Planting Potatoes in a Container Garden

My son had collected a couple of big white barrels to use for rainwater catching from the roof. He cut one in half crosswise and built stands for both halves to create raised garden beds for growing potatoes.

I’ve grown potatoes a few times, and fresh dug potatoes are delicious. Now, I have no yard space to grow them, so they will go into the containers.

homemade DIY barrel raised garden beds

The potatoes I used were simply old red (and one white) potatoes from the kitchen that had developed growth from their eyes.

I know that most information about planting potatoes says to buy special seed potatoes, but I never have. The reason for buying seed potatoes is to prevent disease, which is a good reason. I already had the sprouted potatoes so I used them. Also, orders are for pounds of potatoes – which I don’t have room for.

Read this page at Microveggie for ideas on where to buy seed potatoes.

The potatoes from the grocery store usually sprout on their own if left long enough, but I’d love to begin with the good, disease free ones, and keep planting from there. Don’t ever use the green parts of potatoes for anything – planting or eating!

March Potato Planting

I’m in Florida, and March is the time to get serious about planting a garden. This year I grew seeds in eggshells and purchased new grow boxes for the vegetables.

red and white potatoes with eyes

Beginning of March: After adding bags of organic garden dirt to the barrel beds, I mixed in some leaves to loosen the soil, bone meal (good for developing good roots) and blood meal. I add the “meals” this because I use these amendments in all my gardens each spring. Otherwise, no fertilizer needs to be added to potatoes while they are growing.

Compost would be nice to add, but presently I am in the middle of making my own compost using the Hot Frog Composter. It might be ready for Fall planting.

planting potatoes in raised container beds

Potatoes should be cut with only a couple of eyes in each piece. Plant each cut piece with eyes facing upward and cover with a couple of inches of dirt.

I put five cut pieces into each bed. This is probably too many. Also, the barrel beds are really too shallow, but I have no other place to grow potatoes. I will see what happens.

Potatoes in soil

We had a lot of rain for a few days after they were planted. My son had drilled holes in the bottom of the barrels for drainage. After a week or so the green leaves began to show. (Leaves are poisonous, so keep pets and kids away.)

potato plant
Potato plant
potato plants in grow box
Potatoes

As the green stems grow and get tall enough, I am adding more dirt. The potatoes will grow off tubers under the soil. The more dirt for them to spread out, the better. Unfortunately I don’t have much land for growing potatoes in the ground.

Building up the soil around the greenery

Potatoes grow well with green beans planted nearby. This is what my gardening book advises. If your garden is in the ground, and you have space, maybe do this.

When Are Potatoes Ready to Dig?

Once the tops – those green parts – die back, the potatoes need to be dug up. How long does it take? In general, three months, give or take.

It is possible to gently dig around the plants before this to pull up small potatoes for eating. After the plants have been growing for a couple of months, it is possible to carefully dig around and find a couple of small potatoes to eat. In a small household, like where I live, this is a good idea so I won’t end up with all the potatoes being ready at once.

In the ground, I would use a pitchfork and carefully lift the soil around each top. They can really branch out, so dig around.

Because they are in the barrel, I’ll choose a time when the soil is dry (hopefully) and dig with a hand shovel and gloves.

When all the potatoes are pulled out of the dirt. Let them sit in the sun to dry a bit. DO NOT RINSE THEM… just brush the dirt off. Often gardeners will say to cure them, which toughens the skin for storing. If your harvest is large, see what to do here at “How to Harvest and Store Potatoes”.

Potato tops can go into the compost pile. Leaves of potato plants are poisonous if eaten, but can go into the compost to be broken down. Only do this if the plant shows no sign of disease. Read more about composting questionable poisonous plants.

I will follow up with more information about my potato garden as the season progresses.

More Gardening News

May Vegetable Garden in My Florida Backyard

May is here and my backyard vegetable garden is off to an okay start. I’m still getting used to growing veggies in this climate, but I’m happy to have big, luscious green peppers to use already!

My garden area is very small and the plants are divided between a raised bed, fabric bags, and an old grow box. All my Florida gardening is still in the experimental stages! I’m learning, but at least I have the raised bed filled with good dirt.

May garden
The backyard garden in May

This pepper plant has been around since last Spring! This amazes me. I always thought pepper plants liked the warmth, but this one survived winter. And, yes, it’s Florida, so “winter” is a dirty word here, but the temperatures were truly cold for a few days. I assumed the pepper plant would die, but it did not.

And once Spring arrived (February… hahaha) buds appeared and the peppers began to grow.  I was picking them by April.

green peppers
Picking green peppers this year by April

The yellow / summer squash is something that I am having trouble with. The plants (from seeds) grew nicely and then flowered and grew little squash. But then they began to pucker up and rot on the ends.

This can be caused by too much water, so I have been watering them less. Also I added some ground egg shells to the dirt because I read that a lack of calcium can be the culprit for blossom end rot.

I’ve picked two small squash so far and have had to throw many rotten ones away. The ones I ate were delicious!!! So I am hoping for more. Last year I tried to grow them also and had bugs and mold take over before I got squash to eat.

yellow squash
Yellow Squash

The cucumbers have just started to take off. Some are growing in fabric garden bags, and a few are planted at the edges of the raised bed.

I’m hoping for cukes to eat soon, but I’ve also read that the raccoons don’t like the feel of the fuzzy stems on cucumbers. If I have strands of cucumber vines all around my garden, will the raccoons leave my vegetables alone?  Please work……

cucumber plants
Cukes in fabric bag and inside bed

For the heck of it I threw a couple pieces of old sweet potato into my mostly empty garden back in February (?). Now the vines are long and pretty. When they start to die I will dig down and see if I find potatoes.  I’ve grown regular potatoes, but never sweet potatoes.

sweet potato
Sweet potato vines and leaves

My little red pepper plant is growing lots of peppers and I’ve already used a couple red ones. They are very hot. I really wanted jalapeños but there were no plants when I was shopping. I dislike having to buy all my plants at the Home Depot, but there are no farm stands around.

chili red hot peppers
Chili red hot peppers

I found a couple of parsley worms on my fennel. Dill plants were nowhere to be found, so I settled for fennel, which I have never grown. Ladybugs and apparently parsley worms enjoy it and I’ve been chopping it up to add to food I cook.

parsley worm on fennel
Parsley worm on fennel

One tomato plant has 8 green tomatoes and the other has 6. I’m counting them to make sure the raccoons are not stealing any during the night. I’ll bring the plants inside if raccoons begin bothering them.

green tomatoes
Tomatoes are coming along

My little Navel orange tree lost a lot of it’s small fruit, but a few oranges are still growing.

navel oranges growing
A few oranges are growing on the new Navel Orange tree

The eggplant is still not giving me any eggplants, but it’s a good home for ladybugs. I’ve seen them in many forms (eggs, larvae, and beetle) crawling on the leaves. The aphid problem is no longer a problem. I can’t find a single aphid on anything! Don’t you love those ladybugs?

The weather will continue to get hotter and I may have to stop gardening within a month or so. I’ll see what lives and what doesn’t and go from there.

May garden in florida
May garden view

February Yard Work Getting Some Planting Done

This past weekend (mid-February) I did some garden work and planted a few seeds. It was a hot day but I decided it was time to move the lemon tree from the front to the back yard. Thanks to that digging and lifting my back was aching the next day. But I have high hopes that the tree will recover and give me some lemons one day. (Photos below)

The raised bed still needs more soil. While my son was cutting the grass he bagged up some oak leaves (oak leaves are small here, not like the majestic oaks of the north which drop big leaves) and dumped them into the bed.

raised bed garden
Adding oak leaves to the raised bed

Creating good garden dirt takes a lot of adding and mixing, not unlike making a good soup or stew. All the ingredients together will give me some delicious dirt to help my vegetables grow well.
I still have two potted crotons which were cuttings taken from the big croton out front – which is now dead thanks to the cold. I’m not sure what I will do with them.
fabric pots
Filling the fabric pots to be ready for planting

Bone meal and blood meal was added, and I threw in an old tomato (I regularly add kitchen scraps to make compost within the bed. I’ve even seen a couple of big worms in the dirt recently …. yay!
gardening in February
Eggplant coming back after the freeze

During the winter months it’s not a good idea to trim back dead growth, but I made an exception with my eggplant. With all the top brown branches trimmed away I can more easily cover it if cold temperatures come back.

I planted lettuce seeds in one black pot and yellow squash in another. I should have planted the lettuce earlier, but oh well.

The Lemon and Lime Trees

About a year ago I added a Persian lime tree and Lemon tree to my yard. The lime tree has done very well, providing me with loads of limes in the Fall season. I kept it in it’s original pot and it’s in the backyard.

The lemon tree was planted in the ground in my front yard. Right off it began to have problems. When I planted it, I wasn’t used to our new home location yet. I didn’t realize that front yard gets a lot of wind which makes it an inhospitable place for most plants. Even though the new tree bloomed and grew some lemons, it’s leaves fell off and none of the lemons were nice enough to eat.

lemon tree
Moved the Lemon tree – Feb. 2018

This was a lesson in choosing a good spot for my trees and shrubs. I doubt I will try to grow anything out front.

I really thought the tree would be dead by now. Besides the wind, we’ve had a few nights of cold temperatures. I covered the tree, but lots of things died even though I covered them. Still the tree lived on.

Many of it’s branches are bare and it looks like some animal maybe had been chewing on the stems. Plus my son often hits the branches with his weed-eater.

Even after all this, the lemon tree still grows. Below you can see how pretty the Lemon tree was when I planted it. Because it is still trying to live, I feel guilty for leaving it unattended for so long.

I’m hoping that with it’s new spot in a fabric garden bag in my backyard, I can bring this tree back to it’s original beautiful form.

screen-shot-2016-12-31-at-8-57-26-am
Meyer Lemon Tree – 2017

Building Good Soil in a Raised Garden Bed

pine wood raised bed
Raised Garden Bed

I was thrilled to see the raised garden bed my son had made. He wanted something to do, so he researched the “how to’s”, went and bought the wood and put the thing together. With his brother’s help, they carried it to the backyard and finished tightening the screws.

Step one on the road to Florida vegetable gardening was complete.
Now I just needed some dirt! But buying dirt doesn’t mean you will have the good soil needed to grown super veggies.

Most gardeners know that soil makes or breaks the growth of the plantings. Planting directly in the ground means there is at least something there to begin with, but starting with an empty box means building the good soil from scratch.

The Basics For Building Good Soil

Over the years this is what I use to create good, worm-loving dirt that gives a good yield of crops.  I’m no expert, so feel free to leave a comment with your recommendations.

1. Loam / soil / organic dirt
2. Compost – store bought and / or homemade
3. Organic Fertilizer
4. Bone Meal (for crop root development)

The location of this raised bed presented a problem when it came to filling it. My son has a truck and was happy to go pick up a load of loam / dirt, but getting it to the wooden box was not going to be easy.

First we filled the bottom of the box with leaves and grass collected in the lawn mower bag. Then I put my black fabric garden bags inside the bottomless box.  I also left a few pieces of cardboard in the bottom to help keep the weeds / grass from growing.

growing carrots and lettuce
Bags with carrots and lettuce

For now, I planted vegetables separately in each of the bags, and I ended up buying some new bags, so I could grow more.

Two bags had potatoes – the red ones gave me lots of little red potatoes, with tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, and peas in the others.  When the plants had gone by and were no longer producing, I dumped them into the bed, plants and all.

screen-shot-2017-03-02-at-9-27-07-am
My Garden March 2nd

Between using the dirt in the black pots, and adding compost (store bought and home made), I can eventually fill the box with relatively good soil.

Creating good garden dirt is an ongoing process.   Banana peels, egg shells, and chopped vegetable scraps can be added directly to the dirt in the box.  Soil amendments must be continuously used to replenish the soil.

Hopefully, that will bring earthworms.  Soil can’t be called good, unless there is an abundance of worms!  This all takes time.  The ingredients have to break down over time.

It’s been 6 months since I began to fill my raised bed, and haven’t done much this summer except let the tomatoes, basil, eggplants, and peppers grow wild. The heat keeps me inside, but I do pick a small tomato or pepper every now and then.

The wood has faded to a weathered appearance, and slowly I will be raising the soil level as I empty more of my fabric bags.

summer garden raised bed
The Summer Garden Grows Wild

female cardinal
Female Cardinal, photo credit: Skeeze @ Pixabay

Cardinals come to the garden looking for bugs to eat, and they drink and bathe in my makeshift bird bath sitting on the corner. (I can’t get a good photo, so I used this one from Pixabay.)

Little lizards run along the edges and I see the occasional ladybug and butterfly on the plants.  Parsley worms have been found on the parsley.

raised garden bed building the soil
Once the weather cools off enough to work outside, I will dump all my fabric bags out into the box. I will add more grass clippings, along with organic fertilizer, bone meal, and cornmeal (supposedly it brings worms). In other words, I will work on building up the dirt to get it ready for winter planting.

I’ve found that the big wooden box is a good place to store my unused bags and pots for now.

%d bloggers like this: