Plant Seed Potatoes In A Barrel For Incredible Ease & Yields

grow potatoes in a barrel

This year I’m going to try another way to grow potatoes. I’m going to plant my seed potatoes in a barrel. Several barrels.

The past few years I’ve grown them the traditional way, in garden rows. For a homesteader, growing potatoes that way is a bit tedious to say the least.

Why? Because you have to keep on hilling the long rows – covering them with more dirt as they grow. It involves a lot of shoveling and the continuing need for lots more soil.

I’ve known about the concept of growing potatoes in a barrel for quite awhile. I’ve just never done it. Well now I’m going to do it…

Evidently the process is very easy and the potential yield can be quite remarkable!

I’ve heard about potato yields of 50 to 100 pounds from one 55 gallon barrel!

 

How To Grow Potatoes In A Barrel

The way that potatoes grow in a barrel is no different from how they grow in a traditional garden row. You plant seed potatoes, wait until the foliage grows up about 6 inches and then cover up with more soil. Repeat until the end of season. Harvest.

The difference between growing potatoes in a barrel versus a garden row is apparent efficiency and concentrated yield.

 

Prepare the Barrel

For maximum yield, use a taller barrel (e.g. typical 55 gallon size barrel). It’s tall enough to cover the growing potatoes many times which will yield more potatoes in the end.

Note: Potatoes grow from new tubers that form each time you cover up the green foliage. Each time that you mound them (cover them) will eventually grow out more tubers. More potatoes in a barrel!

Use whatever type barrel or container that suits you. I’m probably going to use ordinary 55 gallon plastic barrels – I have a few BPA-free that I might re-purpose. I’m going to have a look at Home Depot to see what they have in their garden department for large/tall containers.

If you’re picking up previously used barrels, it’s best to know what they were used for. Obviously do not use if they had any sort of chemicals in them. Additionally, clean them out with a bleach-water mixture to kill any organic contamination.

Tip: Best not to use a black barrel. It will get too hot in the summer sun. Potatoes actually like it fairly cool.

 

Drill Holes

Drainage! Drill plenty of holes on the bottom and along the lower portion of the sides for very good drainage. I’ve seen some that have drilled holes all the way up the sides too. About every 6 inches at least a 1/2″ hole.

If the soil doesn’t drain well, the roots will rot.

That said, the soil will need to remain moist at all times. But not wet.

Tip: Set the barrel on something (e.g. up on cinder blocks that support the edges). This will keep the barrel off the ground for good unimpeded drainage out the bottom holes.

 

Plant the Seed Potatoes

Fill the bottom of the barrel container with 6 inches of soil. Ideally use a high drainage soil. You might consider adding a bit of straw and organic compost material.

Plant the seed potatoes on top of the first layer of soil, enough to fill the space with approximate 6 inch spacing. The side with the most eye / shoots: face up.

Then cover with about 6 inches of soil. Water and keep soil moist at all times.

Tip: Preserve your potatoes from last harvest but leave some for next year’s seed potatoes.

More: How To Preserve Potatoes

About Seed Potatoes

While grocery store potatoes will grow (I’ve done it), they won’t produce as well because they’re purposed to produce fewer eyes and less shoot growth (which shoppers don’t like to see in the grocery store).

Seed potatoes are not inhibited and will sprout well.

Small ‘seed potatoes’ can be planted whole as long as they have at least two or three eyes on them. Larger potatoes are generally cut into sections containing that many eyes apiece.

It’s okay to plant whole potatoes. It’s also okay to immediately plant cut sections of seed potatoes. If you cut them, you might consider allowing a few days drying time for the cut sides to seal a protective barrier. This will guard against organisms that could cause the potato to rot.

 

Add Another Layer Of Soil After 6″ New Growth

When the new growth foliage reaches about 6 inches tall, cover them with new soil leaving just an inch or two exposed.

Prior to covering them with more soil, you might consider adding a few more seed potatoes to increase yield even further. Although not necessary, I’m going to try it this way.

Water and keep soil moist at all times.

Repeat the process until you reach the top of the barrel / container. Then simply let it grow until the foliage yellows and dies off, or until first frost does it for you.

 

Tip the barrel over for harvest

When it’s time for harvest, tip the barrel over, dump it all out, and harvest your potatoes!

You might consider putting out a tarp for the dirt when you dump it all out.

 
It sounds pretty easy. I can’t wait to get started.

Potatoes are one of the highest calorie vegetables that you can grow in your garden. That makes it ideal for the sake of preparedness.

More: Garden Vegetable Calories

Have any of you grown potatoes this way?

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65 Comments

  1. Ken
    I will be interested to hear how it works out for you. (especially since you are a good gardener). Have been hearing/reading about this for yrs. — A twist on this which I have read several times, is to cut the bottom out of the barrel. At some point you can start shifting the barrel up, and harvesting the new potatoes at the bottom, without disturbing continuing production. (so I have read)

    1. Yes, there are various methods of building a structure of sorts that enable harvesting from the bottom up. Although good harvest won’t come till or towards the end of season anyway…

      I’m going to start with the basic barrel / container method. Given today’s post date, just need to wait until the snow melts, and them some… ;)

  2. I’ve considered it but have been leery of using plastic barrels. I’ve also heard about using straw instead of soil. I wonder about using redwood leaves instead of straw. We get tons of redwood leaves on the property. The wife likes old wine barrels that have been cut in half for her landscape type plants. They do rend to be kind of pricey and rot out after a few years.

  3. Ken
    Being in Idaho, there is no lack of potatoes but I am going to try a couple of barrels as an experiment. Goods ideas and informative post.

  4. This is something I need to try, we have planted potatoes a couple times in a larger area outside of the smaller garden area and the dang prairie dogs just eat all the seed so we stopped since we can buy them pretty inexpensively. I would like to be able to grow our own though and not have to depend on having to but them ( never know when something might happen and you can ‘t buy them).
    My Brother has several 50-gallon buckets he gets from work ( water plant) that he said I could have, just need to make the trip to go get them. May have to get with it now and get them so I can use them to plant potatoes and not have to worry about the prairie dogs getting into them.

  5. My wife the gardener has had great results using this method. Only potatoes that have worked were Yukon gold and red potatoes. Will be using a stack wood frame system this year as I got a bunch of barn wood for free. The red’s are a little small but as sweet as can be. Take a mess of those, steam with butter and parsley, that’s good eating.

    1. Southernman
      thank you for the report. —do you garden in a sunny area? — been wondering if this might work for other things, like sweet potatoes…

      1. Anon,
        Full sun and watch the water, not to wet and not to dry. Last year in the North Georgia mountains it rained just about every third day.

        1. Southerman,
          Is every third day watering about right, then? I also live in humid area…
          Does the amount of production depend on variety planted? How many potatoes/lbs gave __ #lb results… what can we expect? (we use 400lbs a year, easily., many times what we get has been exposed to sunlight and not properly seasoned.. don’t like green potatoes, and they are poison.).
          . is it reasonable to expect 6-7 lbs from one lb of cloned seed potatoes?

  6. This sounds like it’s worth a try. I’ve heard of this method before but it was with 5 gal buckets. Using 55 gal barrels sounds even better! I’m gonna give it a try too Ken.

  7. I like this article and will be trying it out this season. We raise a tub garden every year, but haven’t planted potatoes except for one year when they rotted in the tub setting on the ground. We had voluntary grocery store potatoes come up in our elevated Cilantro tub a year or two ago that did fairly well but I couldn’t hill them up. There was even a little red and a little white potato connected to the same root, which was a surprise. I’m going to use one of my 20-gal cattle supplement tubs like we did the first (failed) time, but this time put it up on cinder blocks to make sure that I get good drainage.

    CD in Oklahoma

    1. To cd in Oklahoma I’m near pink does the potatoes. Need special attention from what you have experienced

      1. Try potato crates made from pallet lumber. I use mulch or straw instead of soil and lay the seed potatoes right on the bare ground.

      2. 97 who – Hi neighbor. I’m probably the worst one to ask, since I haven’t grown a decent-sized potato yet. I think the heat, especially for tub growing, here in Oklahoma works against potato growth too. I’m sure someone is growing nice potato crops in containers around here, but it isn’t me. I’m going to try again.

        CD in Oklahoma

    2. We are using lick tubs for both individually potatoes and tomatoes. We drill 1/2″ holes bottom. Fill with rich potting soil. We set them on 2 boards to elevate the tubs off the ground. I bought seed potatoes, cut with eyes and allowed to dry some for 1 day. I will plant them today. Cool weather vegetables are onions, potatoes, lettuce and peas. We are just making it undee the wire fir April (29th) lol

  8. Ken makes a very valid point; potatoes need well drained moist soil.
    My last try was a complete failure because I rotted the roots baddddd. I was using a wood/slat style sitting on the ground but am going to the 55-Gal drum method up on some 4” supports, have a few white barrels so what the heck.
    As Ranchers Wife mentioned we can get potatoes here very cheap here ($15 for a 100 pound sack) but nothing like homegrown.
    I also have heard that using straw is a good idea, problem a LOT of Straw and Hay has been sprayed with weed killer to kill the weeds, so be careful on where you get the Straw.
    Yukon Gold, only potato to eat IMHO.

  9. I use potato growing tubs, available from numerous garden suppliers. They are smaller than the 55 gallon tubs you recommend, but are just the right size for a senior citizen who doesn’t have the strength to tip giant barrels over. One benefit is that most of them have flaps near the bottom so that you can start harvesting the potatoes without dumping the whole pot. Otherwise, the smaller tubs work just like the larger barrels you recommend.

    1. Potato grow tubs:

      POTATO GROW BAGS

      rhshumway.com/P/53378/Potato+Tubs

      walmart.com/ip/Gardman-7505-2-Pack-Potato-Tubs/16830667

      doitbest.com/products/700356?q=potato+tubs

  10. I have has some success with this garbage can system. My first attempt failed use to lack of proper drainage (had holes in bottom but directly set on ground. Second I used the slatted wood box of pallets, worked pretty good EVEN with Sweet Potatoes in NH! But the next year Voles found my sweet potatoes….

    This year Hardware Cloth basket under and around my pallet Potato Box.

    Shredded Leaves work well for the second and third layer of that potato box instead of straw. Have to be shredded or it will matt up and rot your potato plants.

  11. It sounds like a good method until you consider how much sunlight will get to the bottom of the barrel. The sun will only reach the plants, in the bottom of the barrel, for perhaps 3-4 hours a day. That is not enough sunlight. Or am I missing something?

    1. That is why I went to the slatted box system. Great drainage, plenty of sunshine.

      BTW Ken and others still snowbound, you CAN cover your potato box with a clear plastic bag to create a hoop house effect and I can get my seeds going a couple of weeks early before the bugs show up.

      Same way I get my self irrigating 5 gallon gardens started early on my deck. We have a short season blessed with late frosts and early frosts in fall. A quick hoop house effect can help.

  12. I have been growing them in a 4×4 area for 5-6 years made out of pallets. Usually grow sweet taters and red taters. Works great!! Usually get arounf 70=80 pounds. Last batch didn’t survive for some reason after soaking in salty and sewer hurricane water!! Imagine that!! Hope I have better luck this year!!

  13. I have tried growing potatoes in containers about 5 to 7 gallon size, and they did O.K. In fact, I did two last year, but the bulk of my potatoes were in the garden. I just like puttering in the garden. I do have a method for growing in the ground though. After I rototill, I’ll make foot wide depressions where I’m going to plant my potatoes, about 4 inches lower than the surface of the garden. I’ll plant my potatoes in the depressions about 7 inches deep. When the potatoes come up and get a little height, I pull in the dirt to fill in, and also start building a hill. By the end of summer, the potatoes are 18 or 20 inches underground. I definitely get plenty. I usually plant red Pontiac, and a few Yukon gold. Got reds as big as softballs last year, and they were nice and firm. Of course, it’s hard not to grow good potatoes here in north Idaho. I probably could have done better, but I didn’t have as much time to spend in the garden last year.

  14. I plant with Ken’s method in licktubs. (tubs for cows with a molassas mixture). I have a short growing season and they don’t get very big. A lot of times I get little black spots on the leaves so I try not to get the leaves wet when I water. But they are good and they last forever.

  15. Ken,
    I remember the hippies planting in old tires, adding a tire each time then adding more soil. Plants always got enough Sun. They just tipped the whole stack over at harvest. Worked well, they got quite the haul.

    1. Minerjim just remember to drill drainage holes in those tires. Otherwise the curved sidewalls make places for water to pool up. Back then hippies were working with polyester banded tires. Now almost every tire is steel belted so harder to work with.

      Hippies also made sandals out of tires, they still do in South America.

        1. Have a pair on the wall in my home office. Got those in SA. A reminder of an earlier time and hard lessons learned…

  16. Growing potatoes in containers is great if space is a problem and that is all you have. If you can plant them in the ground then I think that is much better.

    I’ve planted potatoes in hay/leaves/straw (mediocre results). I’ve planted potatoes in 5 gallon buckets (poor results). I’ve planted potatoes in tires (mediocre to poor results), I’ve planted potatoes in raised bed containers (mediocre to poor results), and I’ve planted potatoes in the ground and attended to all the “tedious” work of fertilizing, watering and hilling them every so often. I’ve always gotten the best yields from potatoes by planting them in the ground. It almost seems like potatoes “know” when they are in the ground and when they are not, and refuse to cooperate when they are not in natures fold (Mother Earth). Just a simple observation from a simple old man.

    I’ve found the key to growing potatoes is to plant them in well drained soil (container or otherwise) prepared with lots of compost and bone meal and a small amount of elemental sulfur. Add a little 888 for an extra boost. They need full sun. Pull dirt up around the plants at least once during the growing season… preferably twice then mulch well with oak leaves or pine needles. Keep them watered but not soaked (mulching helps in this regard). Side dressing once just before they flower won’t hurt. Don’t expect more than 8 – 10 potatoes per plant, and that includes (maybe), 3-4 large, 3-4 medium and several small. Depending on the seed stock you can get anywhere between 5 to 15 pounds of potatoes from 1 seed potato. Some potatoes (even within the same variety), grow more eyes than others. I generally cut mine in half and try to have at least 2 good eyes per piece. If you can get three pieces with two or more good eyes then you should have a higher yield per potato. Potatoes need lots of fresh air, sunshine, and potash and a slightly acidic soil and like to be watered regularly. If you plant in containers make sure they are well drained and get full sun. Just saying.

    1. Thanks Crabbie for the information. I have yet to try pine needles as mulch goodness I have plenty of them. I know some folks side dress them with wood ash (Potash) as well.

      Have you grown Sweet Potatoes in your area? Aside from excellent nutrition even the leaves can be cooked as greens. DO NOT Use Potato leaves as greens as they are from the nightshade family just as tomatoes.

      1. We planted sweet potatoes once but they didn’t do very well. Found that it is easier and cheaper to buy a couple bushel boxes from a grower several Parishes over from us.

        There are some things I’ve left unsaid in all of this which probably needs to be said. We apply hard-wood ash mixed with bone meal and sulfur and till it into the soil a couple weeks before planting. I never measured it accurately. Just a couple scoops ash and several scoops bone meal along with about an eighth or quarter scoop of sulfur and a judicious sprinkling of 888 and lots of compost.

        Bone meal contains a lot of phosphorus and wood ash contains a lot of potassium and both are alkaline. Potatoes like a slightly acidic soil. I think adding sulfur and mulching with oak leaves and pine needles helps keep the Ph at a level where the potatoes like or at least neutral. Sulfur takes a long time to break down so we add it by itself about 3-4 months before planting potatoes and then again just prior to planting. When I cut the seed potatoes, I dip the cut potato pieces in sulfur the day before planting them to help cure the cut. I’m not a soil scientist, nor am I an expert on raising or lowering soil Ph and I’ve never had my soil tested (and never will because I think it is a waste of time and money). When I first started gardening in earnest I simply watched how my plants grew and added soil amendments to compensate for whatever the plant needed using combinations of lime, sulfur, bone meal, wood ashes and lots of composted manure along with oak leaves and pine needle mulch. It took me several years to work out what needed what and now I just try to keep it neutral as best as I can. This is why rotating my vegetables like all the “experts” say needs to be done is out of the question because planting vegetables that like slightly acidic soil behind vegetables that like slightly alkaline soil (and vice versa) becomes a giant circle jerk. I think if the soil is healthy to begin with, you won’t have to worry too much about disease.

        I discovered, over time, that all vegetables will grow better if they get a little bit of everything from lime, bone meal, wood ashes and sulfur but that some want, and do better with more or less of one or the other. For example: more lime and a little sulfur for cabbages along with a little bone meal and wood ashes and more sulfur along with bone meal and wood ashes with no lime for potatoes. At any rate, we usually add a little bit of everything at least once a year along with a lot of compost and so far it has paid off. Hope this helps. Sorry if my responses are so long and complicated but gardening is a big juggling act that we have to pay close attention to.

        1. Crabbie how do you deal with Tomato wilt virus build up if you keep planting them in the same place? I was good for 2 years then I had a pretty bad case (read no fruit badly damaged growth) but that next year I moved them to a new bed with great success.

          I feed my raised beds with compost and find everything but tomatoes do quite well.

          1. So far, we’ve never had a problem with any diseases. We’ve narrowed our variety down to mostly Floradel and a few Cherokee Purples. Our biggest problem has been stink bugs starting mid season. DW uses a Neem oil spray starting in early to mid season, from “Garden Safe”. I guess we’ve been lucky. For the last 3-4 years we have planted tomatoes in the spring and cabbage in the fall on the same ground. In between plantings the garden spot is refurbished with soil amendments and lots of compost and tilled under and lays fallow for a couple months. For example: Tomatoes are all gone by middle of July so that garden spot is refurbished and lays fallow until we set out Cabbage plants in late September or early October. The Cabbages are all gone by the middle of January and the garden is refurbished again and lays fallow until we set out Tomato plants in late March early April. We do the same with other stuff in other parts of the garden so there is a constant rotation of something different growing each season with a couple months rest in between. Green onions, herbs, lettuce, potatoes, asparagus and garlic are probably the only things that have a dedicated space (more or less). I missed getting potatoes in the ground this year so I plan to wait six weeks and plant some Okra and purple hull peas instead. The Peas will be gone by September so I will put in some fall potatoes then. The Asparagus hasn’t performed as advertised (after 5 years of waiting!!) so instead of digging them up this year we will simply plant something on top of them. They gotta fish or cut bait or get off the pot… I’m tired of waiting.  DW is considering turning the Asparagus bed into a Pumpkin patch. We’ll see. :)

          2. Wow I am jealous!! Here in the frozen north I have melt glazed snow all over my property. I am so thrilled that I have garlic sprouting through the icy snow. :-)

            Neem oil works pretty good but I cannot grow a Neem tree here in NH (Yet).

            So I find using chickens in a chicken tractor AND Garden Tunnels allow them to convert those tasty (to them at least) Japanese beetles, tomato hornworms into eggs. They do not get them all but the chickens sure do help. :-)

          3. You can buy Neem Oil extract or Garden Safe Fungicide 3 by Garden Safe or Triple Action Neem Oil by Southern Ag from Wal-mart and most garden stores.

  17. How do the plants get enough sun, especially when initially planted in the bottom of the barrel?

    1. During the summer, depending on one’s geographical latitude, the sun is high in the sky at noon – shining down, even into barrels.

      While there certainly won’t be as much direct sunlight when starting the shoots at the bottom of barrel, the fact that potato foliage keeps on growing after covering them completely in dirt (no sunlight under the dirt)… indicates that this shouldn’t be an issue.

      As new layers get added, the foliage will be protruding from the top of barrel. No issue then.

      When I first started growing potatoes, it seemed unnatural to cover up the foliage with dirt. But that’s the way you get more potatoes. Keep covering them throughout the summer.

  18. I did something similar using 2′ x 3′ frames made from 2 x 8’s. After the first frame was growing well I stacked on another frame and started filling. Worked great until the Voles came in from underneath and found the potatoes. By late summer they had killed off all the potatoes I had in both sets of frames!

    1. That’s frustrating when something like that happens after all that work. Live and learn I suppose.

      Maybe a screen on the bottom?

      1. I found that voles will chew through aluminum window screening and that biologically active soils tend to eat up that thin wire. I have resorted to Hardware Cloth to keep voles out of my raised bed garden and this year potato boxes.

  19. Been gowing potatoes for a long time in 5 gallon bukets…plant 4-5 and get about 30 back…all shapes and sizes bu they are great!!!

  20. Made a run to Costco with the discussion of potatoes remembered we were out. Guess what there were no russet potatoes any where in this store. All they had to offer were the organic potatoes, an they were small. About the size of a tennis ball, and pricey so I left them in the box.

    Another thing some one put bags of onions in with potatoes…what a no no.

    1. AC,
      Onions in wth the potatoes – not too bright. Some beginner must have figured it all comes in bags so throw them together?
      But, no russets in a Costco? I don’t think I’ve ever seen that. We’re due for a Costco run here pretty quick – I’ll be looking around to see where regular items are missing.
      I’ve also been seeing some hefty price increases – onions, apples, potatoes, citrus fruits, cheese – the only thing that stayed steady were large loose carrots (good for slicing for dehydrating) were at .69/lb – everything else seems to be going up a little bit each week.

      1. They will cross breed and you will have a PUNion, (best I could do on the spur of the moment) Grin!

      2. PUNion… hahaha!
        Onions give off gases, and they are known to spoil (or sprout) potatoes more quickly. So, I’ve been brought up to keep them in separate cupboards so my potatoes have a little longer storage life.

        1. So Cal Gal – Thanks for the info. I’d never heard that before. We don’t long-term store them together, but have a small bucket that we work small amounts out of for meals. We also keep our garlic cloves in that small bucket. Me – OH NO !!! We could end up with a PUNionLIC !! Or a herd of GarOniToes !! (So that’s what makes that sound of little pitty-patters out in the kitchen late at night. No wonder the cat can’t catch them.)

          CD in Oklahoma

        2. Apples give off gasses, too, that make other fruits ripen quickly. Never put bananas near apples unless you want them to ripen quicker. I’ll put avocados near apples if they’re hard and I’m hankering for guacamole.

  21. I usually have decent results growing sweet potatoes in oak half barrels and in large, deep plastic ice/drink tubs (with drainage holes added). Usually grow white potatoes in raised beds, but this year I’ve put them into the oak barrels too. They both grow better, and bigger, in the ground, but north Alabama clay after the summer’s heat is quite a chore to dig up.

  22. Ken, please keep us updated on this project. We tried growing taters in 5 gallon buckets and did a mini version of what you suggested. Our yield wasn’t that good.

      1. Ken if I could be so bold could I suggest you do a trial of both the garbage can system and the slatted box system? I think you will find the slatted box system superior.

        It would be useful and unless you have already drilled the holes in the garbage cans not that expensive.

          1. Thanks I forgot to mention I use that holey trash can as my garden supply hopper for tomato cages and such.

            Old World Garden has great information about potato boxes

          2. Correction Old World Garden Farms.

            So how early are you going to push the garden season Ken? I was reading somewhere how Starvation Spring was so common for New England Farmers and I suspect everywhere. After reading about it makes a 2 year food storage look pretty good.

  23. There are 2 types of potato plants just like tomato. Determinate and indeterminate. From http://homeguides.sfgate.com/potato-bag-gardening-35134.html :
    “Determinate potatoes are considered fast-growing and produce tubers at the soil depth just above where the seed was planted. Indeterminate potatoes are classified as slow-growing and produce tubers all along the stem where soil exists. Indeterminate varieties are preferred for bag growing so the yield is worth the the effort.”

    You need indeterminate potatoes for growing in tall containers otherwise you will just have lots of soil and only potatoes at the bottom. This is the reason you see so many different results of people trying this method. German Butterball is my favorite barrel choice. Most of the Russet types do well also.

    1. GeLyCoy Permies
      Your information the potatoes was very terrific. No wonder dad always had a large yield of potatoes but as a kid he never explained the difference to us.

  24. I tried that with old tires. Kept adding tires until I was 4 high. Only got potatoes in the first 6 inches but roots were all over inside. Prefer rows now.

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