Potatoes in a Barrel

Believe it or not, you can grow potatoes in a barrel full of mostly sawdust. Read here to find out how.

| March/April 1980

Potato Barrel

Potatoes growing in a barrel (in this case, a trash can!).


Remember what potatoes used to taste like . . . hot and steaming from the oven, full of fluffy white meal, and with an earthy flavor that didn't need the help of butter or sour cream? Well, you can raise your own spuds and recapture that special flavor, and you won't have to do a lot of backbreaking digging, either. You can do what I do and grow potatoes in a barrel. . . and what's more, that container is filled with sawdust. Yep, you heard me right, sawdust! Here's how it's done:

First, get yourself a barrel. You can use an old metal or plastic trash can, or even a discarded whiskey keg. However, the size of the container will determine the number of "earth apples" you'll harvest, so make your selection accordingly. To prepare your growin' bin, poke a series of holes—spaced about six inches in each direction—in the bottom of the container. The drainage provided by the bores will help keep your spuds' "feet" dry ... an important consideration. Then spread a sheet of fiberglass screening over the holes, and put about six inches of soil in the bottom of the barrel. Next comes a four-inch layer of sawdust . . . and—with that in place—you're ready to plant the seed potatoes.

As you probably know, spuds—unlike most vegetables—aren't usually raised from seed. Instead, they're sprouted from the eyes of fully grown tubers . . . known as seed potatoes. So, if you grew your own crop of taters last year and set some of the bumpy beauties aside, you're ahead of the game. If not, don't worry: There are commercial vendors of certified seed potatoes. (There's one source to avoid, however: store-bought spuds, even If they are beginning to sprout. The commercial edibles have usually been sprayed with an antisprouting chemical . . . even the ones that do put forth new growth will develop poorly.)

Slice your seed potatoes so that each chunk contains two eyes, and let the severed spuds sit for a day or two while their cut surfaces dry. Next, take the "seeds" and push 'em down into the layer of sawdust in the barrel . . . just far enough so they're covered. Now dampen the tree shavin's and stand back. In only a few days you'll find little plants sproutin' through the sawdust. Then, each time these young'uns grow a couple of inches above the woodwaste, dump in another load to cover 'em up, and give the crop a soaking. Since the new potatoes form above their parent eye, you are in effect creating room for more down-home delicacies each time you bury the plant! By the time the container is full, you'll have two or three feet of barrelgrown beauties to harvest.

Come September, when it's time to gather your May-planted crop, you can forget about your spading fork. Simply tilt the barrel over on Its side, give it a shake or two to get things moving, and pour out the most beautiful crop of luscious spuds you've ever seen! And—after you've taken those terrific taters from their nest—you'll have some mighty fine organic material left over to work into your garden soil. But plantin' time is coming on, and seed potato stocks are often limited ... so you'd better get crackin' if you want to raise a banquet In a barrel!

3/19/2015 10:58:32 AM

If you don't have sawdust, can I use straw or shredded straw? Or some other substance?

6/27/2014 7:43:02 AM

I'm using a plastic trash can can I use oak leaves as a filler before I add my soil> thanks cheyenne

6/11/2013 9:10:27 AM

Does this process work for ALL types of potatoes or only certain kinds? I don't want to plant the wrong kind. I have read conjecture that this only works for late maturing, not early or mid-season poataoes, or maybe just certain varieties. any input?

1/6/2013 6:40:25 PM

I used miracle grow potting mix and it works great. The main thing is make sure it is a light and fluffy material and does not compact to tightly.

Hans Quistorff
5/22/2012 9:11:02 AM

I use a barrel without a bottom and set it on an old piece of fiberglass roofing for drainage. I screen the rocks from my sandy soil and add it to the barrel as the vines grow. I have a barrel half filled with cut grass and filled with water. Use a cement block or two to hold the grass down. use the "tea" to water the potatoes for better size and nutrition. When barrel is full and plants have blossomed stop watering and when vines have died back lift off barrel and separate the potatoes from the soil by hand. Mix the sandy soil with the compost from the "tea" barrel for planting other things like carrots and beats.

Diane McHugh
5/19/2012 12:29:21 AM

Keep your barrel away from lights or you will get Junebug larvae in them and they will eat all your potatoes. I'm speaking from experience here.

Mary Himmer
5/18/2012 8:34:30 PM

Should the sawdust be fresh or aged? I am not sure from the comment. Also, where is the best place to look these days for sawdust? You can probably tell I am a city gal.

Tanya Troxell
4/19/2012 3:43:46 PM

I want to grow potatoes in a container, the sawdust doesn't sound great . If I chose soil what type of soil do I use, potting soil, or garden soil?

minnie may_1
8/15/2010 10:42:48 AM

I tried this method in 3 different plastic garbage cans with 3 different types of potatoes. I also planted the same kind of potatoes the old fashioned way in my garden. There is no comparison. Both the size of the potatoes and the amount is so much better in my garden. What a joke...don't waste your time with the sawdust. Glad I tried, but I will stick to the garden.

4/6/2009 12:50:17 AM

Are you using green/fresh/new/just-in-from-the-sawyer sawdust or stuff that has been sitting around for a year or more?

7/17/2007 5:19:59 PM

my spuds look good so far. barrels are full as of first of july

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