Harvesting Trash Can Potatoes

Back in April we got the idea to plant potatoes in a garbage can from another green blogger, The Frugal Greenish Mama. Ellie & I planted our potatoes and blogged about the process.  Planting in a garbage can was really neat to try and a great way to expand the footprint of our garden. Now I have to tell you how those garbage can potatoes turned out.

Flowering Trash Can Potatoes
Trash Can Potato Plant Flowering

During the course of the summer we kept our readers updated with the progress of the plants growing in the can.  It was a lot of fun and we grew very beautiful plants including potato flowers and potato berries.

When the soil was as full as could be, we added straw around the base of the plants to keep any sunlight off of any potatoes that grew near the surface.

potato plants with straw around the base in a garbage can
Adding Straw to keep the sun off the surface potatoes

Then in July we started to get some wilting plants.  We weren’t really sure what was going on, so we updated on Facebook some, but we didn’t blog about it.

Our new blue potatoes
Our 1st New Blue Potato Harvest

One thing I learned on the web is that when the plant gets flowers, sometimes there are new potatoes near the surface that can be harvested and eaten right away.  Periodically I would check for potatoes under the straw, and eventually there were a few potatoes there at the surface that we cooked up right away.  They were beautiful and delicious!

wilted potatoes in trash can
Potato plant completely died back

Then the plant started to wilt more.  I wasn’t sure what the problem was.  I checked for rotting stems and didn’t find that.  I wasn’t sure if it was some sort of rot, or if the plants were just dying back already.  I read that eventually the plants would die back, and after they were dead for about two weeks, then you should harvest the potatoes.  The one thing that kept bothering me was that I was seeing signs of wilt and dying back in July.  The first plant to look really sick though, was the first one that grew and was always larger and earlier than the others.  This gave me hope that it was in fact just going through its life stages.

emptying the dirty from our trash can potatoes onto a tarp to harvest
Dumping trash can potatoes on tarp

We went away the last week of July into the beginning of August, and when we came back, all the potato plants were pretty much dead.  The children weren’t coming home until the next week, and the web says that once the plant dies back, then you wait two weeks, and then harvest your potatoes.  We decided that the kids would really want to be there for the harvest, so we waited until they were back in town (having grandparents willing to take three kids for a week is AWESOME!)

We spread a tarp out on the ground and dumped the garbage can of dirt out onto the tarp.  This makes it easier to find your potatoes and easier to clean up the dirt afterwards.  We were concerned that if the potatoes were not actually healthy, we ought to dump all the dirt into municipal compost or somewhere other than a garden where we grow things to eat.

It was a good thing that we decided to do that, because what we found in the bottom of the can were a whole lot of, rotten gross potatoes.  We were so frustrated!  All I could think was that I had over-watered the potatoes and they hadn’t drained well.

rotten potatoes
Rotten results of insufficient drainage

Jon turned the can over to check out the drainage holes and I think the conversation went something like this:

“Did you ask me to drill holes in the bottom of this?”

“Definitely.  I totally remember asking you to do it.”

“Did I tell you I had done it?”

“Well, I remember when you drilled the holes in the bottoms of all the buckets for the tomatoes.”

bottom of trash can that we forgot to drill drainage holes - oops!
Oops! we never drilled the drainage holes

“Well, the only hole in the bottom of this can is the little one that was worn through and a couple of nail holes.”

“So you never drilled the drainage holes?”

“Apparently not.”

“Shall we save the can to try again next year?”

“Let’s remember to put holes in it next time.”


We will try again next year and double check that the drainage holes are in place before planting.  We had a lot of fun, even if the results were a bit disappointing.  If you are going to grow potatoes, consider adding some natural color with blue potatoes.

Happy Gardening & Greening!

Blue Hash Browns in Cast Iron Skillet
Blue Hash Browns in our Cast Iron Skillet
Other Trash Can Potato Posts:

Growing, Growing Growing
Potatoes in a Garbage Can

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  1. How satisfying to harvest your own food! I love how vibrant the color of the potato is.

  2. Nice work on that! You have made a very unique planter through trash cans. This is worth the try. I want to see if I can gorw potatoes in my trash can. Exciting!

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