Some history: I first learned about garbage can potatoes last summer on Robin's Bumblebee Blog (click on this link). Naturally I was intrigued because I love potatoes (no wonder I wasn't able to stick to the Atkins diet!) but I've never had the room to grow them in my small raised bed garden. I corresponded with Robin and she assured me it was easy and fun (she's much more of a gardening expert than I am, so I took her at her word).
As spring got closer, I decided it was time to get ready for this garbage can potato project. I googled "garbage can potatoes" and found a couple of sites that also explained this process (unfortunately, I didn't bookmark them and can't find the links again now), but you basically just get a garbage can (new preferably--or clean up an old one you're not using), drill some holes in the bottom (for drainage), fill it with compost and plant your potatoes.
I bought the collapsible "cans" that are made of a tarp-like fabric--that way I didn't have to drill any holes for drainage plus they were on sale (I didn't want to make a huge investment if this project was going to be a dud for me). My seed potatoes were Yukon Gold and I planted them on April 16th (here's the link). BTW, 5 lbs was the smallest bag of seed potatoes I could find, so I shared the garbage can potatoes story with my office mate and gave her the rest of the seed potatoes. She's had good success with this project too.
You fill the cans with compost about 1/3 of the way and then stick your seed potatoes down in the compost. Once the potatoes sprout, you just continue to cover the sprouts with compost (some of the instructions said to use straw, but I didn't have any and compost is a lot easier for me to obtain). Mine took a long time to sprout--check the picture from this May 10 post showing them just starting to come out of the compost
You will want to place your garbage can potatoes in a location where they will receive sun for much of the day. Then continue to fill the container till it's 1/2 to 2/3 full. The potatoes will continue to grow and grow--right out of the top of the garbage can. (Here are pictures of the potatoes from June 18 and July 12.) The potatoes are still looking pretty good here, but then the weather got warm and dry........once it gets warm, you will need to water them every day in order to keep the compost moist. I wasn't very faithful about this and several of the plants died. I think there are still some potatoes under the compost--even though the plants appear dead on top.
If you want the little "new potatoes" for boiling you can go out and dig around for those small ones. Or just wait a while and reach down into the dirt for the larger potatoes. The advantage of planting in compost is that it's generally nice and crumbly, so it's easy to grub around in the soil and find your potatoes. The other advantage of planting potatoes in garbage cans is that when it's time to harvest you can just dump the whole garbage can out onto a tarp or board and then pick up your potatoes--no back-breaking digging with a fork and ruining good potatoes by "stabbing" them. The other advantage I read is that sometimes potato plants are quite attractive to certain insects you may not want to have in your regular vegetable garden; garbage can potatoes can be placed just about anywhere you have adequate sunlight (although I will note that I never found any insects on mine--the backyard birds seem to be taking care of most insects in all of the gardens).
And just because I don't like having a post without any pictures, here's the one 'almost decent' photo I managed to capture of a Giant Swallowtail we saw last Saturday morning when we were out to the deer hunting woods putting out trail cameras.
Isn't this a fabulous butterfly? And it was just loving all those cockleburr flowers along the edge of the woods.......