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Growing Potatoes in a Barrel – Patio Growing Potatoes

Thanks to products such as the potato barrel even those with very limited outdoor space can enjoy some home grown potatoes and taste the difference by patio growing potatoes. Since many stores are selling seed potatoes in small packs of 5 there’s no wasted seed tubers or money.

Patio Growing Potatoes Barrel

Potato Barrel at harvest time – just take what you need for a meal at a time!

What varieties to choose for patio growing potatoes

The obvious varieties to grow would be first earlies like Arran Pilot, Swift or Rocket but you might prefer to grow a second early salad variety like Charlotte or Anya. Another good choice for a barrel would be Orla.

Technically Orla is an early maincrop but is often grown as a first early with the benefit of being able to be left to grow on through the season.

Avoid maincrop potatoes as they’re generally not the best for container growing.

Setting Up the Barrel for Patio Growing Potatoes

Choose a sunny spot if at all possible. The more sun the better for growing your potatoes.

I like to place a layer of turf on the base. Ordinary lawn turf taken up the previous year and stacked grass side down is perfect. The mass of roots from the grass holds it together and it acts as a sponge to hold a water reserve.

If you don’t have any turf available add some water-retaining crystals to the compost, even if you have turf it’s not a bad idea.

Next place a layer of multi-purpose compost into which you have mixed some slow release potato fertiliser about 15 to 20cm thick. If you don’t have a specific potato fertiliser; fish, blood & bone is better to use as a fertiliser than Growmore as the nutrients release more slowly.

Additional potash in the form of wood ashes in moderation will help although they can increase the pH and potatoes actually prefer a slightly acid soil with a pH around 5.5

One tip from the show growers to get near-perfect skins on your potatoes is to pass the compost through a shredder to get a fine mixture. It’s worth doing with cheap shop-bought composts that tend to have twigs and bits of wood in.

Incidentally, be careful with cheap composts, I’ve found broken glass in one sack. Generally I think it’s well worth spending a bit extra for a decent compost.

If you don’t buy in multi-purpose compost then you can mix your own with home-made compost, sifted garden soil and leafmould. Leafmould and Russian comfrey leaves provides both growing medium and additional potash to aid growth. Do not add lime to the compost.

Lay the tubers on, eyes upwards if not already chitted and cover with another 15 to 20cm layer of compost.

Once the leaves start to show about 20cm (8″) above the surface, add some more compost to half-way upĀ  the leaves. Keep repeating as the haulm grows, adding the compost slowly, layer by layer, until you get to the top of the barrel.

It’s critical to keep watering, potatoes like a lot of water. You don’t want the compost soaking wet but moist all through. Adding water retaining granules to the compost (often used in hanging baskets) will help no end, especially if you go away for a few days.

If you can, use rainwater from a water butt rather than tap water. Tap water often has a neutral to high pH (alkaline) and potatoes prefer to grow in somewhat acid soil with a pH of 5.5 against the 6.5 / 7.0 preferred by most of our vegetables. In more alkaline soils they often develop scab which is very unattractive in new or salad potatoes.

Additional Fertiliser

It’s always difficult to judge exactly how much fertiliser to add initially and some bought-in composts have more nutrients than others. If growth seems slow or the tubers very small, try watering with a tomato feed or comfrey liquid.

Harvesting Patio Potatoes

Once the plants flower which is the indicator that the tubers are forming and probably ready, you can open the side of the barrel and start removing potatoes, meal by meal, leaving the rest to grow on.

Once the potatoes are all gone you can re-use the compost as a soil improver or for container growing flowers or other vegetables.

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