Common Mistakes to Avoid When Growing Potatoes in Bins

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 Common Mistakes to Avoid When Growing Potatoes in Bins

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When it comes to versatile easy to grow foods, potatoes are usually at the top of the list. No matter whether you are looking to get away from GMOs, gluten based foods, or want to be as ready as possible for a long term food shortage, being able to grow a large number of potatoes in a small space can offer you an affordable and easy option.   Today you will find many websites that talk about growing 100 potatoes in a 4′ x 4′  bin. While these sites make it sound very easy, the fact remains you can fail if you don’t address some things that are left out. Here are the most common points where you can fail to grow a hundred pounds of potatoes in a very small area. Fortunately once you overcome these challenges, it is only a few steps more until you can grow potatoes year-round indoors, as well as in an outdoor container.

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Starting the Plants at the Wrong Time


It is very important to realize that potatoes are more or less cold weather crops.  Unfortunately, if you set out the eyes too soon, they will either freeze or rot from dampness.  Regardless of the strain of potato you are working with, it is best to start them in March or April.


On the other side of the equation, if the soil temperature reaches above 80 degrees while the tubers are forming, the plant continue making leaves and vines, but stop making tubers or adding to existing ones.   Soil temperature can be a critical point to consider, especially if you are growing strains that take a longer time to mature, or you want multiple sets of tubers from the same plant. You should make every effort to ensure you can control the soil temperature so that you get as many potatoes as possible from each plant.  


Using Potato Sets from Non-Viable Potatoes


Have you ever bought a bag of potatoes, only to look at them a few weeks later and find all kinds of eyes growing on them? If so, then you may conclude that buying potatoes from the store is a cheap, easy way to obtain potato sets. Even though these potatoes may look like they are going to grow, many things that happened before you bought the potatoes could prevent those eyes from maturing into viable plants.


  • Frozen storage potatoes may look like they are going to blossom into plants, however the freezing that they experienced will curtail any further growth.
  • In some cases, potatoes are also treated with chemicals and radiation to prevent eye formation and rotting.  Even if you see a small eye starting on a tuber, it will not develop any further.
  • You must always be aware of GMO potatoes, which are slowly making their way onto the market. While these potatoes may also look like they are going to grow, chances are the eyes are not viable.


As much as you may want to save money on potato sets and reuse kitchen scraps at the same time, it may not be worth your while to try and grow potatoes from supermarket produce. That being said, if you want to give them a try, it would be best to plant them in a conventional garden. If you are successful in obtaining tubers from these sources, you can always try to plant the next generation of eyes in a bin and see how they do. Just make sure that you know whether you are using an early, mid, or late season strain of potato so that you know what to expect from them in a container setting.

Legacy Food Storage


Using the Wrong Strain of Potatoes


Even though you may not pay it much attention to it  when you buy potatoes in the store, there are actually three seasonal types of potatoes that you must know about before you can grow them.


  • Early season potatoes will usually produce edible tubers in 75 – 90 days of setting out the eyes. While you may think these plants are very useful because they mature fast, they will not work very well in a container where you are mounding the soil up in order to try and produce more tubers from the stems. These potatoes will make more roots extending from the stems, however those roots will not turn into tubers.   If you do decide to use early-season potatoes, do not expect multiple crops from them.  In addition, you may also find  but once the first crop of potatoes is harvested, it may be too late to set out a second set, even though the weather is good for starting other crops.  For example, if you plant early season potatoes in March and are ready to plant again in June, the temperatures and lighting conditions may still be wrong for these strains of potatoes.  Even though they will produce leaves and vines, it is likely they will not produce tubers.


  • Mid-season potatoes take from 95 to 110 days to produce tubers. Unlike early-season potatoes, you can plant mid-season ones as late as July. Unfortunately, this will not overcome the challenge associated with stems that produce roots but not tubers.


  • Late-season potatoes require 120 to 135 days to produce tubers. Within this category, you will find strains of potatoes that will produce tubers from roots extending from the vines. As a result these are the best ones to use if you are planning to use a bin and want potatoes to grow in layers from the bottom to the top of the bin.  Do not forget to harvest the lower levels of the bin so that they do not rot in place.


Not Giving Potatoes  Enough Room


If you have never grown potatoes before, you may be amazed at just how quickly the vines can grow and spread. Even though you are planning to mound the soil vertically, that doesn’t mean you can simply plant them so close together that there isn’t enough room for the potatoes below-ground to spread out and grow. Failure to provide enough space for the potatoes to grow, will result in either extremely small potatoes, or none at all.


Since potatoes also draw a number of insects, and are susceptible to several diseases, adequate air flow around and through the vines is also very important. This can only be accomplished when the vines have enough room between them.   If you are using a 4-foot by 4-foot bin, it would be best to limit your number of potato sets to 4 to 6 for the entire bin until you become accustomed to the growth characteristics variety you are working with.  You can always increase the number of plants in future crops.  Do not add more than 2 plants per growing cycle so  that you can find the optimal number as quickly as possible.   Do not forget that potato plants also take a good bit of water, and large numbers of plants with tubers underground will absorb it very quickly. When you plant potatoes too close together, it becomes even harder to gauge the amount of water to give them.


Improper Moisture Control


As hardy as potato plants are, do not forget that the tubers can be very fragile. If you water them too much, or the water does not drain properly from the bin, the tubers will rot.   When setting up your potato bin, try to arrange the bottom area, so that it is closer to the ground on one side. From there, all you need to do is make sure that you have plenty of vents on the lowest side of the bin’s bottom. You can also use a layer of gravel before you start adding soil to the bin. The water will drain faster from the gravel, and help reduce the amount of water that wicks back up into the main growing area.   


Once you have a good drainage system setup, you may still find it challenging to know how much water to give the potato plants. Since the soil in the bin may wind up being as much as four or five feet deep, it can be very difficult to judge the moisture content near the bottom of the bin. You will be well served by adding moisture gauges at least three different depths in the bin so that you can find out what is going on well below the surface of the soil.


From french fries and potato chips to baked potatoes, wine, and partial wheat flour substitute, chances are you can think of hundreds of ways to use these tubers.  Since potatoes can lend themselves well to container planting, they are ideal for preppers that want to grow a significant food staple in a small area.  Before you begin experimenting with your first potato bin, make sure that you have it set up right, and also that you choose the best possible plants for your goals.


*A Scott Hughes original for FP!

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