Friday, May 24, 2019

Full-Size Russet Potatoes Grown in 5-gallon Bucket, Found a Problem

Here’s the second half of my growing Russet potatoes in a 5-gallon bucket experiment. This harvest was letting the potatoes grow until vine die-off and hopefully yielding some full-size potatoes.

What was the result?
I ended up with a lower pounds per bucket yield and just slightly bigger potatoes than the “New Potatoes” I harvested earlier.

What happened?
Both buckets were planted at the same time, with the same drain holes, with the same dirt, with the same seed potatoes, the same fertilizer, the same fertilizing schedule and the same watering schedule.

Planting Information:
  • Planted Date: 1-29-19
  • Harvest Date: 5-20-19 (120 days = 4 months)
  • Yield Weight of this bucket = 2.66 lbs.

What went wrong?
Here’s my observation:
  • I planted the potatoes in January and here in northeast Florida it’s cool and good for potato growing.
  • The following 4 months after planting, it became hotter and hotter with scorching sunlight and near 90 degrees every day.
  • My watering schedule of ¼ inch per day (about a quart per bucket), remained the same for the duration of the growing cycle.
This is what the plant looked like when I harvested the full-size potatoes.

Bucket removed:
What I found was the issue for the poor yield. When looking at the dirt and between the two arrows (bottom 2/3rds) you will see a lighter colored soil. That soil is as dry as desert sand!

Potatoes out of the dirt:

Yield: 2.65lbs.

Size compared to my hand:

The potatoes were dying of thirst. I must monitor the moisture in the bottom 1/3rd of the bucket. Right now I will drill two ¾ inch holes in the side of the bucket. One, 2 inches from the bottom and the second 6 inches from the bottom. In those holes, I can stick my finger in it to feel how moist the soil is at those levels. I will look for an electronic meter (somebody must make one) to check the moisture instead of my finger for more accurate readings. Based on the moisture readings I will adjust the amount of water the plants need throughout the growing cycle. I will buy an irrigation timer and water every day and increase the amount of water as the heat dictates.

I don’t think I’d face the same water issues if I planted in the ground but buckets/container growing is the way I want to grow my potatoes as harvesting is easy and with no damaged potatoes compared to digging them up.


  1. Mike, excellent observations and analysis on your part. How did you originally determine how much water to give them? I lost one of my potted potatoes to blight, but we got a few small ones to enjoy. So far the others seem to be doing okay, but I do water well. We've been in the 90s for awhile now and everything is thirsty.

  2. I originally determined how much water to use by 'guessing'. I used a soft spray garden nozzle and watered the plant (everyday) until there was about a 1/4 inch of water standing on the dirt in the bucket. Kind of like a quick rain shower. Obviously it wasn't enough with the hot sun beating on the buckets. So now using the 2 holes I added in the bucket side I will be able to monitor the soil moisture at the bottom 1/3 of the bucket.

  3. Could you place a watering tube so you can get water to the bottom of the bucket. Like a oil funnel type tube?? A long neck type. Place in bucket touching the bottom, pull up about 1/4 in. after planting fill tube with water until its fills the tube all the way up to top.??? food for thought

    1. Rob, that's doable but right now I'm going to add a drip irrigation head in each bucket and water on the timed lawn irrigation circuit. As the season gets hotter and I detect there's not enough water in the soil I can increase the minutes of watering in each bucket. I like easy as even a small garden takes a lot of time and effort.

  4. I got a hydrometer from Amazon for about $9. Very helpful to know when stuff needs to be watered (and not overwatering).

    1. Chipmunk, just a few minutes ago I ordered a "Dr. Meter, S10 Soil Moisture Sensor. his should help me a bunch!

  5. I was also wondering about the amount/frequency of water they were getting. Would 2-3 inches of mulch help the soil not to dry out so quickly?

    1. Charlotte, if you are growing an in the dirt garden then I believe the mulch would help slow the moisture evaporation.
      For me growing in buckets I have to contend with the suns rays beating on the sides of the buckets and over heating the soil and speeding evaporation.
      The meter I just purchased should be a very useful tool in understanding my soils ideal moisture needs throughout the growing season.

  6. What about digging down a bit to bury the bucket in the soil? I have friends that do that with flower containers in their garden and then change them out for seasonal color. It would mitigate the heat from the bucket yet still allow them to be pulled up easily to empty your harvest. I know there would still be the initial work for the dig but hopefully it is a one-time thing...

    1. ch1, thanks for the comment.
      Yes, I could bury the buckets a bit or maybe add a shade cloth around the buckets to block the sun rays. If I found it necessary to grow potatoes year around I would do that. However, I want to grow with a minimum of work and the buckets seem to do that just fine.