Other ways to grow potatoes

Repeatedly, I come across advice to grow potatoes in a stack of car tyres. Old car tyres, when exposed to sun and rain, can leach heavy metals into soil. One of the heavy metals in car tyres is cadmium, which is known to cause cancer in humans and animals. Potatoes are very efficient at absorbing cadmium from soil, and it is not advisable to grow food crops, especially potatoes, in car tyres, or to use car tyres as compost containers.
However, if you are short of space, there are other containers suitable for growing potatoes.
Potatoes can be grown in double hessian bags, drums with plenty of drainage holes, stacked foam vegetable boxes, or wire hoops called potato cages. The newer, woven plastic feed bags may not be as efficient as the good old hessian bags, as they tend to break down quickly when exposed to sunlight. Most of these methods require one container per plant, but they allow for plenty of hilling-up and a hilled container plant will produce a larger crop than an un-hilled potato plant grown in a garden bed.
Always use a good quality potting mix for container plants, as the cheaper mixes tend to become water-repellent quite quickly, and garden soil tends to become compacted in containers. If soil is compacted, it is difficult for tubers to form. Potato plants are reasonably heavy feeders, so add a decent amount of complete organic fertiliser to the potting mix in the base of the container. Also, remember that potato plants take about 20 weeks to mature and growing mix in containers stays warmer than garden soil. Position the container where the mix won’t overheat in the warmer months.
Cultivation and hilling-up are as indicated in the “Growing potatoes” post here on Aussie Organic Gardening.
To grow potatoes in bags
Place one hessian bag inside another, and roll the sides of the bags down so that the seed potato has 15 cm of mix below and above it after sowing. As the plant grows, gradually unroll the sides as you add more potting mix.
To grow potatoes in small to medium drums
Seedlings will not receive as much light as those grown by other methods, as the seed potato is sown 20 cm from the base of the drum to allow plenty of room for hilling. Place drums in a well lit area. Ensure that the drum has plenty of drainage holes near the base. If the drum is deep, put several centimetres of gravel in the base of the drum before adding the potting mix.
To grow potatoes in foam boxes
This method requires two deep foam vegetable boxes of the same size for each plant. Make sure at least one box has plenty of drainage holes in the base. Place a sheet of wet newspaper in the base of a box with plenty of drainage holes, and cover the paper with 2 or 3 cm of gravel. Place 15 cm of potting mix in the box, sow the seed potato, and cover with another 15 cm of potting mix. Place a 60 cm stake in each corner of the box – these will hold the second box in position. Cut the bottom out of the second box. Hill the plant by placing the second box over the first, and adding more potting mix as the plant grows.
To grow potatoes in a wire cage
This method requires a 3-metre length of stiff wire mesh, about 1 metre wide. This will provide a hoop a little less than 1 metre in diameter. Wire used for concreting has holes large enough for harvesting chats through the mesh. Construct the hoop and mark the diameter on the ground. Sow 4 seed potatoes in the ground, evenly spaced within the circle, keeping them well inside the perimeter. As the plants grow, they have straw packed around them, or straw and compost, if it is available. Make sure the potatoes are well covered, or they will become green.

21 thoughts on “Other ways to grow potatoes

  1. Hi, I have just read your article about growing potatoes in tyres and it doesn’t sound like a very good idea. I already have the tyres though and I’m wondering what else grows well in them, obviously not something edible. If you have any ideas I’d love to hear them. Thanks very much.

    Hi Jess, I don’t recommend tyres for growing any food plants. If you must use them, you could grow some flowering annuals (non-edible ones) in them. – Lyn

  2. Is a 44 gallon drum too deep for growing potatoes? Or should I just put a larger layer of gravel at the bottom so the potatoes are higher up?
    Yes, Moon, a 44 gallon drum is a bit too deep for the usual growing method. The idea is to start the seed potato low in the container and add growing mix to cover the stem as it grows in order for the plant to produce more tubers along the stem. In a 44 gallon drum the plant in its early stages would not receive enough light for good growth. If this is the only container you have (must have a lot of drainage holes) you would need to put gravel in the base to prevent water-logging and fill the drum halfway with potting mix mixture before planting the tuber. This would waste quite a bit of potting mix. – Lyn

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  5. I was thinking of trying to grow potatoes in some plastic tubs (you know the colourful flexible ones that you can buy at Bunnings, BigW and all over) as we are very short on space and sunny spots. I think the tubs will be fine as long as I put holes in and elevate slightly so they can drain but correct me if you think I’m wrong! πŸ™‚ However, I don’t really understand the concept of “hilling”. I’m assuming this means adding more soil? Can someone tell me how much soil should be underneath the potatoes and then how much should cover the potatoes? At what point I add more soil? Also, do I just add more soil once and when, or, does extra soil get added a few times? When do I stop adding soil? Lastly, as I’m not sure how many potatoes to add to the tubs, how much room should I allow per see potato? Thanks in anticipation! πŸ™‚

    Rebecca, I’ve answered your comment as a separate post. You can see it here: Growing potatoes update – lyn

  6. I have an old chest freezer that I am thinking of using to grow potatoes. I will use the straw/blood & bone/potting mix technique, plus of course drill a couple of drainage holes in the bottom of the freezer. Do you think this wii work ? Although the freezer needed to replaced, I am hoping to find an alternative use for it rather than landfill.

    Hi Lorae, I can’t see anything wrong with using the freezer for potatoes, but it will need quite a few holes to provide adequate drainage and prevent the mixture becoming sour. The holes need to be very low on the sides of the freezer rather than through the actual base unless, of course, the freezer has feet that will keep the drainage holes slightly clear of the ground. – Lyn

  7. I have been growing potatoes in the empty sacks from my chook pellets and am just about to harvest my first crop. I used straw & chook manure on the bottom with a layer of potting mix then planted my potato eyes. I kept covering them until I had filled the sack. I cant wait to empty my 1st one today. Hope I am eating home grown taties by the end of the day

  8. Hi,

    Thanks for the advice about growing them in car tyres.. i tried it once but didnt have too much success and had much better success directly in the soil. but this year i am going to put them in both a hessian bag and also a wire mesh set up and see which one does best. But i had no idea about the heavy metals leaching into the soil…
    Diggers club is really good for buying potatoes. i bought a large selection last year and had a lot of fun trialling all of the different ones. HAve fun!

    Yes, they did seem to have a good variety last time I looked. – Lyn

  9. Seed potatoes, Adelaide.

    Hi, Just found this useful site (July 2010). In 2009 I was also unsuccessful in locating seed potatoes in Adelaide or being able to order from interstate via the internet. However, yesterday I was in picturesque McLaren Vale after purchasing fruit trees from a well-known supplier in the area and was delighted to spot a modest-sized nursery on the main road in the town advertising seed potatoes. I bought a bag of King Edwards and one of Kipfler, but there were a number of other varieties available, including Nicola. I will know where to go next winter!

  10. Hi
    Adelaide and potatoes
    I realise this question was posted in 2009 but hope my comments will help any would be potato growers.After many phone calls and hours on the net, I had come to the realisation that if you want potatoes other than coliban or desiree, you need to forget Adelaide and buy them from interstate.
    I have just found a Tasmanian supplier called “Tasmanian Gourmet Potatoes” who sends certified seed potatoes interstate. I particularly wanted King Edward and Dutch Cream seed potates, and ordered them off their web site today. Very exciting and looking forward to receiving them, as I have only just started to grow potatoes a few months ago, and they were grown from potatoes I bought and let sprout. Have had a couple of good crops though, both grown in large pots. I really think wine barrel halves would be good also, if you have limited space like me.
    Happy growing all

  11. Hello
    You can buy different size hessian bags at pet shops, people use these for ‘mats’ for their pets, They range in price from$5 -$10

    Thanks, Judith. – Lyn

  12. I’m interested in getting my hands on some hessian bags but haven’t the first clue on where to begin looking? Any suggestions?

  13. Canyone advise me aboutwWhere I can buy seed potatoes in Adelaide, South Australia for my backyard garden

  14. How would I grow potaotes in a black pot about 60cms round and about 50cms. high with no hole in the bottom of it? – Sandy

    Sandy, I wouldn’t attempt to grow potatoes in a pot without a drainage hole because the tubers are likely to rot. If you are prepared to add adequate drainage holes to the pot, the growing method is the same as that for small to medium bins. If you protect the mix with mulch, you can hill it up above the top of the pot. – Lyn

  15. It may be a little late to get certified seed potatoes, Steve. They are usually available in late winter. However, if you can get them locally, you will have time to grow a crop before it gets too cold as plants take about 5 months to mature.
    I know the shell sand pit you mean. We have one here and it makes a great dog bath. However, I don’t think the shell pit would produce a good crop of potatoes for you. It is hilling up that improves the size of the crop. You have to allow some soil under the tubers when sowing, so the tubers would be fairly slose to the soil surface at sowing because the shell is quite shallow. You would have to bring in a lot of soil for hilling up. Alternative beds that work best are the ones that hold the hilled up soil. However, the shell with drainage holes would be good for plants such as lettuce, bok choy etc.

  16. Hi.
    I’m a first time gardener and have recently put together 3 no dig gardens. 1 is 6 m x 2.4 & 2 are 2.4 x 1.8.
    we have a large variety of veg and herbs going. I’m thinking about the cert seed potatoes and have been thinking about trying to grow them in one of those shell shaped sand pits kids have when small,
    but I’m unsure of two things, 1) is it the right time now to try and start off and 2ndly would the sand pit will drain holes be deep enough? we livean hour south west of sydney and 30 min east of Mittagong.

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