Sunday, August 2, 2015

Bagging up some spuds

I reckon I must have some Inca blood in my family. Or maybe I just love spuds a lot, and so here I am again, growing spuds at home, this time in a proper 'tatey bag' from Diggers Seeds. 

I ordered mine a while ago, and in mild old inner-western Sydney, where there's never any danger of frosts damaging the baby plants, I figured this warm patch of early-spring weather we're enjoying now is a good time to get my seed potatoes planted in their bag.

First of all, we need some motivation, so here's some of the last crop of King Edward potatoes we grew here at Jamie and Pam's Garden Amateur-land.

Blushed pink, King Edward potatoes are fine all-rounder
spuds, great for chips, roasting or baking in their jackets, and
their fluffy texture produces a truly wonderful mash.
What follows is yet another exhaustive step-by-step of how I do it. Remember though that there are several other methods for growing spuds in a bag, so if somebody tells you that it can be done another way, they're probably right!

Some kind of straw is very handy, especially to form the
base on which your seed potatoes will sit inside the bag.
This is ordinary sugar cane mulch, which worked fine last
time, and which is plentiful and cheap here.
Use home-made compost by all means, but I am giving my
other Tatey bag and half my seed potatoes to a friend, Jolanda,
and so she is going to use this compost to grow her spuds.
Yes, you can use ordinary potting mix, too. But we didn't.
Compost itself is a fabulous gentle fertiliser,
so down the bottom of the bag, where the
roots will go searching for food, I will be adding
a handful of chicken poo. This time I am
using the "reduced odour" version of Dynamic
Lifter, which somewhat spoils the fun of the
whole exercise, but Jolanda's eight-year-old
daughter Elina thought the reduced odour chicken
poo was pretty disgusting, so it's certainly
not odour free.
This is the 'Tatey bag' Diggers provides. It measures
(roughly) 40cm tall, wide and high, and the handles are handy.
The tatey bags come with plenty of holes both in the bottom
and the sides, so water can drain away. You can of course
grow potatoes in a pot, but just make sure it has plenty of
drainage holes in the bottom (not just one, as some poorer
quality big ceramic pots sometimes have). The big plastic
pots usually have plentiful drainage holes.

OK, so they're your ingredients to form the bottom layer of the pot: straw, compost and chicken poo, plus a bag with lots of holes in the bottom.

For the bottom layers, I mix together several big handfuls
of straw with the same quantity of compost.
Then I fill the bag about 10cm deep with my straw and
compost mix. Then I sprinkle a handful of chicken poo over
the top, then cover that chicken poo with another 10cm of
straw and compost. This is an important point: don't let your
seed potatoes come into direct contact with the fertiliser,
so bury your fertiliser deeper than the seedling spuds.
The seedling spuds! Here they are, at last!
Here they are in their paper bag. They've already sprouted.
This is a good thing, not a bad thing. They'll grow quickly
now they are nestled into the rich planting soil. 
Generally, it's a good idea to let your seed potatoes sprout before planting them (this is the process of "chitting" that you might read about). It's not absolutely essential, but it is desirable. You can just plant your seed potatoes even if they haven't sprouted, but they might take a bit longer to get going if they haven't sprouted before planting.  

Place the seed potatoes with the sprouts facing upwards.
I've put four seed potatoes into the bag, and that's about the
maximum to plant in this kind of space.
Finally, I then covered the seed potatoes with more compost.
If you have mixed up too much compost and straw, it is
totally OK to cover the seed potatoes with more compost
and straw, of course. In fact, some potato growers like to
grow their spuds mostly in straw.
Water the bag well with at least half a can of water, and keep the soil in the bag lightly moist. Right now it's still late winter and the temperatures aren't too high, so watering the bag every third day will probably be enough. Later on, as the weather warms up, watering every second day might become the routine.

The best place to put your potato bag is a sunny spot, and that means one which gets at least six hours a day of sunshine, or the closest you can get to six hours.

As for when the first green shoots appear, it could take a couple of weeks or more. Just keep an eye on what happens.

I'm going to update my "spuds in a bag" blog when there is news to report, and I expect about a month from now there'll be a bit more work to do to keep things rolling along.

If you decide to have a go yourself, you can buy everything you need from Diggers Seeds ( but your local garden centre or major hardware chain garden centre (eg, Bunnings, Mitre 10 etc) also stock "seed potatoes", so you could buy a pack of them and try your hand at potato growing in a large pot, or of course in the ground itself.

Whatever you decide, good luck.


Katie M said...

I did my potatoes today too! The glimpses of occasional sunlight through the banks of clouds and freezing showers must have had me inspired (and optomistic).

Shivangni said...

Very inspiring, I got inspired by your earlier post on spuds too. Unfortunately we live in opposing climate zones, so we are heading towards winter and about 15 days of frost in December, which is enough to kill many plants. By the time spring comes I'd have forgotten about it like last time, or maybe not! lets hope I can report back with success come your next post :)

Lanie at Edible Urban Garden said...

I am planning on getting mine started this afternoon! Thanks for all of the tips Jamie. I'm doing mine in bags this year too. I've run out of garden space. I have found the bags to be quite successful in the past.