Rising Potatoes in a Bucket: Small Area Spuds

Potatoes are a huge staple food for many different cultures and peoples. People have grown potatoes all over the world for centuries. There are at least a hundred varieties of seed potatoes and many different ways to eat them. Better still, there are many ways to grow them, and among these, the theme of the day is: growing potatoes in a bucket!

Store-bought potatoes are cheap and plentiful, but they can contain traces of pesticides. New potatoes are most at risk of this as they are harvested closer to the time pesticides are applied. This is just one reason many people choose to grow their own potatoes.

"Yukon Gold" and "Pontiac Red" are varieties that you can easily find in the supermarket. Sprouted potatoes left in the bag may be too old to eat, but they are easy to propagate. Once you start with these, it's practically free to grow spuds. Some don't have the outdoor space or the tools needed to grow potatoes.

Beginners may be put off by the care that potatoes need to grow, but it's not as hard as it may seem. Fortunately, potatoes live well in containers, bags, pots, buckets, or in the ground.

If you're interested in growing potatoes but aren't sure if it's right for you, growing potatoes in a 5 gallon bucket is a great way to experiment. This method does not require a lot of previous gardening knowledge or a lot of effort. As long as your soil is composted, you are good. In buckets, you can grow potatoes in a variety of settings.

Why grow potatoes in a bucket?

A single seed potato can make a whole bucket of potatoes. Source: Andy2Boyz

Growing potato plants in 5 gallon buckets is great for people who live in apartments that can't garden in the ground and is a great way to make your potato plants portable. If you've placed your bucket in a place with insufficient sun, move it around. It's a wonderful way to experiment with your first harvest of potatoes and learn how potatoes grow.

Growing potatoes in buckets also makes caring for your potato plant a lot easier. By providing your potato plants with fresh, disease-free soil and compost, there is less risk of fungal, bacterial and viral infections entering your crop. Potatoes in bins are great fun looking for your issue, too. Just tip the baby over and chase the apple of the earth!

The buckets you choose matter a lot. While non-food grade buckets work just as well, a food grade bucket works best because plastics won't get into your bottom. When you harvest the potatoes from a 5 gallon food grade bucket, you avoid the risk of consuming plastic as well.

Prepare for Success

Growing potatoes in a bucketIf you are growing potatoes in a bucket, plant only 1-3 per container to allow root development. You will produce more! Source: Andy2Boyz

Here is what you need to get started with your bucket potato garden.

  • 5 gallon food grade pail
  • Drill with a decent bit (wide enough for drainage).
  • Good, well-drained, fertile soil mixture (topsoil and compost work here)
  • Straw or mulch
  • A ruler, yardstick, or tape measure
  • A permanent marker
  • Seed potatoes or potatoes bought in the store
  • Landscaping fabric, sponges or an old shirt
  • A well-drained place like a concrete porch or a wooden deck

Drill at least 10 drainage holes in the bottom of your spud bucket and more if that doesn't affect the integrity of the bucket. These drainage holes are an essential part of gardening with potatoes in a container. All plants in pots need to be drained, and most non-aquatic plants don't like wet feet with their roots constantly submerged in water. Drill a good number of drainage holes to keep the potato roots from rotting. If you don't have a drill, you can borrow one from a friend or rent one from a hardware store.

After drilling holes for drainage, use the ruler and permanent marker to mark the outside of your bucket on several fill lines. Just like potatoes grown on earth, potatoes in a 5 gallon bucket will need to add more soil as the plant grows larger. This process, known as hilling, provides more room for more potatoes to grow as the soil depth increases. Draw the first line at 4 inches and the second at 10 inches.

While some tutorials on growing potatoes in 5 gallon buckets recommend lining the bottom of the bucket with stones to encourage better drainage, this is not the best practice. Layering stones at the base creates a water table that does exactly what we talked about earlier: your potato roots will rot. Instead, shield holes with a piece of landscaping cloth, kitchen sponges, or an old t-shirt. Then cover that with dirt.

Before planting your spuds, fill the bucket to the 4-inch line with a compost-modified soil mixture. The dirt you use can be as simple as good topsoil, including organic compost. Do not compact the dirt too much so that it drains off well. If you want, sprinkle some granular bone meal on top, which will deteriorate and fertilize the soil when watered or when it rains. Finally, place the buckets on a concrete porch or other surface to allow the water to drain as you pour. You have time to play with a little during the growing season if you find that your location does not have enough drainage.

Planting and Growing Your Bucket of Potatoes

Healthy potato plantsHealthy potato plants fill the bucket quickly as they develop. Source: Andy2Boyz

Sun, temperature and water

You need full sun exposure to grow potatoes in a 5 gallon container. Ideal temperatures for potatoes are between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit, but most are good at 50 to 80 degrees. Since you're growing in a bucket and planting in the spring at a time when frost is predicted, you can move your bucket to a warmer place indoors. Usually wait two to three weeks before the last frost and plant them.

Potatoes need constant water until the foliage can die off. When the foliage dies, stop watering to avoid tuber rot. As the foliage grows, water your potato container regularly to keep the soil from drying out. Always water at the base of the plants to avoid mold and mildew on the leaves.

To check if watering is needed, stick your finger into the top few inches of the soil. When it's dry it's time to water. Since you are working with a container, it may be easiest to water properly with a watering can. If you don't already have one, buy one at a nearby hardware store.

Soil, plants and fertilizers

As mentioned above, soil modified with compost is ideal for potato plants. Your soil should have a pH between 4.2 and 7.0. While the potato plant is growing, put some mulch or straw on top of the soil. Mulch makes it so that you don't have to water as much.

Plant seed potatoes or potatoes from the grocery store that have started sprouting. Give a potato with a sprout a head start by shitting. To chop potatoes, place them in a container (like an egg carton) in direct sunlight at 50 to 70 degrees. In about a week, you will have potatoes with 1-inch sprouts ready to be planted. On the surface of your soil, plant seed potatoes and whole tubers that you have filled to the 4-inch mark on the side of your bucket.

When planting potatoes, you should place them at least 6 inches apart for maximum yield. This means you only have 2-3 plants per bucket, with 2 being the better choice. Then add more soil to the 10 inch line.

Potatoes don't need a lot of fertilizer, they treat the soil once or twice during the growing season. Apply a high nitrogen fertilizer after planting your sprouted potato or seeds along with the bone meal granules you added when building your bucket. These work together to support growth and support root production. They also increase your yield in the long term. If bone meal fertilizer isn't an option for you, try a fertilizer high in phosphorus after the foliage begins to grow. A liquid or granular organic fertilizer works here. Since potatoes don't need that much additional nutrients, fertilize them during the drilling process.

Hilling potatoes

Young potato plantHill the potatoes to the base of the top leaves for more production. Source: A life in balance

It is especially important that you hill your plants to keep the green tubers covered. If you don't use mountain potatoes, your harvest will be green and inedible due to the solanine in the tubers.

Hilling is the process of adding a layer of soil that allows the plant to produce more tubers as the soil height increases. Some use a layer of straw or hay, but it's best to keep the same quality soil that you used to plant potatoes for hilltopping in buckets. In 5 gallon buckets, wait for the green foliage to reach the height of the bucket, or 6 to 8 inches, and add about 3 inches of dirt above the surface of the soil. Most potatoes will produce no more than 1 foot to 1.5 feet above their original planting area.

During the growing season, you only need to go uphill a few times. If your soil surface starts to creep near the bucket lip, add some cardboard to increase the depth of the planting area. As soon as your potato plants bloom, harvest time is approaching. We'll get into how to harvest in a moment!

Pruning and propagation

When the foliage begins to brown and die off, prune them in preparation for harvest. Of course, if leaves are damaged as your tubers are growing, remove them as needed. You can continue the growth cycle by sprouting some of your harvested tubers. The best way to sprout potatoes is to do nothing. Wait for them to sprout and you will be on your way to the next potato growing season. However, wait too long and they will rot.

Harvest your bucket of potatoes

Newly harvested potatoesTo harvest, simply tip the buckets onto a tarpaulin and pick out the potatoes. Source: Andy2Boyz

After the plant flowers and green foliage in your 5 gallon buckets die, harvest your potatoes. New potatoes are already available at plant flowers, but should be consumed immediately. They don't last as long as normal potatoes because of their thin skin. People who grow potatoes in the ground usually harvest their crops with a potato fork, which is not needed here. When you garden in this way, you don't run the risk of damaging potatoes with forks. Throw away the entire container and search the dirt to find any tubers. Empty the soil on a tarp if you want to reuse it for another gardening project.

frequently asked Questions

Bucket full of potato plantsYou can have several types of potatoes in the smallest of spaces. Source: Ruth and Dave

Q: How many pounds of potatoes can you grow in a 5 gallon bucket?

A: A 5 gallon bucket will give you about two pounds of potatoes. It's a fun and easy way of gardening!

Q: How long does it take for potatoes to grow in a bucket?

A: From the time you plant potatoes, it will take about two to three months to harvest. It's even earlier if you are interested in new potatoes.

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