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Growing Potatoes In Trash Cans: Harvest Outcome

>17 July 2012
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I noticed that some of the potato plants in my trash cans had started to die back, so yesterday I decided it was time to harvest them. This was my first attempt at growing potatoes like this, and I couldn’t wait to see how they’d done!

I probably should have waited ’til the plants had all died completely back, but I was afraid I’d wait too long and the potatoes would rot.

I was grateful that most of the trash cans were on wheels, ’cause they were very heavy and I needed to pull them next to my compost pile to dump them out.

I’ve heard stories of people dumping their cans over to unearth dozens and dozens of beautiful, huge potatoes. This was the image I had in my mind, though I knew better than to count on it.

It’s a good thing I’m not easily discouraged! Here was my first can’s findings.

Four tiny potatoes.

As I continued dumping the trash cans over and digging through the dirt in search of new spuds, I came across several shriveled potato skins that were crawling with tiny little insects. I couldn’t tell if these were the seed potatoes that had rotted, or if they were new potatoes that had been ruined. I’m pretty sure they were the seed potatoes.

After sifting with my hands and a pitch fork through five trash cans’ worth of dirt, I ended up with 4 1/2 pounds of good potatoes.

Could have been worse, right? I’m excited about these potatoes, though. This is the best I’ve done so far.

I really think I just harvested too early. I still have my rows of potatoes, which I’m leaving alone until the plants completely die back. I’m anxious to see how they’ve done as well.

I like the trash can method ’cause it’s much easier to cover the plants with grass clippings or straw as they grow. But if my rows do significantly better, I may stick to the traditional growing method.

Have you had good experience harvesting potatoes?

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36 Comments »

  • Carol J. Alexander said:

    Thanks for sharing this, Kendra. I tried something similar this year except we planted the seed potatoes in the ground and then put raised bed frames, stacked on top of each other, as the plants got taller. We didn’t go high enough, I’m sure, as I had to quit when the potatoes grew faster than my husband could build the frames. But we shall see in a few weeks when harvest time comes. I am hopeful, of course, but prepared for the worst.

  • Kendra at New Life On A Homestead (author) said:

    Carol,

    What a neat idea! I hope you have great success!!

  • Jerrie Harp said:

    You may not have gotten as many as you wanted but they taste sooooo much better than the store bought kind. I harvested about as many as you did in my garbage cans but my mother planted a few in 5 gallon buckets. Well !! wouldn’t you know it! Hers grew and grew and cracked the buckets. She harvested as many potatoes in her buckets as I did in my garbage cans! Oh Well . I keep trying.

  • Lanie said:

    We grew some potatoes in tall bags this year. They did ok, but our potatoes planted in rows did much better. It is easier to plant and harvest them from the bag though.
    Lanie

  • Kendra at New Life On A Homestead (author) said:

    Oh, that’s too funny, Jerrie!! I wonder what made the difference?? Well, if it means anything to ya, you made me feel better to hear that your harvest was like mine ;)

  • Missy Steiger said:

    Our potatoes did pretty good this year but I’d like to try this to get some early potatoes. Sometimes we can’t get into the garden for one reason or another (to wet, etc.)

  • Kim said:

    There’s a lot of people out there who don’t believe in building them up at all. We did raised beds where we adding a layer of bed and dirt. We didn’t get ANY potatoes in the higher up part, only in the part initially under the ground when we first planted. Yep, just normal row gardening style potato growing. And we got a good 50 lbs of potatoes in a bed about 3 or 4 feet by 6 feet.

  • Ellen said:

    I tried growing potatoes in a half whiskey barrel last year and was similarly disappointed by the small harvest, although they were good. Imagine my surprise when I noticed potatoes growing in the raised bed where I’d dumped the dirt after harvesting last year. I let them go, didn’t hill up or anything because there were other things growing there. I finally harvested a dozen potatoes (as many as I did when I purposefully planted them last year)–and half of these were large and lovely, larger than the ones last year too. I was pretty surprised when I reached down and pulled out a full sized potato as I’d been expecting just small ones again.

  • Katie said:

    I’m working on my second year of 5 gallon bucket potato’s. I pulled them way to early last year so this year I’m hoping for better results.
    I think next year will be in the ground!

  • Maija said:

    I tried growing potatoes with the tire stacking method.
    It was a complete waste of time for me. I kept stacking
    as the potato plant grew. The towers ended up 4 or 5
    tires high. I was SO excited when the time came to knock
    them down! I had a couple of potatoes… that’s it.
    I’ll never try this kind of method again. Growing in the
    ground and hoeing dirt over them as they grow is the best,
    most productive method, in my opinion.

  • Jodi said:

    I’ve tried potatoes in different containers here in Oklahoma. All the buckets, trash cans etc. failed miserably. I think the Oklahoma heat is too much for them in smaller containers. This year I planted them in a kiddie pool (an old one with a hole in the bottom filled with compost) and in the ground and got bumper crops from both.

  • Shaye @ The Elliott Homestead said:

    I’ve dug around a bit in our trash cans and haven’t really found any potatoes at all…hmm…I wonder if we can expect a harvest similar to yours. Dang, man. The best thing about gardening is there is always next year…and trial and error is the best way to learn!

  • Bobbi said:

    I’ve tried the in potato bags two years in a row and haven’t gotten too many, but they are so wonderfully good! Much better than the store. I think I will try in the ground next.

  • Nikki R said:

    We have planted potatoes in old tires before but our harvest was not too great. I cannot really remember why. We have since just planted them the old fashioned way. The store potatoes will NEVER be the same. Home grown ones are SOOOOOOOO good.

  • Susan Olson said:

    This year, we just planted them in the ground and didn’t build up around them at all. We had tried the “straw” method in the past and did ok, but one year our straw was so full of seeds it was a weedy mess! The vertict this year?? We planted 8 plants, have harvested 4 so far, and have…12 1/2 lbs of potatoes!! WooHoo!!

  • Kendra at New Life On A Homestead (author) said:

    That’s AWESOME, Susan!

  • Debbie@ouroldhomestead.blogspot.com said:

    Interesting reading how they turned out…and everyone else’s! I haven’t tried this method although I have been wanting to. Thanks for the update!

  • Caroline said:

    I was told we couldn’t use plastic garbage cans because they contain herbicides and pesticides to deal with garbage odors. Not sure if this is true about all garbage cans or if it played a role in your small harvest.
    But it is worth the effort to keep trying! We eat sooooo many potatoes and a fresh garden grown potato is so delicious!
    I planned on simply piling more dirt and straw on my crop last year and kept forgetting. This year I will not be so lax.

  • renee said:

    Oh can you e-mail me and let me know how to start potatoes, jacob,and I never tried them yet,and are wanting to do them in fall garden if possible..
    Blessings,Renee

  • Mrs. D said:

    I’m not sure how you proceeded with planting in barrels. Being originally from Maine I’ve never tried any other method that planting in rows and hoeing as they grow. Potatoes are from the stem of the plant, not the root. I don’t grow them anymore because Mr. D doesn’t eat potato, but if I did, I might try the barrel method just once to see what happens. Adding more growing medium along with the plants as they grow would be a must though.

  • Kendra at New Life On A Homestead (author) said:

    Renee,

    Here’s a little how-to I wrote a while back, though it isn’t a complete step by step as I’m still learning too, lol! http://newlifeonahomestead.com/2009/04/planting-potatoes/

  • Doug@thesimplefarm said:

    I’m always amazed to hear when people are harvesting their different veggies. We won’t harvest new potatoes for about a month and it will be near the end of September when we harvest everything. Of course we only have a two to three month growing season so our potatoes are just starting to really shoot up.

  • monique said:

    Congrats! That’s awesome. I keep saying I’m going to try potatoes, but never do…

  • Kendra at New Life On A Homestead (author) said:

    I know what you mean, Doug. The different growing seasons are so crazy sometimes!

  • Lavender Debs said:

    Did you know: Like tomatoes there are two types of potatoes, determinant and indeterminant. Most modern potatoes are determinant which makes them great for machine harvest but not for staking methods of growing. I did tires when I was a young bride and was fine with the results (until I learned what tires add to the soil…yuck)

    I currently grow my modern potatoes (yellow, most reds and peanuts/fingerlings) in a barrel cut the long way and set in a cradle.

    Video…you don’t have to watch, the cover pic shows the potato bins
    http://musicofrain.wordpress.com/2012/03/25/spring-planting-potatoes-and-leeks/

    I have a wooden stacking potato bin my son made. I am growing Burbank Russets in it (an indeterminate potato that I REALLY had to search for (the information, not the potato). Old fashioned Red LaSota is also indeterminate. Many Russets are indeterminate but not all of them.

    I did not believe there was a difference at first either (I always get feed-back saying that people do not believe this)

    Debs of the Toy Box.

  • Fluff said:

    Here in our backyard located in the central U.S., we planted the entire 50 lb. burlap bag of pontiac red potatoes. This yielded hundred of lbs. (we are a backyard garden of 1100 sq. ft. ((think garden the size of a small house)) and there are other crops planted in this space as well). I have the harvested potatoes stored in bushel baskets which are sitting all over the kitchen and we can only walk in a narrow path.

    How did we do it? Plant a healthy chunk of potato…BIGGER than a large hen’s egg. Plant it deep…4 inches at least. After the plant emerges, cover the ground with a thick layer of wheat straw to keep weeds down and the ground moist (less watering). If any potatoes grow near the surface, they are protected by straw from the sunlight. Yes you could mound up more dirt several times during the growing process, but it is labor intensive. Here in our state, where we are having drought conditions, the straw mulch is a blessing for conserving water. After harvest, I let the straw decompose somewhat as it lays on top of the soil, and I let it break down until the next February, then I rotor till it into the ground. This organic (somewhat composted) material is what the soil wants…NOT fertilizer.

    Now all that is basic instruction. Here is where my method looks different from the typical home gardener. When I begin my harvest, I generously give the first of the potatoes to the feeding mission. I give the first of the tomato crop. The first of the onions, peppers, lettuce, apples, peaches, etc. Not one bite goes into our mouth until I take some to the mission. It is my first fruits offering and I’m trusting God that there will be more to harvest in the days ahead.

    Those people who are in need get physical food and spiritual food, as it is the word of God that sews up the holes in people’s pockets to pull them out of poverty. Yes I could give to mobile meals or wheels on meals types of programs BUT I want the living word of God to go with the garden produce.

    Thirdly, I remember to let my land rest in it’s 7th year. Here in the plains states, those tractors plow the land EVERY YEAR and it never gets a rest. It needs to re-mineralize. God wants the land to rest and the people to rest and trust Him that what He has provided in the 6th year will carry them through the uncultivated 7th year. No wonder our food is void of essential minerals, the land never gets to rest!

    This is my 12th year to grow and I rotate my food plots to allow them to rest in their 7th year. In hindsight, I, Me, Myself should have rested as well, as frankly, I’m tired! God has given us an abundant, beyond belief garden this year. I’m putting it up but next year, I’m going to take a year off and rest…and the land an early rest too!

    Hope something from this helps each of you to be the best gardener you can be!

  • Kendra at New Life On A Homestead (author) said:

    That’s interesting, Debs! I’ve never heard that.

  • Emily said:

    This year I did the straw method, but had to replant many times when my chickens dug them up. I ended up with about 70ish plants and have harvested about 3/4 of them so far. I don’t know how many pounds, but I have about 2 full milk crates of red potatoes. I used my own seed potatoes from last years harvest to plant this year. I am completely sold on this method. It was SO easy to harvest and easier to plant since there was no hoeing or raking up more dirt. I should note that I did put just enough dirt on each seed potato to cover it before I added the straw and after they sprouted through the straw, I put grass clippings on top of the straw to keep the weeds out and keep the sun off the new potatoes. I figure I would have had an even better crop if the chickens hadn’t gotten involved! Fence-check, wings clipped-check! I was glad to hear how the trash can method worked for you and the others who have commented. It is something I have considered. I really appreciate all the information you share. thank you!

  • Kendra at New Life On A Homestead (author) said:

    I absolutely LOVE your advice, Fluff. I have found so much agricultural wisdom in the Word of YHWH.

  • Jane said:

    This is very interesting! I planted potatoes in trash cans for the first time this year too. I am a little scared that nothing is growing underneath the soil! I keep adding soil though, so I guess I will see! Your potatoes look great though!

  • Emily A said:

    Hmm.. I’ve never heard that there are determinate and indeterminate varieties of potatoes! I’ll have to find out more about that! Always learning something! We grow our taters in 200 gallon smart pots (cloth like containers)and have pretty good results. We really like the way the fabric lets the soil breathe. I’ve never pulled out a rotten potato. We planted very late this year, so were a little disappointed with our first harvest. We had a volunteer tater plant (didn’t get ‘em all last year) in a smart pot I planted Chinese Noodle beans in this year. That plant seems to have done better than the ones we planted on purpose. I think the shade from the beans helped during our over 100 degree weeks, and I’m sure the nitrogen fixing properties of the beans helped. And maybe the volunteers just do better…. We did have a much better first harvest last year, but the plants are still growing. So maybe our second harvest will be better.
    (There is a lot of info about growing potatoes in smart pots online.)

  • Erika @ HomesteadSimple said:

    I think that’s a great turn out esp. if this is your first time trying it in trash cans. I’m excited to see how your ground crop will produce compared to the trash cans. We have ours in the ground and have never had problems. We have heard of people growing them in stacks of tires? and we’ve thought about giving that a try next year.

  • Eve said:

    I have watched dozens of YouTube videos and read blog articles where people have used tires or trash cans. Almost every one I have watched yielded a small batch of small potatoes. Lately I am seeing articles on growing them in trash cans. While I am all for trying out new methods, it seems that the appeal of the trash can and tire methods are to save time and energy for the grower. But if the work you put into something “quick” results in failure or a low yield, then you have really expended more time and energy than if you had gone ahead an planted potatoes in rows in the ground. The tried and true methods, I find, always work best even though they require more work initially. Hundreds of years of planting potatoes can’t be wrong.

  • Laurie said:

    Potatoes in containers intrigues me! Do you drill holes in the bottoms or sides of the containers?
    Thanks!
    Laurie

  • Kendra at New Life On A Homestead (author) said:

    Laurie,

    Yep, I just drilled several holes in the bottom of the cans, and added about a foot of good soil before placing my seed potatoes in and covering with a little more soil. Then add mulch or more dirt as the plants grow to keep the spuds from direct sunlight :)

  • Valerie said:

    Hi There – Thank you to all for the info. I do not have a garden at this time (!poor me!). Anyway – I want to add this to the conversation.
    http://www.snopes.com/food/ingredient/potato.asp

    As a senior person – in my life – I believe I have experienced some of the (green). I have been aghast to have actually recently purchased a 15 pound bag of potatoes (russets from Oregon)
    only to have to trash the entire bag. This is because they were all ‘green’. It would be wise to get more info on this (I think) for the do-it-yourselfers. This seems to be a problem that the ‘old timers’ seldom ran across – but seems very common nowadays.

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