May 1, 2024

Over coming a potato shortage and growing in containers

It has been a very wet 18 months in the UK and farmers are already warning that there will be a potato shortage this year as many fields are still not ready to plant. Inevitably this means that prices will rise, and there may be shortages. I actually do not buy many potatoes from the supermarkets as I grow my own. I don’t like to rely on large stores for my food.

Do I need a lot of room to grow potatoes?

Many people think that you have to turn over large amounts of your garden to grow potatoes, but you don’t.  I grow pounds and pounds of potatoes in just a small space.  I usually get about 10 to 12 potatoes for each potato I plant (about 3 to 5lbs).

Most of my garden is paving stones and so I grow them in buckets, large plant pots, or recycled containers.  I have even grown them in back bags, bags for life, or compost bags turned inside out.  They also grow well in raised beds and I have seen them grown in wooden waist high planters.  What ever you grow potatoes in, it needs drainage holes so that they do not rot.

Do they need a lot of looking after?

Potatoes are so easy to grow and need very little looking after. As a child I remember digging a hole when I was playing, and throwing some little potatoes in. Months later my Dad discovered them and we had them for tea. I got into trouble but remember being so proud. We do find that watering them now and again and making sure that the soil does not dry out provides a larger harvest.   I water mine every 2 or 3 days in the height of summer. Some times I can go weeks without watering them, though, especially in spring and autumn.

When do I plant potatoes?

I plant potatoes every two weeks from Easter to the end of August. It is best not to plant them earlier as the soil will be too cold and there is risk of frosts. This way I get fresh potatoes for a number of months and don’t need to store as many.  Nothing tastes better than a newly pulled and cooked potato.

Growing conditions and how to plant

The good thing about potatoes is that they can tolerate shade, although they do grow better in full sun light.  I grow a lot of mine down the side of the greenhouse that gets very little sun and still get good harvests, they just take longer. Potatoes will grow in most soil except for heavy clay or compacted soil.  They do prefer fertile soil with compost and organic matter added, but don’t like it too rich. I tend to feed mine a few times with nettle tea (nettles soaked in water and a bit added to the watering can and diluted).   A few potatoes can even be planted in a flower bed if you have no spare space or containers.  Potatoes should not be planted too deep.  I plant mine with about 4 or 5 inches of compost in the bottom of the container and then add another  5 inches on top.  As the leaves start to come through I then cover them with some more soil or compost. Some people just plant them about 16 inches deep and leave them, but my compost is not ready at the start of the season and so I add soil gradually.

Where do I get my potatoes from to plant?

I usually buy at least one lot of seed potatoes (these are often disease resistant) and then the rest of my potatoes come from sprouting potatoes that I have stored.  The seed potatoes are not the expensive ones from garden centres but the cheap ones from discount stores.  The thing that I like about seed potatoes is that you have more choice about the kind of potato that you get.  The stored ones are sometimes ones grown the year before, some times they are from sprouting supermarket ones (organic ones are best as I keep reading that other ones have growth inhibitors sprayed on them, but I seem to get a harvest from the cheap 15p ones bought at Christmas).  If I do not have many sprouting potatoes to plant I will cut up larger potatoes that have lots of sprouts and plant the pieces.

What is chitting?

You might have heard of ‘chitting’ and this is where the potatoes are placed in a bright. warm area for a couple of weeks to start developing sprouts.  I do this normally, but they will still grow if you do not have time.  Sometimes small potatoes that I have accidently left in pots will grow, which shows that chitting is not imperative.

How many potatoes do I plant to a bucket?

In a normal sized bucket I will plant two potatoes.  Planting more potatoes will result in smaller potatoes over all.  For larger containers I will plant 3 or 4.  I find that they do not grow well in deep containers.  I have an old kitchen bin that I have grown in which is quite deep but it doesn’t provide any more potatoes.  When I lived in a really windy area near the coast, I used to support my potato plants with sticks so that the stems did not break once they started growing taller, but I have never had to do that in Yorkshire.

When do I harvest?

When half of the leaves of the plant have started wilting and going yellow I tend to tip the bucket out and harvest them.  Some people who want small, new potatoes harvest them as soon as they start flowering.  Potatoes tend to take 12 to 20 weeks to grow, depending on what kind they are, and the growing conditions.  I always have some still growing in Autumn.  I  move them to protected areas before the first frost (usually my green house which is empty by them).  That way we get fresh potatoes at Christmas.

I’ll just eat pasta instead!

This is what some one said to me when I suggested that they plant a few potatoes.  The thing is that wheat and barley crops are also being impacted by the weather as well, as is rice in other countries.  This means increases in prices. I like to have some carbs with my meals (a good energy source for your brain and body), but don’t have any spare money in my budget for increased prices.  I have stocked up on rice and pasta  already, but potatoes do not store well at this time of year. Some people are stocking up on tinned potatoes or dehydrated potatoes. Potatoes are a good source of minerals, fibre and vitamins and, despite their bad rap, they do not contain a lot of calories.  It is the butter and oil etc added to them that makes them calorific.  Potatoes are so versatile and definitely a staple in our house that we could not live with out.  Are you planting potatoes this year>  I am growing a few more than normal in case we run out of pasta and rice.




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  1. Jaime May 2, 2024 at 3:58 pm - Reply

    I’ve always wanted to grow potatoes but with a small porch garden there just isn’t space w/ everything else. Maybe someday.

    • ToniG May 11, 2024 at 6:03 am - Reply

      Aww. Can you not just squeeze one tub or bag in your porch? I have a friend who has planted loads in the verge along the lane that she lives and is hoping that she can pull them up later. Where there is a will there is a way. Thanks for sharing

  2. Sue Bland May 2, 2024 at 7:32 pm - Reply

    I don’t normally grow potatoes as I have a small garden with a pond and flower beds. This year I’ve decided to plant some potatoes in empty compost bags. Fingers crossed I’ll have some home grown spuds later in the year.

    • ToniG May 11, 2024 at 6:00 am - Reply

      That is great. I will be turning my compost bags inside out and planting a few in them later in the year as well. You will not regret it when you see how nice the new potatoes taste as well. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Katie Naden May 5, 2024 at 8:03 pm - Reply

    I am growing potatoes in a veg patch & in tubs . I am about to plant more tomorrow. I will try planting some saved organic ones next yr.

    • ToniG May 11, 2024 at 5:52 am - Reply

      Brilliant. I wish I had some spare ground. Yes I find that every year I save more seeds etc from my crops and so am buying less and less. Thanks for sharing

  4. Sharon May 5, 2024 at 8:59 pm - Reply

    Thank you for this Toni.
    I’m going to give it a go.

    • ToniG May 11, 2024 at 5:50 am - Reply

      Brilliant. My potatoes were slow but they seem to have taken off this last week with the warm weather. You won’t regret it when you are eating those lovely new potatoes.

  5. Dee May 15, 2024 at 11:50 am - Reply

    A very sweet older gentleman showed me how to plant potatoes in my allotment several years ago. It has brought me great joy and some wonderful dinners for my family! He has since passed, but I think of him and all who have passed and influenced me every spring when I plant my garden.

    • ToniG May 19, 2024 at 6:45 am - Reply

      Aww that is nice. Yes, when I had allotments I learned a lot off the old guys who had been gardening all their life.
      Thanks for sharing

  6. Sharon May 18, 2024 at 7:26 am - Reply

    I’m going to give this a go. I have dabbled before but, as potatoes are normally so cheap, I haven’t bothered in recent years. There certainly seems every need to learn how to do this now though. Today’s the day!

    • ToniG May 19, 2024 at 6:40 am - Reply

      Brilliant. There is nothing more fun than turning out your pot later in the year and seeing how many potatoes you have.

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