookmark   August 3, 2011 at 9:58AM
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Red potatoes are very vigorous. I've had the best luck with them (organic store bought also), now I don't even grow russets any more as the reds always out-produce them.

In my garden bed I always leave the small reds in the soil and they just resprout on their own, for a sort of perpetual potato bed.

FYI, reds do the best in clay soil of all the commonly available potatoes.

    Bookmark   August 3, 2011 at 8:26PM
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edweather(Zone 5a/b Central NY)

I don't grow Russets for production, I grow them for the taste. French fries are made from Russets for a reason.

    Bookmark   August 4, 2011 at 9:59AM
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"I've searched GardenWeb and the Internet high and low for someone who succeeded in producing a lot of potatoes in a potato tower, and only found one person who showed evidence that the potatoes grew anywhere but in the very bottom of the container."

you will never get more potatoes in a tower method using early, mid season seed. you have to use a full season variety like nicola. which im growing right now in a 100 gal container.

ed, nothing better than some oven baked french fries. or deep fried. living here in the potato seed capital of the world. during harvest they are laying on the side of the road like rocks. potatoes and more potatoes.

    Bookmark   August 4, 2011 at 10:47AM
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Ohiofem(6a Ohio)

edweather: I'm with you on the Russets. All the potato dishes I love are far better with them: baked, mashed, French fried, scalloped. The only thing I prefer waxy potatoes for is potato salad. My family loves Russets so much that I used to take them on the plane with me when we vacationed in a cottage on the Florida panhandle. We could never find a decent potato in the little stores down there. (The beef was awful too! We're hopelessly Midwestern.) Of course, Homeland Security put an end to potatoes on the plane.

terrybull: According to the sources I've seen (Washington State University, Maine Potato Lady) Nicola is a mid-season variety. Seed Savers Exchange says it is a late season that matures in 90-110 days. I thought late season varieties typically took more than 130 days to mature. Please report back to let us know how yours turn out.

I have read that only a few late season varieties will grow stolons with tubers all along the buried stem, which is what you want in a potato tower. Potatoes are like tomatoes in that some are indeterminate and some are determinate. Determinate potatoes flower once and produce one layer of potatoes and die, so they are not suitable for a tower. Indeterminate potato varieties apparently flower continuously throughout the growing season (like yours, edweather?). Most potatoes are determinate. Some potatoes don't actualy bulk up until the weather turns cold. Russet Burbank is a classic indeterminate potato that takes 140-150 days to mature.

If I ever do anything like this again, I'm going to look for a potato that takes at least 135 days to harvest. And I think I'll leave it in the ground as long as possible.

Whoops. Looks like I'm dreaming again.

    Bookmark   August 5, 2011 at 2:30PM
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How long does Nicola take to grow?
These estimates for how long Potato 'Nicola' takes to sprout, grow and harvest are from real observations from real gardeners, right around the world.

Days to Germination
How long does it take Nicola to germinate?
14 days
Average 14 days : Min 6 days : Max 21 days (6) Days to Transplant
How long until I can plant out Nicola?

  • 16 days
    Average 16 days : Min days : Max days (0) Days to Maturity
    How long until Nicola is ready for harvest / bloom?
  • 95 days
    Average 95 days : Min days : Max days (0) Total Growing Days
    How long does it take to grow Nicola?
    = 125 days .
    Bookmark   August 5, 2011 at 5:14PM
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edweather(Zone 5a/b Central NY)

The before picture. Potatoes have been growing for 4 months.


After dumping container.


Looking forward to eating big Russet french fries 6" long.


Potatoes do grow up the stalk. This one was growing at the surface, not at the bottom.


    Bookmark   August 27, 2011 at 11:04PM
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Thanks for the pics guys, i see a lot of this and that about potato growing methods but no pictures. Looks good!

    Bookmark   August 27, 2011 at 11:18PM
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Ohiofem(6a Ohio)

Thanks so much for reporting back. Your potatoes look great! I'm definitely going to try again. Can you give us more information? Like what variety you were growing? It looks like there are red potatoes mixed in with the russets. What kind of yield did you get? What kind of soil and fertilizer?

    Bookmark   August 28, 2011 at 8:07AM
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edweather(Zone 5a/b Central NY)

The Russets were from a small bag of seed potatoes I bought at Walmart. The reds were from a couple of potatoes in our pantry that were sprouting. Definitely better yield from the seed potatoes. I cut the Russet seed potatoes in half, and planted half a dozen or so about 6" apart. The soil was basically a 511 mix that drained really well. Originally I didn't lime the mix, but added a little later because I didn't want to obsess about lack of calcium. I added 1 tbs of vinegar per gallon of water along with a little Foliage Pro and Miracle Grow with each watering. I still have one more container of potatoes growing. I'll probably let them keep growing til they die.

    Bookmark   August 28, 2011 at 12:49PM
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edweather, I read some where that some taters will grow up the buried stem & other will not.
The second was breed to only grow taters on the bottom for machine digging.
But I can not find the forum it was on.

    Bookmark   January 22, 2012 at 8:19PM
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