Who doesn’t love a treasure hunt? Growing potatoes in buckets is the perfect gardening treasure hunt activity both to have fun and encourage kids to love growing their own food. Kids of all ages can participate. June is the end of the potato-planting season in Western North Carolina, so it is a good time to find seed potatoes on sale. Follow this guide to grow your pot of gold (or golden potatoes!).
What you’ll need
- Seed potatoes. Small potato varieties are best for this project.
- 5-gallon, food-safe bucket with drainage holes. Recycle bulk food containers or purchase new buckets. Be sure to drill several holes in the bottom before you start your garden.
- Enough potting soil to fill your bucket—about a half cubic foot. Use potting soil for edible plants—NOT garden soil or potting soils with additives such as moisture-holding crystals.
- Vegetable fertilizer.
Steps for making your bucket garden
- Add 4 inches or so of potting soil to the bucket.
- Mix in fertilizer. Read the fertilizer label and add only enough for the amount of soil you’ve just put in the bucket
- Space your seed potatoes evenly on top of the soil with the sprout side up.
- Add another 4 inches or so of potting soil and mix in more fertilizer.
- Place your potato garden where it will get full sun for at least 6 hours a day.
- Wet the soil until you see water draining out of the bucket. Keep soil moist, but not soggy. You may need to water every day if it doesn’t rain!
- Green shoots will grow up. Once the shoots are about 4 inches high, carefully add 2 inches of soil with more fertilizer. Leave just a small green shoot above the soil. Keep adding soil and fertilizer every time the shoots grow up a few inches. Keep the soil watered evenly throughout the growing season.
- Watch out for pirates! Look for pests eating your potato leaves. The usual suspects are potato beetle larvae and adults. (Even though bugs may like potato plants, the leaves, flowers, seedpods, sprouts and any green flesh are toxic to people.)
- Once the plant has grown out of the top of the bucket, flowered, and begun to die back, it is time to harvest! Spread a tarp and spill out the contents of the bucket. Here is the treasure hunt! Dig through the soil to find the potatoes.
- Enjoy your harvest! An easy way to cook small potatoes is to toss them in olive oil, salt, and pepper, and roast them on a baking sheet in a 350-degree oven for 30 minutes or so, depending on size.
Article written by Tish Szurek, Extension Master Gardener Volunteer.
For more about potato beetles, go to https://pender.ces.ncsu.edu/2011/04/check-now-for-colorado-potato-beetles/.