How To Grow Potatoes In A Garbage Can

How To Grow Potatoes In A Garbage Can

How to Grow Potatoes in a Garbage Can

What could be simpler than growing your own pesticide-free potatoes in a garbage can? Maybe growing 2 different varieties in 2 different cans!

I saw this idea in Sunset magazine probably 15 years ago and have always wanted to do it – now more than ever as we have very limited backyard space and the terrain is not conducive at all to growing potatoes. Potatoes take a lot of space to grow. I have grown them in the ground though and the yield was fantastic, the quality superb. This seems like an excellent alternative for us, as we live in high mountain dessert and our growing season can be frustrating from frost. We also have 2 very huge dogs and dogs and accessible gardens are a tough combination.

Public Domain Photo Wikicommons


It is recommended to start these potatoes around St. Patrick’s Day but in some climates, April or May is preferred. Seed potatoes can be purchased at any garden center or nursery and are relatively inexpensive. The ‘recipe’ says that just planting one batch will yield an entire trash can full of potatoes by fall.

Clean 30-32 gallon plastic or metal garbage can with lid
Drill and a 1/2 inch drill bit
Seed potatoes (you can use regular potatoes but most are treated to prevent sprouting so seed potatoes are recommended to give the most yield)
Potting soil – good quality that will drain well – 1 large bag (3 cubic feet)
1 cup per can of fertilizer of the 5-10-10 variety – you want lower nitrogen content as higher nitrogen content will give you lots of leaves but fewer potatoes
Compost, organic preferred – we buy ours in bags from the local feed store

One Variation on Planting

Drill holes in the bottom of the trash can to make sure you have proper drainage
Also drill a few holes in the outside walls of the trash can about 3-6 inches from the bottom to encourage good drainage as without proper drainage, the potatoes will rot quickly
Place about 2/3 of the bag of potting soil into the can and mix with 1 cup of fertilizer
Seed potatoes that are small can go in ‘as is’ (should have at least 3 eyes). Larger seed potatoes should be cut with no less than 3 eyes per piece. (The eye is that spot where the roots will start to grow out). Roughly use 4 ‘starts’ per can or 4 portions of potato so you don’t need a lot
Let the cut sides of the seed potatoes dry out before planting
Plant the seed potatoes in the potting soil/fertilizer mix about 5 inches apart and then cover with the remainder of the potting soil
Place your trash can in an area that receives about 4-6 hours of direct sunlight. If there is danger of frost, you can put the lid on the trash can at night but remember to take it off come morning or the plants may die
Water thoroughly – you want the soil to remain moist at all times but not soggy while they grow. If the soil dries out, it will make the potatoes have a funny shape
On really hot days, check and recheck the soil to make sure it is staying moist and it probably will need to be watered at least daily – move the plants to a shadier location if excessive heat
You will be able to see the plants start to come up through the soil. As the plants start to grow taller, now add compost around the stems but keep the leaves uncovered
As they grow a little more, add more compost – same as above. By the end of the growing season for the potatoes, you should be able to fill the rest of the can with compost, but always keep the leaves exposed
Again, keep watering and make sure the soil stays moist at all times though not soggy
In the fall, you will have flowers that begin to fade away and grow things that resemble berries. If you reach into the can and harvest a few potatoes, they will be small new potatoes – but eat them shortly after harvesting as they spoil more rapidly
Add more compost or cover the stems back up and after the green of the plant has started to dry up and die back, that means that it is time to harvest
Get a tarp and simply dump the soil of the trash can out onto the tarp and harvest your potatoes!
Store in a cool place. Recycle the soil from the trash into a flower garden – do not use it to regrow vegetables but it is fine for flower gardens after harvesting


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A Second Variation on Planting

The preparation of the trash can is the same as far as drilling holes is concerned.  This version is a layered version and goes like this:
Layer 1 – Place a layer of shredded newspaper or shredded junk mail.  This supposedly keeps the soil in from draining out the bottom when watering.  It also keeps the soil moist
Layer 2 – Put in 3-4 inches of potting soil or garden dirt.  The author of this method claims that you can even grow the potatoes without the dirt and that this layer is optional
Layer 3 – Add pieces of cut potato that have eyes.  Use 1 or more inches of potato behind and around the eye to provide plant nourishment.  This author uses store-bought potatoes and finds that they work – so add either seed potatoes here or store-bought cut to the appropriate dimensions above
Layer 4 – Cover the potato pieces with about 2-3 inches more of shredded newspaper or shredded junk mail, straw, peat moss, or whatever is available such as compost or dirt.  Water until you see water coming out of the drain holes.  You must never let layer 1 become dry! It is also important by this method not to let the potatoes sit in soggy conditions. 
Layer 5 – After the potatoes grow to 2-4 inches above the last layer, cover the plants leaving leaves exposed with more shredded paper, newspaper, straw, peat moss, compost and/or dirt – make sure 1 inch of plants is showing.  Continue to do this until the plants are growing taller than the container or trash can and then add sticks so that they will not fall over and break the plants

Points To Remember

You want an environment that is moist but not soggy – while seedlings are growing, cover with the lid at night to protect from cold but remove lid during the day
Some people add a little dirt with the newspaper or straw layers
Some people add fertilizer – the author claims to have grown potatoes without fertilizer and they grew just fine
Add wheels to the bottom of the trash can for ease in moving
When you see potato flowers, that is when you can harvest some ‘new’ potatoes
When the flowers start to fade and the stalks turn to yellow, then die down, your potatoes will be ready to harvest – at end of summer/early fall
You should have a full trash can full of potatoes – just pour out onto a tarp and harvest.  Dispose of the trash and store in a cool, dry place

In summary, I think I may combine both of these ideas and see how it turns out. I think I will make a bottom layer of shredded paper or newspaper to assure that the soil does not leak out and then proceed with the dirt and compost variation though I may mix in some shredded newspaper, paper and straw to create more air and space within the trash can.

I plan on using some of the fertilizer on mine as long as it is a good organic fertilizer and will use potting soil and compost that are clean or organic if possible.

This idea supposedly also works in other containers but for ease of use and portability, etc. I think the trash can sounds like a winner. Also putting wheels under it for easy moving on extremely hot days sounds perfect.

You can purchase seed potatoes in several varieties as well. This does take the land requirement out of growing your own organic potatoes and it seems like a relatively easy way to do it! I dug potatoes last fall and they lasted us through the entire winter. They were delicious but were a lot of hard work to dig. They also were pretty expensive though well worth the effort and the price in taste and quality.

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