Experiments & Fun Activities

Growing Spuds in a Barrel

The potato became an important food crop in America after 1718, when many Irish immigrants arrived. The white potato is referred to as the “Irish potato” because of its association with the potato famine in Ireland in the nineteenth century. It is a cool weather crop that develops its tubers with soil temperatures between 60 and 70°F. While growing them in a garden can take a lot of space, a fun way to grow them is in a barrel. The edible part of the potato plant is a tuber.

You need

  • A large, plastic garbage can or barrel. Punch drainage holes in the bottom.
  • Potato seed pieces (available from garden centers in early spring). You only need 2 or 3 potatoes.
  • Commercial potting soil. Garden soil is too heavy and stays too wet.

What to do

  • Choose a location for the barrel. Some place that gets sun for most of the day is ideal. Avoid shady areas or spots that are extremely hot.
  • Fill the barrel half-way with potting soil.
  • You can plant either whole potatoes (if they are about the size of an egg) or cut them into sections so that each piece has a couple of ‘eyes’ or sprouts.
  • Plant the potatoes or pieces 3 inches below the surface of the soil.
  • As the sprouts begin to grow, gradually fill in with more soil. Be sure that you don’t completely cover the shoots.
  • Water the soil as it becomes dry.
  • By the middle of summer you should be able to dig into the soil and feel around for the potatoes.

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