Monday, August 11, 2008

Garbage Can Potatoes

I know it's probably too late anymore this year to think about the garbage can potato project, but here's all information from posts I did this year if you want to add this fun project to your gardening plans for next year.

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.......


KGMom said...

I am so behind on your blog--I am just learning about garbage can potatoes. Fascinating. And completely new to me. This is why I love reading blogs--always something new.

Debbie said...

Thanks for the recap, Ruthie. My hubby has this on his list of things for next summer. We had quite the project building the new raised bed gardens, so we didn't get in any potatoes this year, but next out!

Lynne said...

I'm glad your garbage can potatoes were a success. Maybe I'll give them a try some day. Your giant swallowtail is gorgeous! I've never seen one- lucky you. :)

nina said...

I would love to come across a giant swallowtail! I wonder if they're around here.
Lucky you!

LauraHinNJ said...

This sounds like a great experiment for next spring... thanks for posting instructions Ruthie!

Funny, but I'd thought potatoes needed sandy soil to grow? Learn something new all the time....


Julie said...

I wonder if heat bothers them. If not, maybe they're something I could do myself on my deck. I have two sweet potatos growing at mom and dads in a pot, but I picked it up last weekend to move it out in the rain and it was too light to have any potatoes. So, first year failure, but maybe next year will be better.
Beautiful butterfly!

dguzman said...

Next year for sure! I love potatoes.

RuthieJ said...

Hi Donna,
I learned about garbage can potatoes from a blog too. It's nice when education and fun can be combined (and also provide me with one of my favorite foods!)

Hi Debbie,
I can't wait to see how this project goes for you next year.

Hi Lynne,
I hope you get a chance to try these potatoes some day.
It's hard to believe these giant swallowtails are even bigger than the tiger swallowtails. It is truly a grand butterfly!

Hi Nina,
You should be able to see a Giant Swallowtail in Ohio. Minnesota is at the farthest northern edge of their summer range. They are quite striking and so huge it's hard to mistake them for any other swallowtail--but they fly really fast!

Hi Laura,
The potatoes seem to be doing pretty good in compost. I was surprised the instructions said you could cover them with straw also. I guess they'd just be easier to harvest in sandy soil. Do you think you'll try it next year?

Hi Julie,
I don't think the heat bothers them at all except for the plants in containers dry out much faster and you have to keep them watered every day in hot weather. Try it on the deck next year and let me know how it goes for you, OK?

Hi Delia,
Weather permitting, you will probably have your garbage can potatoes started by the time I meet you in West Virginia next spring!