(Photo courtesy of CNYCentral.com)
One of the crops I have not had much success with in my 8 years of gardening is Potatoes. My previous attempts have admittedly been sort of half-assed, but truthfully, they are one of the easier crops to grow. They don't need great soil or much doting on and you get a sizable harvest.
I decided this spring that I'd give potatoes another try. God knows I eat enough of them. It would be nice to enjoy some from my backyard. The only issue is that I did not want to devote space in my raised beds to a crop that takes up so much. I looked around for other options and discovered that it is quite easy to grow potatoes in trash bags! We have extra space along the side of our house so this sounded ideal. We could situate the bags on top of the pavement and the plants would still thrive.
First things first: We needed good seed potatoes. You can order seed potatoes from Territorial Seed Company if you wish. The benefit to this is that you can be sure that you are not buying diseased seed stock. It's a bit more expensive so we went to the Greenmarket in McCarren Park and spoke to one of the farmers selling great varieties of potatoes about using them as seed. We asked if she had experienced any blight in the past couple of seasons and she said no and that the potatoes should be great for seed. That was good enough for us. We purchased some yellow fingerling types, Adirondack Blues and Reds, and some purple fingerlings as well. We selected small potatoes so that they wouldn't require cutting.
When we got home, we laid out the potatoes under our sky light for a week or so to get some sprouting going. We spritzed them with water periodically. Once we got about a centimeter of growth coming out of the potatoes, we were ready to plant.
We took some lawn and leaf bags and filled them with some soil. Once situated, we rolled the bags down and clipped them with clothes pins. It's important that there is drainage so we poked some holes in the bottom and along the sides to allow for excess water to seep out. We then placed the seed potatoes 'sprout end up' into the soil so that they were covered by about 2 inches. We watered them gently and then left them for a few days to grow.
A week later we had significant growth over the soil level so we started piling up straw. As it continues to grow you can layer soil and straw until the potatoes stop growing. (This should happen as they flower in the summer) Once the leaves begin to look yellow, stop watering them so that the potatoes can develop a good skin for storage. Then all you need to do is split the bag down the side and harvest your crop! Do not wash them! Just dust them off and store them in your root cellar or someplace dark, cool and dry until you are ready to prepare them.
So as you can see, this method is perfectly suited to people in the city and it's quite cheap. Our total costs for this project were about $40 but just about everything less the garbage bags is reusable. You can even harvest new seed from your crop of potatoes! Find a sunny corner on your patio and give it a go!