Pros: Porous bag, Easy, Successful project, Fun, Reusable bag
Cons: Not intended to replace a large crop of potatoes
Imagine growing potatoes on your patio, deck or schoolyard. Growing potatoes is easy and fun and something everyone can do. Recommendations for growing potatoes in boxes, tubs, raised beds, and now bags eliminates the need to till and work a field for a small crop of potatoes.
Gardener's Supply Company's Potato Grow Bag caught my attention last year while exploring the Square Foot Garden concept. If you can grow tomatoes and peppers in raised beds without double-digging or tilling the earth then why not potatoes. The SFG has recommendations for growing this crop but I found the novelty of growing in bags intriguing as well as gimmicky. It certainly doesn't compare to the tedious task of growing in a field and planting long rows with treated seed potatoes.
The bag is a reusable (I checked before making this purchase) porous, heavy-fabric, 15-gallon bag. This is 18 inches in diameter and slightly less than 15 inches high. Gardener's Supply offers similar bags for growing a variety of other food crops and herbs.
The claim that this fabric allows excess water to drain out or evaporate off is accurate. The bag is made of a breathable double-layer polypropylene fabric.
The bag comes with planting instructions. I used their recommended organic container mix but now that I've seen it the next time we plant a potato bag I'll make my own using the Square Foot Garden mix of vermiculite, sphagnum peat moss, and compost. I also used an organic granular fertilizer. (Potatoes are fast growers and need a lot of nutrients.) The soil was thoroughly moistened and I placed four inches of soil on the floor of the bag, added some fertilizer, and placed five pieces of seed potato on the surface. I then covered it with another three inches of moist soil. The potatoes began growing, fast, and it wasn't long until we added another four inches of mix. These instructions, and nearly every thing I've read, suggested adding more soil when the plants were eight inches tall. I repeated this and by then the bag was full of soil. This process is called hilling.
Keep the soil moist. Even in our Houston climate, while the humidity tends to be high, the soil will eventually dry out. Check it periodically to be sure it's moist but not wet. It has yet to feel soaking wet thanks to the bags ability to drain off excess moisture.
The soil is never overly moist. You can see water dripping out after a heavy rain but there are often small drops of water on the exterior surface. The plants are amazing. The stems are thick and the leaves are huge, dark green and the plants are aggressive growers. It's a little tricky to add soil layers after it gets growing. I've helped grow potatoes before and certainly don't remember such thick stems or so many large leaves but perhaps they weren't as well tended. The last time was in Tyler, Texas, and it was in an irrigation-free field. This is not intended for growing large crops.
The soil is loose enough that when the plants begin to bloom it's easy enough to reach down and pull out a few potatoes. Obviously initial potatoes will be small, but those are frequently the sweetest, most tender potatoes. You can also wait until the plants all turn yellow and die back before harvesting. We used to invite a couple classes of second graders to the field and let the kids help harvest.
What appeals to me about this process isn't necessarily the uniqueness, but the opportunities this presents. It's a simple and rewarding way for anyone to grow potatoes, regardless of their abilities. It fosters an interest in growing and makes it possible for individuals with disabilities (including vision), young children, senior citizens in small patio apartments, and teachers to grow an edible crop. You'll be surprised how fast these grow — kids will feel success almost immediately when the first leaves start breaking through the soil. In a day or two they'll be able to measure the growth — it's that fast. Adults will also be looking over the edges amazed by the new growth inside this bag.
How many potatoes you harvest depends upon the type and size and how many eyes you plant.
Will I repeat this? I can unequivocally say yes, we'll do this again next year. Now that I've walked through the process I'll look for other containers (barrels, tubs, wood boxes) but the fact that this is lightweight, the fabric is porous, and can be placed anywhere really appeals. I initially had this placed on the ground but realized the growth rates of my lab puppy and the potatoes were fairly equal. It didn't take long to realize she was looking down into this 15-inch tall container. I found something to place these on top of to keep them out of her reach.
The bags cost $12. The seed potatoes cost about $1. You can buy a kit with organic fertilizer and soil with the bags (seed potatoes need to be obtained locally) but I recommend making your own mix. The bag can be cleaned, folded, and stored for next year. Because you're not dependent upon local soil this can be grown anywhere. If you enjoy potatoes and gardening, and you're looking for an interesting family gardening project this is it.
My thanks to Home and Gardens CL gamblin_man for adding this to the database.