I must admit I feel a little sorry for the potato. This humble vegetable often gets a bad press, labelled as fattening and unhealthy. In fact, it’s often the first thing people decide to ‘cut out’ when they want to lose weight. But potatoes are one of the healthiest choices you can make – it’s only what you eat with them that can make them unhealthy! They’re an important source of fibre, and filled with vitamins such as Vitamin C and Vitamin B6. They’re also very versatile – you can use them to accompany a meal such as your Sunday roast, as a staple ingredients of affordable meals (e.g. Cottage Pie or Cornish Pasties), and nothing tastes better for lunch on a chilly day than a jacket potato.
So with so much going for the potato, why don’t people grow them more? Well firstly, if you grow them in traditional rows, they take up quite a lot of space. You may also have heard they’re tricky to grow, needing ‘earthing up’ and other such strange practices. But in reality, they’re not difficult to grow at all, and there are many ways to cultivate them that doesn’t mean giving up half your garden!
The most important thing to remember is to prevent light from getting to the potatoes as they grow. That’s why gardeners pull the soil up around the potato stems (the fabled ‘earthing up’). But growing potatoes in a container avoids the need for all that, and also saves on space too. And kids will find it much easier to get involved with growing potatoes if they’re in containers.
Simply fill your container half full with compost, place the seed potatoes in, and cover them up with a bit more compost. As the new leaves poke their way through, add more soil, little by little, until the bag is full. Keep well watered (but not soggy) and once the leaves start to droop, your potatoes are ready to be dug up. Harvested potatoes will keep for a long time by in a bag or sack – just be sure to put it in a cool, dry place that’s completely dark.
Of course, you can go out and buy a fancy potato grower, but if you want to grow potatoes on a budget, here are seven alternative containers you can make or use.
1. An old sack
You can get two or three plants into a large sack, which makes this a good option if you just want a few potatoes. Hessian or paper sacks are perfect – just make sure you’ve dusted them out inside if necessary before you plant your spuds. Naturally, you can always plant up several sacks if you want more plants.
2. A large shopping bag
Large shopping bags are also a good choice, and a great way to recycle bags that are a bit worn out. Natural materials are best, because they allow for good drainage, but even synthetic ones (like Ikea bags) are fine if you punch a few holes for the water to escape.
3. An old compost bag
Have you ever wondered how to use up your old compost bags? Well, now you have the answer. Potatoes grow superbly in old compost bags, but again, remember to make some holes for drainage, because potatoes can rot easily if the compost is too damp.
4. A strong dustbin liner
You need quite strong dustbin liners to grow potatoes, as the thin ones can split too easily, spilling your compost everywhere. Look for heavy-duty or rubble bags, punch a few drainage holes, and away you go!
5. Weed suppressant fabric
Weed suppressant fabric is superb for growing potatoes, because it allows water to drain through it but stays strong even when wet. Staple the fabric into an impromptu sack shape, making sure there are no large holes for the compost to leak out. These bags won’t last forever, but they’ll certainly do you for a couple of seasons.
6. A large cardboard box
Again, cardboard is great because it allows water to drain through easily, so your potatoes won’t be rotting away in water-logged compost. However, you may find the base gets a bit fragile after a while, so choose your location carefully and don’t move the box once it’s planted up.
7. Car tyres
You may have heard talk about growing potatoes in old car tyres, and this was certainly quite a common practice years ago. You begin by filling an old tyre with compost and planting your potatoes, then add more tyres and compost as the plants grow. It’s true you can grow potatoes well this way, but many people have concerns about the fact that chemicals could leach out from the tyres and affect your crop. Research so far has been inconclusive, but if you are considering using car tyres, think carefully before going ahead. Some of the other options above are far more natural.
So why not give growing potatoes a try? There really is nothing like digging up potatoes for a meal and eating them straight away – they taste delicious and you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing you’re eating home-grown produce.
Feature photo courtesy of Jeff Bryant at Flickr Creative Commons
Coming next: 10 Fabulous Ways to Save Money by Recycling in the Garden