Potato barrel project

A few weekends back we finally got our pumpkin, cantelope and watermelon seeds in. We planted those seeds in a very steady rain on a Friday after work. It was actually kind of fun. The following day we got our potatoes planted - not in the ground but in our old half whiskey barrel.

I thought that it would be too difficult for the potato roots and such to make much headway against our native clays. I also think that the clay would hold too much moisture and cause any potatoes that formed to rot. My mom and nephew had grown potatoes successfully in a half bushel basket several years ago.

The theory behind this method is that the shoots you cover up essentially revert back to root status and the plant is forced to grow upward once again to find the sunlight it needs. By raising the soil level this way (in increments) the plant is able to continue growing without suffocation, at the same time creating a longer tap root than when planting directly into the ground. With the longer tap root many more lateral roots can develop and each lateral root can then produces potatoes (at 3-4 levels rather than the normal single layer). So, this method should solve a soil suitability issue and hopefully increase yield.

My mom said that the harvest was easy - just knock it over!

I looked around the internet and saw other ideas that were very similar. I was hoping to come up with an aboveground growing process that involved free or cheap materials. I asked about bushel baskets at our farmer's market and was told that they are hard to come by and they wouldn't sell me any. I saw that you could use old tires - set one down and fill with soil and the seed potatoes and then keep layering soil and hay until you needed another tire and so on. That idea was not welcomed by the other adult in our household, who has a lower threshold for trashiness than I do.

I had hoped to do several separate potato plantings but since I couldn't come up with anything besides using our whiskey barrel, space was limited. I think it'll work and I am just excited about trying a new vegetable in our garden. So we drilled holes in the bottom for drainage.

Next we added a bit of compost and soil.

We placed the seed potatoes in and covered them with a layer of chicken poop-infused hay and then more soil from Mount Weed. We'll add more hay and soil layers as the shoots come to the surface.

I'm pretty sure that we planted too many potatoes in there but well, we had them. There are fingerlings, red potatoes and some blue potatoes. We don't usually eat that many regular potatoes - sweet potatoes are lower on the glycemic index and just a lot better for you, so we tend towards those. Maybe next year we'll try to grow some sweet potatoes, depending on how things go this year. Anyway, hopefully we'll get a good enough harvest this year so that our son and I can make some blue gnocchi!


jeaster said...

I just found that the blue and black plastic barrels can be had from a variety of sources, including schools, larger warehouses, and where I found mine, an artists studio. They come with a variety of things in them originally, wax, stripper, cleaner, and luckily for me, a water based glue. Once they are cleaned out, they make perfect composters, rain barrels, or potato multipliers. :)

Anonymous said...

Hi! I'm wondering if you tried the sweet potatoes in a barrel. Since this was a post from 2008 I'm hoping you have an answer!! Email me at carol.wehobbits(at)gmail(dot)com. Thanks!!!