Grow potatoes in containers to save space

If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. – African proverb

Don’t have enough space for potato growing? You’re probably right. Unless you grow potatoes in containers. I have learned from a bunch of great gardeners about their tried and tested methods to growing potatoes and sweet potatoes above soil. These clever ideas all revolved around containers made from either firm materials such as wood or also other surprising materials such as feeder bags. All surprisingly do-able, smart ideas aimed for growing potatoes with least effort and best yield. Note: these “containers” are mostly recycled, cheap or free.

My favorite grow potatoes in containers examples are:

A wooden box container made from 4 x small doors: When all the doors are locked together, they form a square planter. The planter can either have a bottom or be open to drain into the soil it stands on.

  • Pro’s: If made from a hard wood, or wood that is for example scorch-treated, this container will last forever. You can move it around and harvesting is made easy by unlocking the doors when the time is right.
  • Cons: to grow potatoes in cobtainers this way, can be a pricey process, especially if you build them big enough to carry a descent amount of spuds.
  • How To: Fill a third high and plant. Keep filling to hill as the potatoes grow. Once the potato stems have browned, open the doors and let the potatoes roll out.

Did you know? The scorching method has been used for centuries in Japan and is known as shou sugi ban. The fire-charring method on the wood surface is followed by a coating of natural oil which effectively preserves the wood as it is also followed with a coating of natural oil.  

Rolled hessian or feeder bags: Allowing you to always at the right height.

  • Pro’s: The depth can easily be adjusted by simply unrolling the sides. These bags can be used as a recycling alternative and will most likely be free. Watch out for over-watering though!
  • Con’s: Finding a descent hessian bag may not be as easy as plastic options and nobody wants to grow in plastic. Fabric bags may not last longer than a season.
  • How To: Roll the bag low so that your first planting depth is correct. Unroll and fill with soil as you need to hill around the ever-taller plants. At harvesting time, simply empty the bag out.

Wire fencing loop containers: Double loops of recycled wire fencing works a charm and any size is achievable.

  • Pro’s: Finding damaged fencing is easy and usually free, making this a fantastic recycling option. The material is light and easy to work with allowing an easy set-up and harvesting. The material can also be used again and again.
  • Con’s: If you are using damaged wired fencing, make sure there’s no rust or sharp points.
  • How To: Double loop the fence into a barrel and secure. Fill to the right starter height and add soil as the plant grows. Once at brown stem, harvest-stage, un-fasten the fence and let it roll open to release the soil and spuds.

Stacked tire towers: A re-using idea well known by any and all that has ever likes recycling tires in the garden. It is another easy-to-dismantle idea to grow potatoes in containers.

  • Pro’s: Used tires are available to any and all, mostly always free of charge. The material itself helps retain water very well and will last probably forever.
  • Con’s: Is the material used in making a tire safe for eating? Although nobody suggest you eat the tire itself (smirk), the rubber/tire particles can leech into the soil. An alternative to planting straight into the tires, is to line them out with un-printed and plastic-free cardboard, followed by the soil so that there is no direct contact between tire and soil. Don’t let the soil get too wet.
  • How To: Lay tire 1 down, fill with soil and plant. Once the plant needs to be supported, stack the second tire on top and fill with soil to hill around the plant. A final, 3rd, tire will be needed for height. When the harvesting time comes, these tires can simply be removed.

Buried under a mount of old wood chips is a method used by some successfully, although it is not planted a container.

  • Pro’s: This is the lowest-effort option of all and your soil is fed while the wood chips break down.
  • Con’s: wood chips can lack in nutrients and rob your soil and plants of nitrogen while it breaks down. Make sure to read and understand the How To below.
  • How to: Never use new but at least 1 year old wood chips. Grow a legume, such as peas or peanuts, nearby to provide further nitrogen. Lay your potatoes or sweet potatoes on the ground and dump a mound of wood chips over these. As the stalks grow through the chips, keep adding more wood in order to ‘hill’.

My favorite option for sweet potatoes is a wired fencing loop that can act as container and also trellis for the edible greens that we harvest. For potatoes, I will probably daydream about becoming a good bag lady (hessian or other cotton) .

Thoughts?

How to make a Hugelkultur bed in these simple steps

Again, we are trying to copy nature.

How to make a Hugelkultur bed is extremely easy. It involves wood, organic material like leaves and top soil. The benefits last years. Hugelkultur means growing or cultivating on a hill or mound. These no-dig raised beds hold moisture very effectively and builds fertility.

What is Hugelkultur (Hoo-gul-culture) and why consider this method? In a nutshell, think of gardening on a “hill or mound”. This method is basically the creation of raised garden beds build on decomposing wood so that your bed is full of organic rich material and nutrients, air and moisture. This is a great growing method for fruit, vegetables and herbs. Make a Hugelkultur bed, small scale and test it out. Feeding and watering efforts and expenses literally come to an end for years.

Benefits:

  • Due to decomposition, you will find the soil will be warmer and thus your growing seasons will be longer. The wood content will hold on to nutrients and moisture and it is a win-win situation that is ideal for growers dealing with extreme temperatures and drought.
  • Although it is quite a bit of work to set it, you will find it much less work in successive years. Irrigation and fertilization will not be needed from year 2 onward.

How to make a Hugelkultur bed:
Again, we are trying to copy nature. When a tree falls in a forest, it will in time get buried with foliage, animal manure and other. Soon you will see the right kind of Fungi move into the log to begin the process of breaking it down, followed by bugs tunneling through the wood. Plants will have plenty of moisture, nutrients, warmth and protection from the wrong kind of fungi and microbes. That is because of the presence of beneficial fungi and microbes and how a safe growing space is created. By building a hugelkultur bed, you mimic this process and if you cover the wood with soil, compost and mulch, you will speed it up and creating an ideal growing place.

Step-by-step:

  • Place the largest pieces of wood on the ground where you want your bed to be.
  • Add soil, manure or compost on top so that all the openings are filled. This is an important point. These open areas cause drying out and by filling all the cracks between the wood, you are ensured a wonderful environment for your plants.
  • Add more wood and continue the layering pattern.
  • Make sure you end the bed off with a nice 10 – 15cm (about 5 inches) thick layer of soil to plant into.
  • Finally add a 5cm (2 inches) thick layer of mulch such as leaves or wood chips.

Please send us your pictures, challenges and success stories so that we can all learn together!