Growing Potatoes in Burlap Bags

Looking for a way to celebrate St. Patrick's Day? Plant potatoes--above ground! Burlap sacks make the perfect container for growing America's favorite root vegetable.


I have never met anyone who does not like potatoes. It is one of my basic comfort foods - baked/ boiled, topped with plain yogurt, roasted cumin, red chili flakes and kosher salt, I am in heaven! Happily, it is one of the most easy vegetables to grow for the home gardener.

Tradition dictates planting potatoes around St. Patrick’s Day (which is that Saturday).  But that's not the only time to plant America's favorite root vegetable. Falaah Jones, garden educator at Seattle Tilth recommends following indicators from nature to plan your garden, especially since the weather patterns have been so variable in the last few years.

“Potatoes can go in anytime after the soil is workable and not too wet,” Jones said. "Spring equinox, which is only a few days from St. Patrick’s Day, is a great time to plant cool-season vegetables, like potatoes."

What to plant

Buy your favorite variety of potatoes – organic because it will not be treated with bud-inhibitors, or buy seed potatoes (small in size) from your local garden store, including and . Large potatoes from your kitchen can be used as well, just cut it into smaller pieces, making sure that each piece has at least one ‘eye.’  Jones prefers using seed potatoes because the cut pieces are prone to rot. To prevent rot, they need to be ‘cured’ i.e. place the cut pieces in a warm, dry room for 2-3 days, so that the cut sides become calloused.

I like to ‘chit’ my seed potatoes by placing them in an open egg carton and setting it in a warm, brightly-lit location for a few days. Chiting is the process of letting the potatoes sprout indoors, before planting them outdoors. Pre-sprouting gives them a bit of a jump-start.

Where to plant

Potatoes like rich, well-drained soil and cool weather. They can be grown just about anywhere – in trenches, oak barrels, raised beds, even garbage cans. Planting them in containers with well-drained potting soil and compost gives them a better chance at overcoming rot, compared to planting them in native soil which is still quite damp at this time of the year. 

Containers are also perfect for growing potatoes in small sunny spaces, especially apartment balconies and patios. I have had first-rate harvests growing them in burlap bags.

How to plant

Roll down the burlap bag to about 10” and fill in with compost and potting soil to about 6”. Place about 3 potatoes in each bag, with the sprouted eye facing up. Cover with another 2” of compost and water the soil well. When the plants are 6”-8” tall, roll up the burlap, fill in more compost and soil up to 4”, leaving about 2”-4“of plant. Continue this process until the plant starts to flower, usually sometime in July. By the end of summer the potato vines start to wither and die. This signals harvest time, indicating that the potatoes have reached maturity.

Steve Solomon, in his book Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades writes, “The flavor and nutritional content of your own crop will be far superior to commercial stuff. And there are home garden varieties that make supermarket potatoes taste like a sad excuse for food.”

Does this inspire you to grow your own potatoes?

Greg Johnston March 14, 2012 at 10:30 PM
Cool story -- My problem is I can't wait for them to mature, I keep digging in there and grabbing them as baby 'new' potatoes!
Lara Elizabeth Vyas March 14, 2012 at 11:55 PM
Potatoes do like full sun, Margaret. A site with at least 6 hrs direct sunlight will be ideal.
Lara Elizabeth Vyas March 15, 2012 at 12:01 AM
I love baby potatoes myself, Greg. Such velvety, buttery texture... yum. All the more reason to grow your own!
Annie Archer March 15, 2012 at 04:01 AM
Lara, a reader on our Facebook page was concerned that the burlap sack method would dry out too quickly, any tips for her?
Lara Elizabeth Vyas March 15, 2012 at 04:14 PM
She is right. Burlap does pull water out and gets dry. It can be a good thing in the wet springs that we have, esp. in Woodinville's convergence zone. Too much moisture can cause the potatoes to rot. However, during summer drought, the potato plants should be watered regularly. But once the plant starts blooming, reduce the watering by more than half. Dry is good when the plant is shutting down and sending starch into the potato tubers.


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