Potatoes are an excellent source of food for a prepper garden. Nutritionally, a large potato has 280 calories and 63 grams of carbohydrate and seven grams of protein. Root vegetables are important to those of us who are concerned about the disruption of food supplies during a crisis.
The big deal is that root vegetables can stay in the ground and be around when you need them. In a situation where there is no power, root vegetables that are still growing require no power to remain healthy and safe to eat.
How to Grow Potatoes in a Bucket
Nutritional Value of Potatoes
In terms of vitamins and minerals, potatoes are a good source of vitamin C, which is an important antioxidant. Potatoes are a good source of iron and one large potato offers around 18 percent of the RDA for iron.
The big deal about potatoes is the level of carbs that they offer. 63 grams of carbs in a large potato and that is a mixture of both fast acting and slow acting energy. Of the 63 grams of cars, there are 4 grams of sugar which is a fast-acting energy source. There is also seven grams of fiber and the rest is pretty much a slow burning energy source.
This means that the 278 calories go a long way and that is just about ½ of the calories needed for a meal. In a 2,000 calorie diet, each meal (assuming you are eating three meals per day) needs to be in the 670-calorie range. A large potato offers around 278 calories.
The overall health outlook for potatoes and diet is fair. If you are sedentary then potatoes pose a weight gain risk but if you are active they can be an outstanding source of positive calories and nutrition.
When to Plant Potatoes
First, potatoes are very easy to grow. They tend to not like the hot weather so the best times to plant them is spring and late summer. If planting in the spring do so about 15 or so days after your last frost-free day.
The risk is that the seed potatoes will rot if the soil is too moist or if there is a freeze that is hard enough to free the water in the ground. If you are planting for fall, then you want to do so after the hotter part of summer has passed. That will be different from place to place.
We are in zone 8 and sometimes the winters are cold enough to be zone 7 and the best time of year for us to grow potatoes is in the fall. You have a little bit of variation in the types of potatoes that you plant too.
There are early, mid-season, and late season varieties. We grow two varieties – Norland, which is an early season and Elba which is a late variety. We chose these two because they offer some level of disease resistance.
Potatoes are prone to several diseases. One common one is potato scab, which is caused by bacteria. The result is an orbital pitting that works its way into the potatoes’ flesh as the disease progresses.
Another disease is potato blight, which is caused by fungi. The results of potato blight is a dry rot throughout the potato tuber. The signs and symptoms of potato blight are brown orbital spots on the leaves with a lighter colored outer ring. If you catch the disease in time, you can snip off the infected parts.
Keep in mind that this is a disease the is highly contagious and you should clean and disinfect your pruners between plants. You can do this simply by cleaning or wiping the blades with a paper towel, soap, and water.
What Do You Need to Grow Potatoes in A Bucket?
- You will need a bucket and preferably a 5-6-gallon bucket.
You want the bucket to be deep enough that the roots of the plant can bush out with room for the potato tubers to form and grow.
You will need to manually alter the bucket by drilling holes either in the bottom of the bucket or in the bottom inch of the bucket along the sides. These holes help the soil to drain and to keep the potatoes from rotting from the overly wet soil.
- Seed Potatoes
The next most important ingredient in this project is seed potatoes. A seed potato is simply a potato that has eyes that are sprouting. Not all potatoes that you buy in the grocery store will grow. Some are treated with a chemical that slows down the growth from the eyes. This is so that the potatoes look better longer in the stores.
There are a couple of ways to go about choosing your seed potatoes. You can start with your local nursery to see what varieties they carry and if they have recommendations for potatoes that grow well in your area. They might have them or not, depending on the time of year and often nurseries only stock seed potatoes at certain times.
This is true both of local and online nurseries. If you have a local farming group such as a collective, they would be a good resource about the types of potatoes to grow and when to plant them. So, first, check locally and then try online nurseries for seed potatoes.
You might also get lucky and find organic potatoes at a farmer’s market or in a grocery store. The key is organic because those should not be treated with the chemicals that slow down sprouting.
- Soil – compost, loose and richly organic
Your soil choice needs to be loose and not full of clay. You want it to hold together but not bind. The reason for this is that the potato roots and tubers need to be able to grow easily and they will not do so if the soil is too compact. I use a mixture of 70:30 which is 70 percent aged compost and 30 percent sand.
- Small gravel or coarse sand
You will need about 1 gallon of small pea gravel or coarse sand. The purpose of the sand is to act as a filter to protect the water drain holes that you will drill into the bucket. This is sand or gravel that is in addition to that which you added to the soil.
Making it Happen
- Drill the bucket
If you live in a really wet area, drill the bottom of the bucket. The drill should be about ¼ of an inch. and you will want 10-12 holes. The goal here is that the bucket drains off excess water but not so fast that the compost does not have time to absorb the moisture.
If you feel that the soil is too moist, add more holes. If you live in a hot and dry climate, drill the holes in the side of the bucket in the bottom 1-inch range. Start with six holes using a ¼ inch drill and add more holes if you feel the soil is too moist.
- Add the gallon of pea gravel into the bottom of the bucket. You only need an inch of gravel or two inches of sand. You can also mix the two and if you do, use two inches of that mixture.
- Add the Soil
The soil needs to have a lot of organic matter but should also be well aged. Nothing too fresh because that will attract pests that can harm the tubers. You will want about 4-gallons of soil in the bucket and you will want to have about six or so inches of space between the soil and the top of the bucket.
- Prepare your Seed Potatoes
There are a couple of schools of thought on how to do this. Seed potatoes have started to sprout, and the eyes are beginning to grow shoots. These will become leaves, not roots. Some people plant the whole potato and others cut the potato up into chunks so that each sprouting eye becomes a seed potato.
Either way works. If you are short on seed potatoes, then cut them in half or into quarters. The goal, should you cut up the potatoes is to leave enough of the flesh to feed the plant until the roots begin to take up nutrients. Personally, I would not do more than to quarter the potato.
When you plant the seed potatoes, whether you cut them or plant them whole, you want the sprouting eyes to face upwards. As mentioned these are going to be the leaves. Generally, you plant potatoes about 3-4 inches deep, but you can also lay them on the surface of the soil and cover the tuber with a thick layer of leaves or straw.
Water the buckets so that the soil is moist but not overly saturated. We water until the water begins to drain from the bucket. When you first plant your potatoes, you will need to overwater the buckets so that all of the soil is moist. After that, water every 1-2 days until you see foliage and then every third day. In hotter climates water your potatoes more often.
Where to Put the Buckets
Potatoes need full sun and about 6 or so hours of direct sun.
Topping off the Buckets
It is very possible that soil will leach from the buckets. Top off the soil as needed. You can also add soil or straw as the potatoes begin to grow.
There is the method of growing potatoes that called “no-till” this is simply about placing the potatoes on the ground and then covering them with straw or soil to produce more top growth and extra tubers. Growing potatoes in a bucket is a mixture of traditional planting and “No-Till”
Harvesting Your Potato Crop
You will know when it is time to harvest your potatoes when the foliage turns yellow and dies back. At this point, you can pull the plant and remove the potatoes. Sift the soil as you will be surprised at how many tubers are in the bucket.
This is an ongoing process and you can save a portion of the harvest for seed potatoes for the next growing season.
Growing potatoes provides a huge amount of food that can be stored for quite some time. You can also can the smaller potatoes and the larger ones store well if kept in a cool dry spot. By cool, we mean around 45°F and in a darker location. This is one reason why so many pioneers had root cellars.
You can expect potatoes to last 2-3 months if stored properly.
Potatoes are perfect for most home gardens. They offer a lot of carbs and calories which can be very helpful in a food crisis. The fact that they also store well, makes these tubers a favorite of many gardeners.
Planning Your Next Crop
There are so many varities of potatoes out there that you may want to experiement quite a bit. So many people have only eaten the potato varities that are found at grocery stores. When you grow your own you can experiment well beyond the common Russet.
Fingerling potatoes are delicious and look beautiful on a plate. The seed potatoes you need to get started are not inexpensive but you should consider that you will be able to save a few to replant so if you do it right, your seed may be a one time or very rare investment. More common varities include Banana, French Fingerling, and Rose Fin Apple. For a really fun one, try growing the Purple Peruvian Fingerling Potato or Magic Molly.
You will likely have to order special varieties of poatoes to grow in buckets. Territorial Seed Company, Gurney’s, and Burpee are a few of the bigger mail order companies that offer fingerling potatoes. If you really want an outstanding selection of potato seed stock, then check out The Maine Potato Lady. You can even request a paper catalog if you are the type of gardener that enjoys getting gardening catalogs to look at. As far as I can tell, The Maine Potato Lady is the largest selection of potato seed stock in the United States.
What types of potatoes have you grown in buckets? Do you have any tips for growing potatoes in buckets?
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