DIY Food

You Say Bags

May 29, 2012

This is the eleventh in our biweekly series from Amy Pennington – urban farmer, founder of GoGo Green Garden, and author of Urban Pantry and Apartment Gardening – on how to start growing your own food, no matter how tiny your garden-to-be is.

Today: Growing potatoes couldn't be easier -- as Amy explains, it's all in the bag. Literally.

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Growing potatoes is a pretty mysterious undertaking. All of the harvestable bits of the plant grow underground, making it hard to keep track of progress. Even though I've grown potatoes in the past, I'm consistently amazed when baby potatoes appear in the soil at harvest time.

To grow a potato, you basically cut a small piece off of a seed potato (a potato specifically designated as seed for planting, versus a potato you buy in the store) and bury it under a few inches of soil. The plant will eventually send up a stem and leaves, and as the plant grows we cover them (always leaving a little bit of leaf showing) in order for the plant to produce more potatoes. Pretty simple. This process, when done in a field, is called "hilling up" potatoes, as farmers will form hills of soil around the potato stem to maximize production.

Potatoes in the great outdoors

In small urban gardens, this task becomes difficult as we often don't have much space to begin with. Or maybe, like me, you only have a small balcony. Fortunately for all of us, potatoes can be grown in bags — or boxes or garbage cans for that matter. Essentially, any container in which potatoes can grow vertically while we cover their stems and roots will work.

Before we get started, a few quick notes about potatoes:

• Potatoes do not like super hot weather -- for Northern gardeners, now is a great time to get started. For Southern gardeners, you'll have to wait until the heat of summer begins to wane, or try putting your potato bags in a cool, shaded spot that only gets morning sun, such as the north side of a garage or a north-facing balcony.

• Sweet potatoes and potatoes are different plants, but can be grown in the same manner. (Remember that they take longer, about 3 months.)

• Choose a quick-growing potato variety for your bag. Remember all those seed sources we talked about a few weeks ago? They're great resources, as is your local nursery.

• Finally, for this plant-in-a-bag project I prefer a better-looking bag. Burlap sacks and plastic woven feed bags are a bit more shabby-chic than the bag your soil is sold in. Try your local coffee roaster or country feed store; these often have the added benefit of vintage-looking logos — a great way to add character to your urban garden.

For more on potatoes and how they're grown, you can find more in this post on Feed52. And now, here's potatoes in a bag — know it, love it.

1. Purchase organic seed potatoes and a bag of potting soil.

2. Cut each potato into smaller 1 to 2-inch "seeds" — each seed should have 1 to 3 "eyes." Set the seeds on a countertop or windowsill for a day or two to dry out. This helps minimize rot during the growing process.

3. Empty 2/3 of the soil bag into a storage bin, a large terracotta pot, a garbage bag, or another large, handy receptacle. (You'll end up using this portion of the soil for covering the potato stem.) This leaves you with 1/3 of the soil still in the bag — now, fold or roll down the sides of the soil bag so you end up with container-bag about a foot deep. (Check out Feed52 for more on how you can use simple straw to hill your potatoes.)

4. Place the seed potatoes, eyes facing up, about 2 inches deep into your soil. It's easy -- just press them in and call it a day.

5. Pierce or slash your potato bag in several places to allow for drainage, but be careful not to make too big of a hole. You don't want soil spilling out!

6. Water lightly. The best way to tell if your potatoes (or any plant, for that matter) have enough water is to stick your hand into the bottom of the bag. The soil should just barely hold together due to dampness, but it should not be wet. As you continue to water over the coming weeks, be sure to NOT overwater your plants! Overwatering and then drying out the soil will produce imperfect potatoes with knobs and hard, dense skin.

Demonstrating how to roll up the sides of the bag -- even though these are just planted!

7. After a few weeks, the potatoes stems will have grown about a foot tall. Now is the time to unroll a length of your potato bag and cover the entire stem with fresh soil (or hay***), leaving the leaves uncovered. If the stems grow tall enough, you can do this once more during the growing season.

8. When flowers start to bloom on your potato plant, it's a good indication that you've produced baby potatoes (also called "new potatoes" -- these are the same teeny new potatoes you see at the farmer's market). You can harvest potatoes from your plant now, if you'd like!

9. After the flowers bloom, the potato vines will yellow and die back. Leave plants for another week or so before harvesting (potatoes are still developing inside that bag). To harvest, line your patio or deck with newspaper and cut open the sides of the bag. (Soil will spill out, which you can reuse for lettuces or herbs.) Harvest the potatoes and let them "cure" for two days — this simply means laying them out to dry, which helps to develop the skin. Then cook them as you like!

And now it's time to get growing -- keep us posted on your bags!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • SeafoamJade
  • d2e
  • ChanterelleKerins
  • khollander
  • tupperbear
I am a cook and food writer, author & gardener who is passionate about the environment, using sustainable resources, reducing my impact on the earth and making conscious food choices that are both smart for the planet and taste fantastic. When I'm not knee deep in dirt growing food, you can find me in the kitchen where I'm likely standing over a canning pot or staring up in to my pantry deciding what to make. In the gardens, I have a business gogo green garden, wherein I build, plant & tend edible gardens for folks in their urban backyards. I also launched a garden-sharing website in 2009 that connects urban gardeners to unused garden space across the country - Check it out!


SeafoamJade November 6, 2022
Hi! I bought baby potatoes (grown using your method) from the supermarket (the Guiding Star brand). They look very clean. Does that mean they are pre washed or do I have to wash them? And what is the best way to clean baby potatoes?
d2e September 10, 2012
Tried growing potatoes in containers (ca. 36 inch high) this year and the yield was low compared to what I had hoped for. I used a couple different varieties of seed potatoes and the plants grew up as I added more dirt and looked great, but the only potatoes I got were down in the very first 6-12 inches of soil; nothing above that. Had a lot of miniscule roots shooting off the main stems as the plants grew up but these didn't send out more tubers. Any ideas on what I may have done wrong?
ChanterelleKerins September 10, 2012
khollander I am a keen kiwi girl now living in Norway and have had to adapt to the minimal and unlabelled seed variety here. As such I couldn't find seed potatoes labelled any further than early or late harvest and ended up using organic ecological potatoes from the supermarket for seed potatoes.
They took a little longer than other taties to grow eyes ready for planting - but have produced a much better crop than the other non organic potatoes I used.
khollander June 4, 2012
I was curious about using purchased organic seed potatoes. Is there an advantage to using these? I've been growing potatoes in bags and trashcans for a couple of years now and have just been using organic potatoes from the farmers market that I purchased for cooking but had started to spout.
Amy P. June 11, 2012
Hello! Most sources will recommend organic seed potatoes because they are not treated in any way. I'm betting organic farmers market potatoes are just as great!
tupperbear June 3, 2012
Another option I've used is the cloth "grow bags" available from nursery/greenhouse suppliers. I empty them at end of season & reuse each year (going on 4 years w/same bags). Great article & the only way to grow taters in a limited space garden!
KristinaN June 3, 2012
What size burlap bags do you recommend I ask my local coffee roaster for?
Amy P. June 11, 2012
Yes, exactly. Just ask your roaster - they're all about the same size - 2 feet across and maybe 4-5 feet deep.
mike.redd.73 June 1, 2012
Will let you know how my potatoes will taste 60 days or so ! Great article !
vegetarianirvana May 30, 2012
Thank you so much Amy, you just demystified growing potatoes. Good to know I can grow in pots and bags.
Thanks so much.
Amy P. May 30, 2012
Weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee! Have fun!
aargersi May 30, 2012
Potatoes are something I have been wanting to try for awhile - alas I think I need to wait for fall, we are hitting the 90's every day already! But now I know what to do when the time comes - so THANKS!!!!
mcs3000 May 29, 2012
Love this post. Potatoes are one of my favorites to grow. I buy all my seed potatoes from this site: - recommended by Cynthia Sandberg, the owner of Love Appe Farms (the kitchen garden of Manresa in Santa Cruz).
Amy P. May 30, 2012
Thanks for the rad tip!
vvvanessa May 29, 2012
That's rad.
AntoniaJames May 29, 2012
Definitely something I want to try . . . but I'm wondering, how many seed potato pieces did you plant in that bag, and how many potatoes did they produce? And how long from planting to harvest is the cycle? And can you do this year round in a cool marine climate (SF Bay Area, fairly near the bay)? Thanks so much! ;o)
Amy P. May 29, 2012
I would put 4 seed pieces in a bag that size.

You can check out this awesome post on Mother Earth News for when to plant in your region:

Maturity times vary significantly - some 45 days, others 110, so choose according to your priorities.

As for How many the plant will produce, this depends on weather, timing, variety, fertilizing, watering, etc. Too many variables to guess correctly. I'd say 3 or 4 handfuls a plant.
AntoniaJames May 29, 2012
Thanks so much, Amy! I'm just loving "Urban Pantry," by the way. I'm going to buy a copy for each of my sons (in college, establishing their first kitchens now). ;o)
mcs3000 May 29, 2012
AJ - I grow potatoes in SF - they'll thrive in the East Bay too :)
Amy P. May 30, 2012
Well, thanks, Antonia!! I love that one million times. And good on ya for raising men that cook - world needs more.
AntoniaJames May 30, 2012
I knew I was doing something right when he called, a day after moving to a different city, and said that he hadn't had time to do his grocery shopping for the week so he just picked up (and I quote) "the essentials: arugula, eggs and milk." ;o)
Lisa M. April 20, 2013
Someday, his spouse is gonna LOVE you!
hardlikearmour May 29, 2012
What a super cool plan!