Building a “Harvest-ready” potato bucket
With a pair of large buckets, you can create a system that will allow you to check on your growing tubers – and even harvest a few new potatoes – without digging up the entire crop.
The first step is to put several holes in the bottoms of both buckets say 6 x 1/2″ holes evenly spaced – you can make these holes with a drill or just hammer a nail through the bottom of the bucket.
Remember: good drainage is crucial. Potatoes will rot if there’s too much water around them. Now, set one bucket aside; it will be the outer layer.
The next step is to cut away 3 vertical sections of the inner bucket and leave 3 vertical sections in place to view the potatoes through. The best way to do this is to divide the bucket into 6 sections by drawing vertical lines down the bucket. Next you should cut away 3 of the 6 sections – leaving 3 sections of the bucket in place.
This is not really necessary as you will know when the potatoes will be ready by the green tops dying away a few weeks after flowering – but it is nice to show your kids how the potatoes grow underground.
Growing potatoes in a bucket
It’s important that you place your bucket on bricks or something so that excess water can drain away. Don’t put it directly on grass or soft soil that might clog the drainage holes. If you place a brick at each side of the bottom of the bucket, that would be an excellent base.
Next, line the bottom of the bucket with your soil/ compost – if you’ve chosen to use potting mix, add a bit of perlite or polystyrene to improve drainage. You’ll need at least 6”-8”into the bottom.
Spacing seed potatoes
Now add your sprouted seed potatoes -1 is good 2 is maximum. I would advise planting one to start with.
You can fit two plants in a 5-gallon bucket, there will be more in number but they will be smaller than if you put in one seed potato to grow one plant. Potatoes need a lot of room. Stuffing in more plants will just result in smaller tubers.
Cover potatoes with soil
Cover the seed potatoes over with your soil to a depth of about 6”. Water them liberally to settle the soil, then set your bucket in a warm sunny spot. They will need at least six hours of sun during the day, and should be protected from strong winds or heavy rains. Strong wind and rain will break the stems and kill your plant.
That’s why bucket-grown potatoes are so handy: if the weather isn’t cooperating, you can always bring your crop indoors until the storm goes away.
Caring for your growing crop
Your potatoes will thrive in slightly acidic soil – the pH should be between 4.8 and 5.4 for optimal results. The plants will grow best in cooler areas, with daytime temperatures between 15°-20°C. If you live in a warm region, try planting in the early spring (just after the last frost) or the late summer or early autumn.
As your potatoes tops grow larger, continue adding soil if you start to see potatoes appearing through the top layer of soil- make sure no potatoes can be seen or they will get sunburned and need to be dumped.
Leave only the stems and leaves above the soil. This will encourage your plants to grow upward, allowing more tubers to form along the underground stem.
Watering your potatoes
Water your buckets little and often or whenever the soil is dry within an inch below the surface. Feel free to add nutrients weekly using a low-nitrogen fertilizer, or a weak compost or manure tea. You could also substitute compost for soil when covering over the green growth.
How do i know when to harvest potatoes?
When is the best time to enjoy the fruits – or rather, roots – of your labour?
You can begin harvesting new potatoes a couple of weeks after the plants come into flower. This normally happens within a couple of months after planting the potatoes.
The crop will be mature when the green plant tops turn yellow-brown and wilt with age. This typically will take 90-120 days, depending on the potato variety you chose. Once the stem turns yellow, stop watering your plants and wait about a week or so.
Unless you’ve built a harvest-ready bucket, it’s hard to judge the size of your crop without seeing it. Plunge your hand into the growing medium and root around. Try to find the largest tubers and remove them first. If you leave space in the bucket while the plant is still in flower, the remaining tubers will continue to grow.
If you chose to build your own special bucket, you can pull the outer bucket away and easily assess your growing tubers or harvest the new potatoes. Later, you’ll be able to identify the largest spuds for early harvesting.
You can also collect the entire crop at once by gently turning the bucket over and dumping the contents out. Dust off the tubers and store them when dry in a cool, dark, dry place until you’re ready to use them.