Potato Sack Snafu

Sharon Hanna discovers that growing potatoes in a burlap sack is not as easy as she anticipated.

Credit: Sharon Hanna

Growing potatoes in a burlap sack presents some challenges

Well, back to the drawing board for the growing potatoes in a sack idea.

So many readers commented—thank you for that—and I am hoping that you will share your experience if you tried it. Did it work?

Burlap not the best material for growing potatoes

A few of us tried to burlap it and had similar experiences. First of all, it was more difficult than I thought it was going to be to “unroll the bag and add soil”—the top of the bag in fact seemed to shrink inwards when it should have been going the other way… perhaps it was the water that made it get smaller and constricted. Also the plants seemed to go towards the outside of the bag.

Watering was another issue. This summer it was necessary to hand-water a LOT and it wasn’t always easy to have the water get inside the bag, and hard to tell if the water was penetrating… a few green leaves grew on mine but then… of course, because of all the water and soil, after a few months the burlap sacks disintegrated. Darn bag broke at the bottom along a seam when I tried to move it. It was flopped over like, well, a sack of potatoes, and other things began to shade it in the garden.

Moving it was impossible, nor could I remove the bag (a bit unsightly at this point) from the plant—so I tried to hill up the soil around the spot (there were lots of roots coming out from the plants but not many potatoes).

What did grow were wonderful—some kind of French fingerling type, which were shiny reddish pink, with some of the flesh inside being a bit pink also, and delicious—partly because there were so few.

Bottom line: Every person I know who tried it had their burlap sack split, and also experienced meager yields. The soil mixture a lot of us used may have been too rich (potatoes like sandy semi-poor soil, certainly not recently manured or composted). Anyway, not sure that it will be worth trying next year.

How to improve the potato-growing-in-sack trick for next year

What if we tried it with the sacks laid “normally,” that is to say, flat, then filled with soil, and slit along the top like gutting a fish (ugh)…then sticking seed potatoes in quite deeply? Then again, you can’t get the height—the whole idea is to keep the plants climbing upwards, and having potatoes produced all along. 

Perhaps we could try large (“#3” aka three-gallon) black pots, or five gallon ones. Also, I heard of people growing spuds in plastic garbage bins but I can’t work out how, if you plant them fairly low… the burlap bag idea seemed like such a good idea at the time, like so many things in life… aaaaah.

Another thing to try is the “grow 100 pounds of potatoes in a 4 x 4 wooden box.” My friend Michelle tried that—her dad built square modules of wood from 6” high boards, which interlocked simply. Her yields were much better than the sack idea.

… though I am not entirely sure that ‘seed potatoes’ is the only way to go. I have wondered why people feel it’s necessary to use the expensive bought ones rather than their own, saved over winter, which sprout like crazy in spring and tell you when it’s time to plant them.

To me any organic potato (thus not sprayed with a relatively noxious chemical to retard sprouting) is fine and produces results. Potatoes grow like weeds in my garden year after year, as I rarely can get them all out… I think any old potato that sprouts will produce potatoes from itself.

But, what do I know? I sure was off on this burlap sack idea. Sorry, folks!