Planting potatoes in a bag (and other allotment jobs for April)

It's very simple to grow your own potatoes. It doesn't take much effort and you don't need much space. You can even grow them in a bag!

Grow your own potatoes in a bag

Planting potatoes in a bag

Planting potatoes in a bag is so easy! I tried it for the first time last year and it worked so well, it even got the kids interested! Rummaging around in the earth, or tipping it out, to discover dozens of tasty looking spuds like hidden treasure, is very rewarding.

And growing them in a bag means you can do it anywhere. Even in the smallest of spaces.

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Last year my potato bags were outside the back door in an alleyway that runs down the side of the house. This year I've taken the bags up to the allotment but you could put them almost anywhere.

I bought six seed potatoes. Three of an early variety (Sharpes Express) and three of a main crop variety (International Kidney). They've been chitting on the windowsill for several weeks. They've now developed a few shoots on each, so I asked my followers on twitter (many of whom have been growing potatoes for much longer than I have!) whether it was time to plant them.

Chitted potatoes 80 Minute Allotment Green Fingered Blog
Potatoes successfully chitted - shoots developing nicely

Opinion was divided, as it's still quite chilly, so I hedged my bets. I've planted the earlies and will wait a bit longer before planting the main crops.

To plant them I filled the bottom of my bag about 6 inches (15cm) deep with compost. 

Planting potatoes in a bag 80 Minute Allotment Green Fingered Blog
Potato bag with a layer of compost

GREEN FINGERS TIP: Unsurprisingly, the bigger your bag, the more potatoes you can plant in it. Too many and they won't get enough nutrition and won't grow as well. As a rough guide, my bag, when opened out, is 50cm across by 50cm tall and is big enough for 3 or 4 seed potatoes to develop reasonably good crops.  

Then I just popped the potatoes on top.

Planting potatoes in a bag 80 Minute Allotment Green Fingered Blog
Potatoes planted! Cover them over and then wait!

I covered them with a layer of compost about 4 inches (10cm) deep. They need to be kept well watered so that they don't dry out, without being so wet they will rot. The compost is moist now so I'll start watering when the shoots appear above the compost in a few weeks. I'll repeat this whole process with the main crop potatoes in a separate bag in a couple of weeks.

It's important to keep "earthing up" potatoes. 

This simply means repeatedly covering up the shoots with more compost as they grow, encouraging more tubers to develop beneath the surface. Once they've flowered, it's time to dig down and see what you've got. 

The bags I'm using were a Christmas present. They are fabric rather than polythene. They should biodegrade when they come to the end of their life. I prefer this to using plastic, where possible. If my calculations are correct my bags hold 125 litres of compost, which is about  28 gallons. 

If you fancy growing your own potatoes in a bag, you could try any of these planter bags. They are all biodegradable fabric, similar to the ones I'm using and all would be suitable for growing potatoes (affiliate links):

Also this week on The 80 Minute Allotment:

I get an average of about 80 minutes a week to grow fruit and vegetables on my allotment. If you've also got limited time to grow your own, then come and visit me regularly on the 80 Minute Allotment. Click here to Subscribe by Email and you'll get regular updates on how I use my time, in short sessions of one to two hours. I'll show you how growing your own can fit into a busy lifestyle and still produce regular harvests of fresh fruit and vegetables all year round. 

Planting out broad beans 

This week I planted out a second batch of broad beans into the ground. They are the dwarf variety "Sutton". The first batch of 8 plants was planted out in late March, and this second batch of 7 have been hardening off in the cold frame on the patio since then. 

I made a small hole for each, popped them in, firmed the soil around them and watered them. I'll sow another batch indoors and then plant a whole row direct in the ground when the soil is warmer, probably in May. 

Having these different batches should stagger the harvest a bit and enable us to pick broad beans for quite a while with a bit of luck.

The first batch in the ground had been under some clear plastic and then some fleece just in case things got frosty, but I've taken that off now. This revealed a minor attack, seemingly by insects. 

Broad beans are prone to attacks by blackfly, and the way to prevent it is apparently to pinch out the tops of the plants, so I did that to all the ones I've planted so far, though the advice I've read before was to do it when the first pods start to form.
Pinching out broad beans 80 Minute Allotment Green Fingered Blog
Pinch out the top of broad beans to stop blackfly

I just gently prized apart the leaves at the top, to get at the budding growth in the centre, and carefully pinched it off, leaving surrounding leaves in tact. This should also have the effect of making the plant grow bushier, and produce more stems on which flowers, and therefore beans, can develop.

If you know how it also keeps the blackfly from causing problems, I'd love to know, so please use the comments box below to share your wisdom!  

Pull up last year's cabbages

Last year's red cabbages are done! They were a disaster! They were badly eaten by slugs and caterpillars early on, and although they survived and recovered, they did not develop nice round edible heads before they started flowering. They ended up as tall spindly things. I left them there in hope but to no avail. 

Cabbages 80 Minute Allotment Green Fingered Blog
A tall, spindly, almost entirely useless cabbage

Now that they are producing flowers they will not develop any further so I harvested any leaves that were worth having and put everything else on the compost. 

Cabbages 80 Minute Allotment Green Fingered Blog
Last year's cabbages on the compost heap - better luck this year!

In the same bed is the purple sprouting broccoli, which will be ready to start picking in a couple of weeks, and the curly kale. The kale has been very successful, growing over winter and giving us occasional harvests from January onwards. It has loads of edible leaves now but has also started flowering, so needs using up. 

I'm picking it every few days and even giving some away - we officially have a glut!

As the kale and cabbages and broccoli are harvested and removed, I can then start preparing the ground  they were in  ready for carrots, parsnips and beetroot. 

Prepare twigs for peas

I'm getting ready to plant out the first peas (snap and mangetout). They are currently in the coldframe getting gradually used to life outdoors. I've been collecting twiggy branches ready to give the peas a bit of support when they are small, until they reach the main support framework I've got for them.

Related: Easy ways to support climbing beans and peas

Pea sticks 80 Minute Allotment Green Fingered Blog
Twigs will support young peas

These have come from around the plot, either fallen from trees over winter, or the thinner bits of the branches that were taken down from an old tree by a tree surgeon. As long as they have lots of sticky out bits for the tendrils of the peas to cling to, up to about 18 inches (45cm) tall in total, they will do the job.

That's what I did with my 80 minutes on the allotment this week. How is your allotment or kitchen garden doing?

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