Make Your Own No-Space Potato Barrel

Enjoy homegrown potatoes no matter how much space you have with these step-by-step instructions for creating and using a potato barrel.

| May 26, 2011

City Homesteader

"The City Homesteader" presents hundreds of ways to live a homesteading lifestyle in an urban setting by providing the knowledge for you to make self-sufficiency a part of any urban home. Whether it’s growing food on balconies or foraging for it on the edge of soccer fields, you will learn the know-how to provide for yourself. 


The following is an excerpt from The City Homesteader by Scott Meyer (Running Press, 2011). This book is a basic guide to greener living filled with easy-to-follow instructions and step-by-stepy tips for creating a sustainable lifestyle in any size home. This excerpt is from Chapter 1, “Growing Your Own.”  

Start in spring. Potatoes take all season to fully mature, so begin this project around your average last frost date (which you can find out from your county extension agent).

Select the spuds. They grow from chunks of last year’s crop — chunks with an “eye,” or rootlet, are referred to as “seed potatoes.” Each “eye” produces a cluster of new tubers. You can find countless potato varieties in nurseries and online, and you can use any one you want, but small to medium-size ones work best in a barrel. Be sure to get certified disease-free seed potatoes, because they can suffer from nasty problems like scab.

Pick a barrel. Plain or fancy, it’s your call. Gardening catalogs and Web sites offer barrels specifically designed for growing potatoes. But they are mostly about being more attractive — not functionally better — than one you make at home out of a whiskey barrel or a common trash can. If your container has been used before, be sure to scrub it out well to get rid of fungi that might cause your potatoes to rot before you harvest them.

Drill for drainage. If the barrel doesn’t already have holes in it where excess water can drain out quickly, drill a few in the bottom and in the sides close to the bottom. Quarter- to half-inch holes are big enough.

Give it a lift. Set the barrel in a sunny spot and get it up on blocks or bricks so it sits a few inches above the ground and air can circulate around it.

3/24/2015 5:10:16 PM

my wife is concerned that the plastic will leech toxins into the soil. Is this a concern?

3/6/2015 2:09:20 PM

So, here's what happened: I tossed a potato in the compost heap. It started sprouting like crazy. I cut it up, planted it in the bottom of a 10-gal plastic barrel and filled it up with soil as the plants grew. I decided that the container wasn't big enough, but whatever. Do I trim the tops? Do I just let it keep growing even though I don't have the option of adding more soil now that it's to the top? I don't even know if I'm going to get any yield since it was a grocery store potato, but I want to give it it's best chance!

3/5/2015 4:01:53 PM

For greatest yields,only use late season potatoes, most fingerlings are in that category. Some folks use a soaker hose coiled in the tater tower. We have lots of wood pallets around here, so I will be using them, covering the inside with landscape fabric. MSU ag guys told me two years ago that they were getting yields of over 125#s using fabricated boxes of about the same size, using about 6 seeds/plants per box.

3/4/2015 9:19:33 PM

This kind of growing method can net large harvests if you plant a "high setting" variety of potato (one that sets potatoes above the original seed piece) and/or continues to set throughout the season. Some varieties will only set below and level with the seed piece, no matter how much you hill, and believe me, that is frustrating at harvest time if you barrel plant, moving all that soil/straw away only to find the (small) harvest is way down where you planted the seed piece! The Kenosha Potato Project has a list of potatoes that tend to set high. Another critical thing is you have to hill quite frequently - if the stems get too much sun and harden off they won't send out any new stolens from the stem, reducing the possible harvest.

3/4/2015 11:00:08 AM

Used tires are easier to use than barrels. You can stack them higher than a barrel and they're easier to harvest by just taking them down one at a time.

3/4/2015 9:19:22 AM

At a permaculture workshop, I learned how to grow potatoes in a barrel, but with just straw, no soil. You place the seed potatoes on a layer of straw, cover with more straw, then as the plants grow you keep adding more straw and more seeds and more straw until the barrel is full. You get a lot more potatoes this way.

3/4/2015 7:55:10 AM

In the hot south, try placing your potato barrel in a shaded area. I had better luck in the past growing them away from direct sun, since container soil dries out too quickly and soil temperatures get pretty high.

2/22/2015 4:37:28 PM

Im concerned about growing anything in plastic...does anyone think the heat of the sun could leach toxins into the soil or am i over complicating this? Wondering about wood barrels too...are they coated or can you get them where theyve been burned to release flavor onto whiskey or wine?

3/19/2014 12:10:39 PM

I am new to this method and I would like to grow potatoes and sweet potatoes this way. Can someone please advise me on how many spuds to you plant in the barrel for each type vegetable? Thanks and God Bless.

9/15/2013 10:03:45 PM

Just a caveat: if you live in a place where the late spring and summers may get hot, you might want to consider a different method. A friend of mine, here in SW Indiana, tried growing her potatoes last year in an old whiskey barrel. It grew beautiful potato plants, but when it came time for harvest she dumped it out to find ... no potatoes! She think that it just got too hot in the barrel. We did have a drought and excessively hot spring and summer in 2012, but I think this does point to a consideration about whether or not barrels are a good idea in your particular situation.

8/29/2013 2:49:39 AM

I found the solution to be cutting a plastic barrel in half and cutting the top and bottom out. This gives me a about 2 feet of planting depth. I start the potatoes just under the surface of the soil in the empty round as described and add soil until I reach the top of the round. When the vines have blossomed I can lift off the round and spread the soil out to harvest. or I can leave them until the vines die back and harvest mature potatoes. There is never a drainage problem with this method, can be a critter problem if so put wire mesh under them. It is much easier to lift off the round than try to dump out a barrel.

8/28/2013 10:08:31 AM

Like Colette_1, I used homemade growing bags. My friend showed me how to make them out of landscape fabric. They breathe and drain well. Sew in a circle, then add the bottom...can customize how tall you want them. Plus can roll down the top of the bag and pull it up as you add more dirt.

david ide
3/9/2013 3:57:04 PM

too much waterin the begining, and your seed potatoes rot. not enuogh drainage holes to bbgian with.

obearlady olson
3/6/2013 2:55:09 PM

when do you start them potatoes ?

gail bremner
9/3/2012 1:31:49 PM

Just "dug" the potatoes we planted in plastic barrels. This is the first year that we tried it and we followed the directions, the drainage etc. The soil was good, but we harvested all of about 4 pounds out of the 2 barrels. Any ideas of what could be the problem?

zach hansen
5/21/2012 12:08:58 AM

This is my first time so far so good.

zach hansen
5/21/2012 12:08:26 AM

this is my first time but so far its doing great

denise murphy
4/9/2012 1:02:33 AM

If they never bloomed the soil could be missing a nutrient, your seed is the problem, weather conditions or you are not keeping the soil moist enough. Try a heirloom variety as they flower normally the best.

denise murphy
4/9/2012 12:50:20 AM

It could be the seed potatoes you planted. I have had this happen before. It may sound crazy but but your seed potatoes under your sink in a cool dark area in a paperbag and let them sprout. Then try planting them. Another is to try a different variety of seed potato.

sheila broumley
3/26/2012 12:27:08 AM

Ken, Your photos REALLY helped me to understand - THANK YOU for posting them! :) Sheila

3/24/2012 4:07:25 AM

Tires leach chemicals that are not good for your health.

cindy weaver
3/21/2012 9:02:39 PM

Several tips I didn't know. Like Kevin_1 I used old tires but 1) I didn't know to layer the soil as the vines grow; 2) I didn't cut off the sidewalls; 3) I didn't raise the "planter" up off the ground. I did, however, spray paint the tires white to help decrease the soil temp (TN sun can be brutal). Last year, my yield was pretty low, this year I expect it'll be better. Great ideas, as usual, from M. E. & her readers.

laura mathys
3/21/2012 8:35:06 PM

I did this two years in a row. Both years I got good, hardy vines that never bloomed, died back at the end of the season and never produced a single potato. Any ideas why?

ken lowder
3/21/2012 6:28:29 PM

I made on out of two 55 gl drums last week. You can see it on my site with pictures at

david little
10/10/2011 7:37:55 PM

Last Winter, I did a similar idea for potatoes using a 5 gal bucket. I placed it in front of the South facing sliding glass door of the house. My problem I had was not keeping the soil wet enough. If I had known about the self-watering bucket idea (which was the previous article I read before this one), I would have used it. I got a few potatoes out of it, but when I dumped it out, found much of the soil was never wet.

emily marcus
9/9/2011 4:10:31 PM

I did this this year & it worked wonderfully. Next year I will plant A LOT more barrels.My question now is: Can I use the soil from the barrel in my compost bin or will it run the risk of "blight" in the compost?

m dailey
6/8/2011 7:55:36 PM

Colette_1: What kind of material are the homemade growing bags made of?

6/3/2011 6:31:39 PM

I read multipal layers of dirt, my question is there also multipal layers of spuds? How many plants to the average size half barrell? Thanks

colette _1
6/2/2011 11:25:33 AM

I have grown both sweet potatoes and white potatoes in home made growing bags - same idea - both types of potatoes grow well this way - but a bonus you get with the sweet potatoes is lovely vines cascading over the tops of the containers all summer long AND they get little morning-glory type flowers also. Very attractive during the summer on the porch and very yummy later when they are harvested.

vinod kumar barai
6/1/2011 11:04:00 PM

It looks good to utilize the small spaces in the urban area, for the urban dwellers. However, it can be difficult to get disease and pest free seed-potato for the semi urban area, basically in the developing countries. If the seed-potato is contaminated then all efforts will be ruined.

6/1/2011 9:08:19 PM

Another way to grow spuds is in old tires. The previous owner of our property squirreled away some 80 plus old tires on the property, in the weeds and the creek. I fished them all out, but the land fill wanted $5 a tire to dispose of them. I cut out the sidewalls, and start my spuds in a single tire with soil, then once they are about 6 in tall I add a tire and more soil. This way the plants get sunlight and the tires hold the heat in the soil. The space between the tires offers adequate drainage as well. I've done mine this way for the last 3 years and always have a good crop of spuds.

6/1/2011 9:04:18 PM

This method has to be modified for sweet potatoes and yams as they grow differently from spuds. Spuds grow from the bottom up and mounding soil as they grow gives them more room and better yields. Sweet potatoes and yams grow from the top down and spread and need to be planted in a full container. One thing to consider is to use a light colored barrel for spuds. Light colored barrels transmit light better than dark ones. if you plant your spuds too far down in a dark barrel they will be shielded from the sunlight they need to grow.

6/1/2011 10:39:36 AM

This sounds great for small spaces. Will this work with sweet potatoes/yams?

alana mueller
5/30/2011 10:18:37 AM

Could you please share what the yield was/might be for this type of growing? Thank you.

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