Sunday, September 7, 2014

Potatoes in a barrel - the disappointing finale

Our work here is done.
The year began with high hopes that growing a potato garden in a 55-gallon barrel would result in many more pounds of potatoes per square foot of ground space than planting traditionally.  I am sorry to report that this did not happen.

As you recall, the plants themselves took to the concept like ugly to a feminist.  A full three months ago they had already reached the top of the barrel and by my count had 97 days to do nothing but make tubers for us.

Where have all the taters gone?
It wasn't like there was anything wrong with the plants themselves.  I harvested my control group,* made up of a pair of plants in a raised bed, a few weeks ago. The result, while not impressive by Irish standards, was at least respectable.  I probably got a 10-1 return in that group.

And it wasn't like there was any lack (or surfeit) of water.  When I dumped the barrel I noted that the soil was moist all the way through yet none of the potatoes showed evidence of rot.  The healthy growth and color of the plants themselves is sufficient evidence that they were not lacking sunlight, either. And the plants seemed to suffer little or no bug damage.

That leaves the soil or the barrel itself as the main problem.  As it was nearly the same dirt as the control group, I am tempted to eliminate that as well. And the barrel itself should not have made any difference - we're left to blame the depth of the dirt or perhaps the temperature.

Spud, I am disappoint
So what the real problem is, I'm not sure. But the top foot of dirt contained almost no potatoes whatsoever. The middle third gave up but a half-dozen small ones.  In the whole bottom third waited only the tiniest of spuds.  In all, the 2 pounds of seed potatoes we started with resulted in maybe 4 pounds, not even enough return to cover their cost. Or even hash browns at Thanksgiving.

I'm still sold on the concept,** but next year I'm going to make a couple adjustments.

1.  I'm probably not going to use this barrel again. A couple of people I talked to use wire fencing or even old tires to the same effect, so I may try one of those or perhaps a shorter barrel. More gardens, but none will be as tall - or as heavy.

2.  I'm surely going to change up the soil.  While I was always careful to add it dry, it was still horribly packed by harvest time.  So a bunch more mulch and maybe even some chopped straw may help to lighten it up a bit.

If I were Irish, we'd be facing a long, hungry winter.  This is why I like to make mistakes while they still don't count.

* Because, science
** Like a government climate scientist, I'm not going to let facts get in the way of a good theory.