In potato soup (January 30, 2010), I wrote that I intended to start planting red-skinned potatoes in an old washing machine drum the next day. Well, it may not have been the very next day, but I did it soon. I placed the drum onto a piece of soil at the west end of the chain link fence and threw in some finished compost. The potato peels and chunks went in next. All was topped off with about three inches of dry leaves. Every few days I add a little water from one of the rainbarrels -- generally when I have some left over from hand watering something else.
Idaho native Steve was skeptical, and I can't say I really blamed him. He's seen how potatoes are grown, after all. He kept asking when I was going to put in the potatoes, and offering to fill the drum with dirt. I kept telling him the potatoes were in there, and that the idea was to add more mulch when they sprouted. The tubers would form on the stems and be easy to harvest because they wouldn't be in soil. Only the roots would be in soil. Unfortunately, I had no documentation to support me -- only the memory of reading about the method years ago, probably in a Sunset or Organic Gardening magazine, or something by Ruth Stout.
At last, a little over a week ago, a healthy potato plant appeared in the drum and I felt vindicated -- especially since in the interim I'd read that supermarket potatoes should NOT be used for planting because they're probably treated with some toxic substance that keeps them from sprouting. OK, but why, then, do we get delicious potatoes from volunteer plants that appear in the compost from time to time?
Steve was amazed to see a potato plant in the washing machine drum, and willing to eat a few words. With the zeal of a convert, he agreed to stop at a nursery last Sunday and buy some seed potatoes. Armstrong's offered a bag of seed potatoes for around $6.00, but it was enough to cover our entire yard, so we moved on to the local farmers market and purchased two organic potatoes for seed, in addition to the ones we bought to eat. One of our seed potatoes is red, and one is purple. Waiting for them to sprout, I'm chanting "One potato, two potato, / Three potato, four, / Five potato, six potato, / Seven potato, more!"
Now that the project seems to be a sure thing, I intend to dig a four-inch hole under the potato drum, so that roots can creep out into the soil and look for water.
Googling for small scale potato culture, BTW, I've learned that five seed potatoes are recommended for a 15-gallon fabric nursery pot and that there are some really labor intensive ways to grow potatoes in small spaces.