When I was younger, I heard stories of my husband’s great-grandpa growing potatoes in a metal trash can. I had never heard of this. I asked lots of questions, and then tried it myself. It worked better than I thought it would. Growing potatoes in a trash can or barrel allows you to produce a lot of food in a very small location.
My kids loved getting involved. It’s a fun way to learn about potatoes and discuss why this method works.
I used a plastic trash can tucked away in the corner of our garden. You can also use a metal trash can or a barrel. I cut the bottom off our trash can, because that’s what I was told Great Grandpa did, so he could lift the trash can up and the potatoes and dirt and potatoes came out the bottom. This worked well for me, but most people just drill holes in the bottom for drainage.
Preparing to Plant:
Plant potatoes about 2 weeks before your anticipated last freeze date. If you don’t know when that is, check here: National Climate Data Center, select your state and look for your city.
Buy seed potatoes online or at your local garden center. Cut off the eyes, along with a portion of the potato. Do not cut the potato smaller than a quarter of its original size. Allow to dry for 1-2 days before planting.
Place the trash can in sunny location (needs sun 6-8 hours per day).
Mix compost, potting soil (worm castings are awesome for this), and sand together. Fill the bottom of the trash can about 6 inches deep.
Add 3-4 inches of soil mix on top of your potato pieces and water until the soil is damp, not soggy.
As your potato plants grow, add 3-4 inches of soil mix for every 7-10 inches of growth. Keep watering. Do not cover the leaves with soil. The plants will continue to grow new underground stems with potatoes attached.
When your trash can is full of soil and the green stems are sticking out of the top, keep an eye on them and continue to water them.
The tops of the plants will start to flower, then shortly after the plant will start to wilt. Stop watering them at this point. This allows your potatoes to mature and takes about two weeks.
The tops will continue to wilt, turn yellow and dry. It’s time to harvest your crop.
Harvest and Storage:
Harvest as soon as you can. If you wait too long, the potatoes may start to dry out and wither.
After harvesting, leave your potatoes outdoors for about an hour to dry. After they are dry, you may brush off the bigger pieces of dirt with a soft cloth, but do not wash your potatoes with water until you are ready to use them.
If possible, allow them to “cure” for about two weeks in a dark place that is 55-60 degrees F and about 80 to 95 percent humidity. This allows any bruising or cuts from harvesting to ‘heal.’
Store your potatoes in a dark, cool (40 degrees F is ideal), dry (moderate humidity) place with good ventilation. Store them in slotted baskets or bins. Do not pile them more than 6-8 inches high to avoid bruising.
Check them frequently and remove any that are rotting. A root cellar or cool basement is a good place for this. If you meet these storage requirements, your potatoes can be stored up to eight months, in some cases.