Growing potatoes doesn’t require backbreaking hoeing and picking – you can grow tubers in a vertical container to give you increased yield with greatly decreased effort. The key is using a barrel and growing multiple layers of delicious earth apples in the same container.
55 gallon plastic or metal barrels work great – so long as they’ve been holding something foodsafe: you don’t want your potatoes to taste like chemicals. If you’re lucky enough to drink your whiskey out the the barrel you can use that – or just call me over to help drink it and I’ll bring potatoes. Drill half-inch holes about six inches apart in the bottom of the barrel and cover the holes with landscaping fabric or burlap to keep soil in. Put about six inches of soil and compost in the bottom of the barrel and a four inch layer of sawdust (or peat moss). In a pinch, you can try to sprout grocery-store potatoes, but it’s better to use seed potatoes from your local garden shop. The potatoes sold at the grocery are treated with chlorpropham to prevent them from sprouting – although some have had luck sprouting organically-grown taters. Of course, after your first harvest, you’ll be able to save a few handfuls to start the next batch. Put the seed potatoes in an egg carton or open paper bag for a few days in a cool, dark space until they start to send out shoots.
Put the sprouting potatoes into the barrel and press them gently into the sawdust. Sprinkle with water and then just let them be for a few days – they’ll send out green leafy potato stalks. Whenever these stalks grow five or six inches above their sawdust home, add another layer of sawdust up to about halfway up the stem. The idea is that each seed potato will be able to grow new potatoes on each level – all the way up to the top of the barrel. Keep the barrel watered – the drainage holes will ensure the tubers can’t be over watered. At about four months, the potatoes will start to flower and they’re ready to harvest. If you’ve had to dig potatoes from a field, you’ll love the harvest technique: just tip over the barrel and shake out the potatoes. You’ll have a bunch of home grown beauties ready for mashing.