Tag Archives: containers

Growing Potatoes the Easy Way: Containers on the Deck

dandelionThis year I was given two types of seed potatoes: Harvest Blend and White Superior. I have grown potatoes before in my Virginia garden and they were very tasty. This year, I am going to grow these potatoes in fabric containers called Smart Pots. Any fabric container or even a plastic container with holes for drainage will do, I just happen to have a few large Smart Pots.

Potatoes are in the same family as tomatoes and eggplants but gardeners start growing them in the spring, as opposed to their warm-season cousins.  Although you hear that potatoes are started on St. Patrick’s Day, that might only be true for the Irish. It does not always work for gardeners in the Washington DC area. We just had snow so I waited until this past weekend when I was closer to my last average frost date. I have read that the time to plant potatoes is when dandelions are blooming; sure enough, my dandelions were blooming this past weekend.

Some of the independent garden centers will sell a few varieties of potatoes but you get a much wider selection if you contact mail order companies. In fact, there is tremendous diversification of the tuber itself:  there are white, blue, red, purple or gold colored tubers–round, gnarly, slender, large or small.  In terms of cooking, tubers can be mealy like a Russet (good for baking but disintegrates in a stew) versus waxy like a Yukon Gold (holds its shape). The tubers vary in maturation days, there are early, mid, and late season varieties, thus extending the harvest from June to August. Interestingly, the foliage, that is, the above ground part, does not vary. The plant grows to a few feet tall, flowers, and dies, signaling the time to dig up and harvest the mature tubers.

Planting

To grow potatoes, purchase “seed potatoes,” which are not true seeds but the “starter” tubers one plants in the soil. It is best to start with seed potatoes that are certified as disease-free, instead of planting a grocery store potato. The shoots arise from the “eyes” and additional tubers appear along these shoots as they grow. Seed potatoes should be the size of an egg with at least two eyes. If the seed potato is this size already then plant the whole thing, eyes up. If the tuber is large, can cut into sections, each with at least two eyes. I have read differing opinions about whether you should let the cut end callous (to prevent disease); it seems some people cut and plant while other cut, callous, and then plant.

I planted my potatoes in two Smart Pots, which are ventilated fabric containers (no need to poke holes in the bottom). This is a great way to grow potatoes if you do not have a lot of land, if your garden soil is too compacted, or if you want to encourage kids to get involved. For potatoes, use at least a 20-gallon size Smart Pot with at least a 15-inch height.  Estimate 4 plants in this size and more in larger sizes.  I spaced mine about 6 inches part so I planted four Harvest Blends in the medium container (foreground in photo) and 5 White Superiors in the larger pot (background in photo).

I used potting soil that already had a slow-release fertilizer.  Because potatoes are heavy feeders, I will supplement with a liquid fertilizer later in the season.

I poured 3-4 inches of the soil in each container, watered, placed the potatoes on top, eyes up, added 3 more inches of soil, watered again, and inserted a plant label. I rolled down the sides so they would not turn inward and prevent rain from reaching the plants.

Growing

One advantage to containers is that you can place them anywhere, a deck, a porch, a driveway, even on grass. Another advantage is that you don’t have to worry about crop rotation if you have been growing tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants in the garden. My containers are in full sun on the deck so I can easily keep an eye on them. Because potatoes are susceptible to Colorado potato beetles, I have to be able to easily check the underside of leaves for the yellow/orange eggs.

Potatoes require an inch of water a week so I need to be able to water easily and often, which I can do with a hose on the deck. However, the foliage is susceptible to fungal diseases so I will water by putting the hose nozzle into the bag, not spraying the foliage and not watering in the evening.

In a few weeks I will have to “hill” the plants. The new tubers grow up from the seed potato. As the shoots grow (now stems), and more tubers appear, these new tubers have to be covered with soil. Tubers exposed to light become green and bitter.  (This also is a tip for storing store-bought potatoes, keep them out of light in a cool place but not in the fridge).  When the stems have grown about 8 inches, I will add about 4 inches of soil and repeat the process again, unfolding the sides as I add more soil. This process of adding soil is called “hilling.”

Harvesting

In early summer, when the plants flower, I can harvest immature tubers by putting my hands in the soil and pulling egg-size tubers out (leaving smaller ones in). This immature stage is what we buy as “new potatoes” in the store. New potatoes have a very thin skin and do not keep. They have to be eaten soon and usually they are boiled and mixed with parsley, chives, and butter.

In mid-summer, probably June, the potatoes will have matured. When the leaves yellow and die, I will stop watering, wait two weeks, and then dump the container. I will dump the soil on a tarp. I can either use the soil to start a new garden bed or put back in the containers to plant bush beans.

Chitting

One term that comes up with potatoes is chitting, which is common in England but not so much so here. Chitting is the process of “pre-sprouting” the tuber before planting to give the plant a head start, much like starting tomatoes under lights in the house before May. Chitting affords an early harvest but takes space and time.

I did not chit my potatoes for two reasons. By the time I received them they had already started to sprout. The tubers were small and slightly shriveled. They must have been in a place that was too warm. But if I had purchased tubers, I probably would not chit because I do not have a need to have potatoes a few weeks earlier. Plus one has to consider the space this would take and available windows.

If you are interested in chitting, place your tubers eyes up in an egg carton. Put next to a window in a warm place (the usual heated house). The type of grow lights you use for starting seeds are not necessary. After they have sprouted (like your old potatoes in the vegetable bin), you can plant them outside. If the tubers are large, cut into pieces the size of an egg with at least two eyes.

I am looking forward to growing potatoes in Smart Pots this year — freshly grown potatoes taste better than store-bought potatoes.

On the twelfth day of Christmas gardeners love to get…..

On the twelfth day of Christmas gardeners love to get …

a garden with good soil, perfect weather, and healthy plants! Merry Christmas!

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Espoma fertilizer!!

On the tenth day of Christmas gardeners love to get…

seed catalogs, to order seeds, plants, and gardening accessories!

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to go to all of the gardening events, lectures, and workshops throughout the year in the Washington DC metro area.

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American Horticultural Society‘s bone china floral mugs!

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vertical structures and containers from local independent garden centers.

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membership to the Garden Conservancy, the 2018 Open Days Directory, and the book of six Open Day tickets for 2018.

On the fifth day of Christmas gardeners love to get … an Earthbox.

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tickets to the PHS Philadelphia Flower Show in March 2018.

(image courtesy of GMR Design LLC)

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gardening gloves, especially a pair of Foxgloves!

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a Hudson Valley Seed Company 2018 Calendar.

 

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tickets to the Virginia Historic Garden Week in April 2018!

 

On the eleventh day of Christmas gardeners love to get…..

On the eleventh day of Christmas gardeners love to get…

Espoma fertilizer!!

On the tenth day of Christmas gardeners love to get…

seed catalogs, to order seeds, plants, and gardening accessories!

On the ninth day of Christmas gardeners love to get…

to go to all of the gardening events, lectures, and workshops throughout the year in the Washington DC metro area.

On the eighth day of Christmas gardeners love to get …

American Horticultural Society‘s bone china floral mugs!

On the seventh day of Christmas gardeners love to get …

vertical structures and containers from local independent garden centers.

On the sixth day of Christmas gardeners love to get …

membership to the Garden Conservancy, the 2018 Open Days Directory, and the book of six Open Day tickets for 2018.

On the fifth day of Christmas gardeners love to get … an Earthbox.

On the fourth day of Christmas, gardeners love to get …

tickets to the PHS Philadelphia Flower Show in March 2018.

(image courtesy of GMR Design LLC)

On the third day of Christmas gardeners love to get …

gardening gloves, especially a pair of Foxgloves!

On the second day of Christmas gardeners love to get …

a Hudson Valley Seed Company 2018 Calendar.

 

On the first day of Christmas gardeners love to get . . .

tickets to the Virginia Historic Garden Week in April 2018!

 

On the tenth day of Christmas gardeners love to get…..

On the tenth day of Christmas gardeners love to get…

seed catalogs, to order seeds, plants, and gardening accessories!

On the ninth day of Christmas gardeners love to get…

to go to all of the gardening events, lectures, and workshops throughout the year in the Washington DC metro area.

On the eighth day of Christmas gardeners love to get …

American Horticultural Society‘s bone china floral mugs!

On the seventh day of Christmas gardeners love to get …

vertical structures and containers from local independent garden centers.

On the sixth day of Christmas gardeners love to get …

membership to the Garden Conservancy, the 2018 Open Days Directory, and the book of six Open Day tickets for 2018.

On the fifth day of Christmas gardeners love to get … an Earthbox.

On the fourth day of Christmas, gardeners love to get …

tickets to the PHS Philadelphia Flower Show in March 2018.

(image courtesy of GMR Design LLC)

On the third day of Christmas gardeners love to get …

gardening gloves, especially a pair of Foxgloves!

On the second day of Christmas gardeners love to get …

a Hudson Valley Seed Company 2018 Calendar.

 

On the first day of Christmas gardeners love to get . . .

tickets to the Virginia Historic Garden Week in April 2018!

 

On the ninth day of Christmas gardeners love to get…..

On the ninth day of Christmas gardeners love to get…

to go to all of the gardening events, lectures, and workshops throughout the year in the Washington DC metro area.

On the eighth day of Christmas gardeners love to get …

American Horticultural Society‘s bone china floral mugs!

On the seventh day of Christmas gardeners love to get …

vertical structures and containers from local independent garden centers.

On the sixth day of Christmas gardeners love to get …

membership to the Garden Conservancy, the 2018 Open Days Directory, and the book of six Open Day tickets for 2018.

On the fifth day of Christmas gardeners love to get … an Earthbox.

On the fourth day of Christmas, gardeners love to get …

tickets to the PHS Philadelphia Flower Show in March 2018.

(image courtesy of GMR Design LLC)

On the third day of Christmas gardeners love to get …

gardening gloves, especially a pair of Foxgloves!

On the second day of Christmas gardeners love to get …

a Hudson Valley Seed Company 2018 Calendar.

 

On the first day of Christmas gardeners love to get . . .

tickets to the Virginia Historic Garden Week in April 2018!

 

On the eighth day of Christmas gardeners love to get…..

On the eighth day of Christmas gardeners love to get …

American Horticultural Society‘s bone china floral mugs!

On the seventh day of Christmas gardeners love to get …

vertical structures and containers from local independent garden centers.

On the sixth day of Christmas gardeners love to get …

membership to the Garden Conservancy, the 2018 Open Days Directory, and the book of six Open Day tickets for 2018.

On the fifth day of Christmas gardeners love to get … an Earthbox.

On the fourth day of Christmas, gardeners love to get …

tickets to the PHS Philadelphia Flower Show in March 2018.

(image courtesy of GMR Design LLC)

On the third day of Christmas gardeners love to get …

gardening gloves, especially a pair of Foxgloves!

On the second day of Christmas gardeners love to get …

a Hudson Valley Seed Company 2018 Calendar.

 

On the first day of Christmas gardeners love to get . . .

tickets to the Virginia Historic Garden Week in April 2018!

 

On the seventh day of Christmas gardeners love to get…..

On the seventh day of Christmas gardeners love to get …

vertical structures and containers from local independent garden centers.

On the sixth day of Christmas gardeners love to get …

membership to the Garden Conservancy, the 2018 Open Days Directory, and the book of six Open Day tickets for 2018.

On the fifth day of Christmas gardeners love to get … an Earthbox.

On the fourth day of Christmas, gardeners love to get …

tickets to the PHS Philadelphia Flower Show in March 2018.

(image courtesy of GMR Design LLC)

On the third day of Christmas gardeners love to get …

gardening gloves, especially a pair of Foxgloves!

On the second day of Christmas gardeners love to get …

a Hudson Valley Seed Company 2018 Calendar.

 

On the first day of Christmas gardeners love to get . . .

tickets to the Virginia Historic Garden Week in April 2018!

 

Cool Season Veggies/Herbs in Containers

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scallion seedlings

Around St. Patrick’s Day, I start the cool season veggies and herbs from seed in containers on the deck. You would be surprised at how easy it is to grow lettuce, cilantro, or scallions in small containers with little depth. It is best to use plastic as opposed to terracotta during cold weather but any container with drainage holes will work. I have used old Easter baskets, straw baskets, wooden crates that once held tangerines (lined the large gaps), and recycled plastic plant containers from the nursery.

2014Aprilgarden 011

spinach seedlings

You only need about 6 inches to grow lettuce, spinach, cilantro, kale, red radishes, arugula, chives, and the Asian leafy greens such as tatsoi and mizuma. Except for the radish of course, which is a small bulb like root, these plants have fibrous root systems that do not extend too far down into the soil. The actual plant is fairly short so the plant won’t topple over in a small container. If you have a larger container with more depth, say 8 inches, you can extend the possibilities to baby carrots, scallions, small onions, chard, broccoli raab, pak choi, chervil, and parsley.

Fill the container with potting soil, making sure you have drainage and aeration, sprinkle a few seeds on top, lightly cover with soil (read seed packet about this), water, and place in a sunny place. Bagged potting soil never has enough aeration for me; I always add perlite (the small white pellets) to increase aeration. To deter squirrels, I sprinkle blood meal on top of the soil. Blood meal is what it is: dried, powdered animal blood, typically from cows. Fortunately, it is not red; it is a black powder that contains a small amount of nitrogen (which is beneficial for the plants). The smell deters squirrels but it has to be re-applied after heavy rains. My pots are on the deck for easy access but they could be on the ground as long as they are in the sun and near a water source. Don’t forget to put a label in the pot and record what you planted (I am a big advocate of keeping records and writing everything down).

The key is to keep an eye on the weather. It’s okay if the weather gets too cold because these are cool season plants but it is not okay if the seeds are allowed to dry out. Once the seed absorbs water, germination begins, the seed coat breaks open and the root grows out. If the seed does not get water anymore, it dries up and the germination process ends and cannot be “re-started.” So always imagine the top inch of the soil where the seed is and know whether it is moist from rain or your watering can. After you can see an inch or so of green, imagine that the root has sunk down a few inches and can draw up the water that is in the middle portion of the soil. Now imagine the middle portion and ask yourself if it needs water, that is, has it rained recently? Where I live in Northern Virginia, once the plants are growing, I can usually count on the rain to keep them well watered in the spring.