Organic Potatoes Grown in Buckets

I had successfully grown, zucchini, patty pans, straight neck yellow squash, bell pepper, green beans, radishes, tomatoes and even celery, (celery is considered to be a challenge to grow, even by experienced growers). I wanted to learn to grow potatoes.

Had You Heard ?

I heard that you can not grow potatoes from grocery store potatoes, because the potatoes are treated in a way to prevent eyes from forming, (eyes are what they call the little buds of growth).

See the small yellowish colored growths coming out of this Russet potato. These are called eyes or buds.
http://www.lexico.com defines eyes as the bud of a potato tuber.

I had also heard that store bought potatoes may have been altered so that they may produce buds and a plant, but the plant won’t produce potatoes.

Seed Potatoes

Because I, (like you), look things up online, I did a little research to find out how to get around this, if at all possible.

I found lots of seed companies online and lots of people who detailed how to grow potatoes. I also read about seed potatoes. No, I didn’t phrase that wrong. I’m not talking about potato seeds, I’m talking about seed potatoes.

A seed potato, is a potato that has been set aside to grow buds, so it can be planted to grow a potato plant, which should produce potatoes. Chitting is the process of allowing, or forcing a potato, to produce buds, (also called green sprouting).

A seed potato may be planted with buds on it, in it’s entirety or cut into several pieces with buds still attached on each piece.

If you cut a seed potato into pieces, each section should be no smaller than a chicken egg. The cut surface areas need to be dry to the touch, before they may be planted. Each piece of a budded potato, (or budded potato piece), should be able to produce 1 potato plant.

That was it for me. I’d had great success growing other plants from seeds, so I knew I needed to buy some of those seed potatoes.

I looked at several seed companies that sold them. I found a company that had a wonderful selection of chit potatoes, (different kinds of potatoes). I thought they were very reasonably priced for the quantity being sold.

I ordered 3 different varieties of potatoes that were already chitted, (Red Pontiac, Irish Cobbler and Yukon Gold). I was so excited to get the chits. From what I had read, I needed to get them growing soon, as I was already well into their planting time.

Potato planting is done from March through April. If it’s too cold or too wet when potatoes are planted, (in the ground for growing), they will rot. You need to plant after the last frost has happened.

The chit potato pieces arrived on time as promised by the company.

Huh….Weren’t they supposed to have buds?

Potato Chits – Red Pontiac Variety

You know…. I didn’t think they were supposed to be moist, (the bags were wet and slimy inside).

Potato Chits – Irish Cobbler Variety

The chit potatoes were wet and slimy too. Many had a dusting of mold on them.

Potato Chits – Yukon Gold Variety

The 3 pictures above don’t adequately show the disgusting chit they shipped to me.

Off to the Grocery Store

As I was already delayed for planting and I didn’t have confidence that I would receive any decent chits if reordered from anywhere, I decided to go to my local grocery store and buy some potatoes. I bought some Organic red & russet potatoes. It was my hope that the store bought organic potatoes, shouldn’t have been exposed to anything that prevents reproduction.

I took them home, put them into the wire potato bin in my pantry, shut the door and ignored them. I waited.

It took time, I don’t remember exactly how long, (a couple of weeks), but eventually, I saw eyes in my pantry….scary !!!!

I left the chits in the pantry long enough for the eyes, (buds), to grow out from the surface of the potato, (1/2 to one inch is the goal).

No Buds on Your Potatoes, a Faster Sprouting Method

Here is a trick, in case you want your potatoes to bud faster. Take a potato and place it up on the refrigerator or near a window, (indoors). This may help it to sprout buds.

Another thing you can try is to put a potato in a paper bag and check it every few days.

Either of these methods may cause a potato to sprout buds quicker.

Now, off to the hardware store, because I needed a few things that I didn’t already have.

Food Grade Quality Buckets

I needed 7, 5 gallon buckets, (4 for my red potatoes and 3 more for my russet potatoes). The buckets needed to be food grade quality, (these are made from plastics that are acceptable to contain foods). To verify this, I checked the bottom of the buckets looking for grade markings. The number I wanted to see was 2.

HDPE stands for High-Density Polyethylene. This plastic is the most commonly recycled plastic. It is considered one of the safest forms of plastic. Milk jugs are made from HDPE 2.

I bought 7 of the food grade quality, 5 gallon buckets.

Some people like to mark the outside of their buckets with permanent colored marker, (measuring from the bottom of the bucket, and making a mark 4 inches up from the bottom, then 10 inches up from the bottom). You don’t have to do this, but it would make it a little easier when filling your buckets with soil.

Buying white buckets and marking them with permanent colored marker will make it easier for you to fill, because you can easily see the soil level through the bucket as you add soil.

I had ordered a box of bone meal ahead of time, (on line), through Amazon. The one I ordered is called Down to Earth Organic Fish Bone Meal Fertilizer, Mix 3-16-0, in a 5 pound box size. You don’t have to buy this brand, but this is the one I found that met all of my needs, (organic, size, price).

Potatoes don’t do well in packed soil, they need oxygen. There is a lot of clay in my yard’s soil, so I decided to buy a big bag of organic compost and a few bags of organic garden soil, (so I had enough of each material for a 50/50 mixture). Bark mulch, peat moss or manure can be used instead of compost, but I prefer to use compost.

I bought 1.5 cubic feet of Whitney Farms Organic Raised Bed Mix. You don’t have to buy this brand though. I bought it because it had the things I needed, (organic, ok for use in vegetable garden beds, size and cost.

I used a wheelbarrow to mix the soil and peat moss, but you may not have one. You could buy 1 additional bucket for mixing your 50/50 soil.

I bought 7 buckets for my potatoes, but perhaps you will want a different quantity. Maybe you have limited space or it’s your first attempt at growing potatoes. Just buy enough compost and soil to fill every bucket you intend to use for potato plants.

Prepping the Material and Planting

Once I got my materials home, I drilled 12, 1/2 inch holes in the bottom of each bucket. If you buy a mixing bucket, don’t drill holes in the bottom of it.

Drill 1/2 inch diameter holes in the bottom of each bucket, for good drainage.

The day you decide you will be putting potatoes in soil, start early.

Potato plants need to be watered early in the morning. If you water potato plants early, it allows the sun to evaporate any water left on the foliage. Wet foliage encourages the development and spread of disease, so, water early.

You should wear gardening gloves when handling soil and compost, (they can have slivers).

I scooped my soil and compost, in equal quantities, into my wheelbarrow, (50% compost, 50% garden soil), and mixed it around.

I hadn’t marked my buckets, (but I probably should have). I stuck my tape measure down to the bucket’s bottom and scooped my 50/50 mixture into the bucket, up to the 4 inch mark on the tape measure.

I had one of my budded organic red potatoes, (from my pantry). I placed it in the center of the bucket, with the buds up. I additionally added just enough 50/50 soil to cover the potato, then sprinkled a quarter cup of bone meal over that soil, (over the the area where the potato was).

One Potato, Two Potato

Some people put 1 whole budded potato, (1 chit), per bucket. Others put 2 whole budded potatoes, (2 chits), per bucket. Some people put 1 or 2 cut up potatoes, each with buds, (still called chits), per bucket.

If you decide to start 2 plants per bucket, space the chits so the distance between each and the sides of the bucket are almost the same as the distance between the 2 chits.

Staggered Potato Plants

If you have more than one bucket to use for planting potatoes, you can stagger them. Plant a potato in a bucket, as detailed above, then wait 1 or 2 weeks and plant another potato. This way, you will have one bunch of potatoes ready for harvest and 1 or 2 weeks later, have another bunch ready for harvest.

Now, Back to the Buckets, Add More Soil

Put more 50/50 soil in, up to 10 inches from the bottom of the bucket.

You need to decide where you will leave your buckets of potatoes to grow. Potatoes need 6 – 8 hours of full sun daily. You can move a bucket, if the place you start the potatoes doesn’t turn out to have as much sun as you thought it did.

Wherever you decide to place your buckets, it is advisable for you to raise the bottom of the bucket off of the ground or lawn while the potatoes are growing. This helps to prevent ants and other bugs from moving into your potato bucket.

Leaving gaps under the buckets makes for a better harvest, as you are less apt to have potato rot when a bucket can drain well.

I used various materials I already had, to raise my buckets up. I used pavers I had left over from a patio project, I used some scrap pieces of 2 x 4s I had.

See these buckets sitting on the edge of my concrete patio. They are 3 inches up, overhanging the soil, so water can easily run out.

Some of the buckets I sat in a way that they overhung the soil, but weren’t actually touching the soil directly, (picture above).

Once you’ve got your buckets in position, water the soil until water runs out the bottom of the bucket.

Watering 1st 6 – 8 Weeks and Neem Oil

Young potato plants need to be watered less frequently, once every 4 to 5 days, (they need 1 to 2 inches at watering). Doing this helps with size and shape uniformity. If you are due to water, but it rains, you may be able to skip a watering, (depending on how much it rains).

In about 3 or 4 weeks, you should see the potato plant breaking through the soil. Don’t touch it or move it now. Don’t try to help it through the soil. The process of breaking through the soil helps strengthen the plant.

The date for the picture below was May 8.

A potato plant peeking out from the soil surface, (at the 10 inch mark)

If you don’t already have some, at this point, you will want to buy some cold pressed neem oil. Cold pressed neem oil is an organic way to prevent pests from destroying your vegetables. I didn’t find any at my local stores, but I was able to find some online.

I ordered a 16oz bottle of Mary Tylor Naturals USDA certified, cold pressed unrefined neem oil. As with the bone meal I bought, you don’t have to buy this brand, but this is the one I found that met all of my needs, (organic, size, price).

You should wear protective gloves when handling neem oil, (use gloves that prevent the neem oil from getting on your skin). Follow any safety precautions you may find on the bottle.

You will need a delivery system, like a hand pump garden sprayer or a simple spray bottle, (either of which you will only use for neem oil). The neem oil I bought was concentrated. It takes a small amount of neem oil, mixed with water, (the bottle I bought goes a long way). Whatever brand you buy, follow the mixing instructions on the bottle.

The date for the picture below was May 10

2 parts of a new potato plant breaking through

For the best insect control with organics, once the plant reaches 8 inches tall, I’ve heard you should spray neem oil in the early morning, every 1 – 2 & 1/2 days. You should also spray after a rain, but wait until early morning to do so. It’s best if you spray on top of leaves and also on the undersides of the leaves. It gets easier to spray the undersides as the plant gets bigger.

The date for this picture was May 12

They seem to grow real fast at this point
You can’t see it in this picture, but all 4 of these buckets are sitting on top 3 of pavers, The pavers have one bucket on one side and another bucket on the other side. Basically, the pavers are on the ground, in between buckets.

When these plants reach just over the top edge of the bucket, add more 50/50 soil, (1 – 3 inches from the lip of the bucket). Don’t worry that you are covering up much of the plant, because this action causes the plant to grow more underground, (where your potatoes will be). This helps strengthen the plant so it can make more potatoes.

If at any time, you see a potato at the surface of the soil, cover it with more soil, (see Bad Potatoes, below)

Watering After 6 to 8 Weeks

Once you are at the 6 – 8 week point, water the plants either daily or every other day, (they still need 1 to 2 inches when watering). This time is when the plant is making new potatoes under the soil.

Continue watering this way even after the plant starts to flower. If you harvest while there are blooms, you will have little tiny potatoes.

Do you see the flower at the top of the plant ?
Close up of a potato flower

Do not stop watering your potato plants during the flowering stage.

Different types of potatoes take different amounts of time to grow. Expect to care for the plant, from planting to harvest, (average is 90 days but some varieties will go 120 days).

Yellowing and browning have started, but the plant hasn’t started to wilt and droop.

As plant growth continues, eventually the plant will begin to turn yellow, brown, it will wilt and droop. This is normal. It is in the process of what is called “dying back”.

Once your potato begins to yellow and brown after flowering, you can stop watering it.

When more than 75% of the plant has yellowed, cut it down to just above the soil level, but leave the remaining part of the plant, (and the potatoes below), to rest for 14 more days. This allows the potatoes skin to toughen up. This in turn will make it so the potatoes last longer when stored.

Harvest

Wait to harvest on a sunny day, (don’t harvest if it’s rainy or there is dampness in the air). The potatoes will last longer in storage, if you wait for sunshine at harvest.

I can analyze this harvest and know, this bucket of potatoes got too much water the first 6 – 8 weeks of growth, (as seen by the poor uniformity of size). They didn’t get enough water in the flowering stage, (as seen by the fact that some potatoes are very, very small). Additionally, they didn’t get cut back as they should have been, 2 weeks prior to harvest. In my defense, I went camping a couple of times…. Ah, the mistakes one makes in the beginning.

I dump my potatoes into a wheel barrow, then sift through the soil with gloved hands, pulling out good potatoes and throwing away the original seed potato. If you don’t have a wheelbarrow, I’ve heard that some people put a tarp on the ground and dump their soil on it, to sort out their potatoes.

Do not wash the potatoes until you are ready to use them, (gently wipe them off). Get the potatoes out of the sun quickly into storage in a cool, dark place. I put mine in my pantry, in a potato basket. Some people have a basement or a root cellar where they can store potatoes.

Bad Potatoes

While a potato plant is growing in a bucket, If you see a potato break through to the surface, exposing it to the sun, immediately cover it with soil. If at harvest, or any time, a potato is green, or has green on it, DON’T EAT IT. Green potatoes have a toxin, (solanine), so DON’T EAT IT. Some say it is ok to eat if you cut the green away. I think it’s best to throw that potato away, (it’s not worth the risk). NOT EATING IT is the best way to avoid the toxin.

Now and then, a potato refuses to sprout. If, while you are waiting for a potato to sprout, if it begins to rot or mold, don’t plant it. Dispose of it with your other vegetable garbage.

If a potato had sprouted, but it becomes slimy and or moldy, dispose of it too.

Rotten, slimy, moldy Red Pontiac potato chits that were sold to me via online ordering.

Well, this is all I have to say about potato growing.

On a side note, I tried to grow Cantaloupe and Watermelon, (don’t ask about my melons)!!!!!

Now, if you would like something you can do with some of your fresh potatoes, here is a recipe for you to consider trying.

My Husbands Easy Potato, Ham and Vegetable Soup with Farfalle

Ingredients

2 cups, Organic Chicken Stock, 4 cups, Organic Potato Leek Soup, 1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning, 1/4 teaspoon find ground pepper, 1 tablespoon kosher coarse salt, 1 cup chopped ham, (uncured nitrite and nitrate free), 1 cup shredded carrots, 1 cup chopped baby carrots, 1 small yellow squash, (6 inch), 1/2 cup chopped celery, 1/2 cup chopped leak, (not of the base or the leaves, only the white part between), 2 medium peeled russet potatoes, (diced on average 1 inch squared). 1 cup mini farfalle pasta.

Directions

Put the liquids in a cooking pot, (2 cups, Organic Chicken Stock) and (4 cups, Organic Potato Leek Soup) in a 6 quart, (minimum), cooking pot.

You don’t have to use either of these brands, but these are what my husband uses, (If you want to achieve the wonderful flavors that my husband did). You don’t have to buy anything organic, this is what we prefer. If we can’t find something at the grocery store, we usually find what we want online through Amazon.
I love this GreenLife brand, Soft Grip Diamond Healthy Ceramic Nonstick 6 QT Stock Pot with Strainer Lid, Dishwasher Safe, (it got a 4 1/2 star rating by 437 purchasers at the time of this writing, on Amazon)

Once the liquids are in, turn the heat on low under the cooking pot.

Add the seasoning, (1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning) and (1/4 teaspoon find ground pepper).

You may already have Italian seasoning at home. We like this brand, and it’s organic.

Add 1 tablespoon kosher coarse salt.

You don’t have to use kosher salt, but you will need to use coarse ground salt, to come close to the same taste.

Add the meat, 1 cup diced ham, (Uncured Fully Cooked, Nitrite and Nitrate Free, No MSG, No Artificial Ingredients & Made with Organic Honey).

As with other food items recommended here, you don’t have to use this brand of ham. Try and find one that is uncured, fully cooked, has no nitrites or nitrates added, has no MSG or artificial ingredients, is minimally processed and is made with organic honey. If you can’t find these exactly, do the best you can to get something close to this.
Diced Ham

Add 1 cup, cut baby carrots.

Organic cut baby carrots

Add 1 cup shredded or julienned carrots.

These are organic shredded / julienned carrots. You can cut up a carrot yourself, but this is so much easier.

Add 1 small yellow squash, (6 inch), diced on average, 1 inch square.

Grown in my own garden

Add 1/2 cup chopped celery.

Fresh celery right out of my garden. Did you know, if you grow celery, you can cut a stock or 2, right off the plant, and the plant will still keep growing. This way, as long as the plant keeps growing, you can get more fresh celery, another day.

1/2 cup chopped leak, (not of the base or the leaves, only the white part between).

Add the potatoes, 2 medium peeled russet potatoes, (diced on average 1 inch squared).

1 cup of farfalle pasta is added to the soup, 20 minutes before the soup is to be served.

These are good brands. We try to use organic products whenever possible, but we can’t always find them and some I don’t like the consistency of, once it’s cooked. Frankly, I really like the consistency of Barilla brand mini farfalle

Heat on low for an hour and a half and serve hot.

My Husband’s Easy Potato, Ham and Vegetable Soup with Farfalle, (with a side of Oroweat Organic Rustic Bread, Toasted).
Yum, now I’m hungry !!!

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