Potato Barrels

This year was our first year growing potatoes, and we tried them in barrels.  We had one barrel of Red Pontiac and one of Yukon Gold.

The idea is that you take a big barrel, drum, bag, or other vessel and make sure it can drain out the bottom, then put in about 6 to 8 inches of soil and plant your seed potatoes.  As they grow, soil is added to keep pace with their growth, until you reach the top of the barrel.  They are supposed to send out roots all along their path to the top of the barrel, sprouting potatoes all along the way.  The end goal: a barrel full of potatoes.

We just harvested the 55 gallon drum of Red Pontiac potatoes and were rather disappointed.  We yielded only about a pound of potatoes, mostly very tiny ones, all at the very bottom of the drum.  In the coming days we’ll harvest the Yukons and see how they performed, but the same result is likely.

So what did we do wrong?  Probably several things.

First, based on later research done well after the plants were already mature, it looks like we paced the soil additions wrong.  As the plants grew, we added soil to keep the stems about 6 inches above the soil, chasing the stems with the soil level.  It appears this isn’t the way to do it.  Next year we’ll try leading the stem growth with the soil level by adding another couple inches of soil every time the plants start to poke up through it.  This makes more sense too, in terms of why the plant would send out more roots.

For the soil, we used a combination of sand, peat moss, compost, and dirt from the garden.  Next year, we will use only fairly light materials, like compost, peat moss, and straw.

We probably also didn’t fertilize it enough for how lacking in nutrients the dirt was.  The compost going into next year’s batch should help with that, but we’ll also mix some organic fertilizers into the soil as it is added, and will water occasionally with manure tea.

We’ll see how things go next year, but in the mean time, we’ve got some material for the compost pile, and at least enough potatoes for a generous side dish.

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