How to Grow Potatoes

Harvesting a rogue potato plant beneath the figs! A great score!

Spuds are so easy that you can accidently leave a tuber in ground and grow a whole new crop. Rogue potato seedlings turn up all over the place – I leave these where they are by the way. Every extra kilo of delicious homegrown potatoes is most welcome in my house. This ease, makes them a high value crop. Crops that pump out produce with little inputs and effort, are the ones that make the most sense to grow.

The two key things to focus on with spuds is warm (neither too hot nor too cold), loose organic matter to grow in, and a little nourishment.

There are only 2 tricky bits. The first is storage, which I do my best to mitigate by staggering planting throughout the year, and the second is finding enough organic matter to pile up on top of them. I often run out – but potatoes you’ll soon learn are very flexible – instead, just dig a trench and grow them below, rather than above.


A Urenika seed potato sitting on top of compost, waiting to be covered over with old hay
A Urenika seed potato sitting on top of compost, waiting to be covered over with old hay

In warmer areas potatoes can go in from late August through until November. I plant my first lot in September – new potatoes for christmas! If its cold and wet – which it often is here – I’ll grow them in buckets rather than in the ground.

Then I plant a few beds outside October and November and sometimes December if summer is slow in coming. Potatoes are not big fans of heat, you see – preferring middle of the road temperatures.

Another lot goes in in Autumn. Such a good value crop this one – it saves me having to grow loads over summer and store them. The greenhouse is an option for over winter.

Potato mechanics

spuds in buckets

Spuds grow up. From a seed potato springs a bunch of stems that grow upwards, finding the light. Above ground, these stems grow leaves. Below ground they grow potatoes. Getting more potatoes is simple: grow more stems underground. This is where hilling up potatoes comes in. The more compost/ soil/ organic matter you pile on top, the more below ground stems you get. This generous covering also prevents potatoes being exposed to light which turns them green, alerting you to toxicity.

Here are 4 ways to grow spuds. I use them all!

Spuds in a bucket

Potatoes are growing in buckets of compost and old straw

Spuds in buckets don’t yield as highly as spuds in ground, but its a wonderful head start for those of us with cold, wet September soil, and is a perfect solution for small gardens.

Use buckets or boxes or sacks – anything with holes in the bottom for drainage – a great use for old cracked, broken buckets. Line the bottom with about 10cm of compost, good soil, really well rotten manure or a mixture. On top of this lay a few bits of seaweed or comfrey or some vermicastings and nestle your seed potato in – one seed per 10 litres. Fill the bucket up to the top with a mix of whatever organic matter you have to hand – compost, seaweed, hay, grass clippings, straw and you’re off!

  • In hot weather keep the bucket amongst shrubs to keep the soil cool but leave the tops in the light.
  • In cool weather leave the buckets in the sun to stay warm.

Spuds in a pile of OM (organic matter)

potatoes growing in a pile of weeds and hay
Potatoes growing in a pile of weeds and hay

OM or mature compost grows the best spuds and this is by far and away my favourite way to grow them. Its very simple and quick to make and at the other end, unmake. Potatoes come out easily, no digging required and they’re clean – such a joy! The effort is in the gathering of the OM.

A no dig potato pile is an excellent way to break in new ground and kick start a vegie growing area. There’s no need to clear the grass, just lay cardboard and drop a shovel full of compost every 40cm. Nestle a seed potato into each pile then cover with a mixture of organic matter up to a minimum of 30cm high. I love partially rotten, organic hay for this, but its not always easy to come by. Seaweed, weeds, grass clippings, leaves, compost – make a big old mixture.

Spuds in a trench

planting seed potatoes

I rarely have enough organic matter to grow all the potatoes I wish to in no dig piles, so needs must – in this case I dig. Its important the soil isn’t wet or cold. Be sure its above 10° C, at least.

Make a 20cm trench. Pile the dirt from the trench to one side and be sure not to step on it and squash it down – you’ll need it soon enough. Spread a generous layer of compost or well rotten manure or seaweed at the base of the trench and lay your seed at 40cm spacings. Refill the trench with the dirt you removed.

Spuds in the wild

Potatoes starting to sprout through a pile of organic matter
Potatoes beneath the peach tree, starting to sprout through a pile of organic matter

Another string to my bow are the potatoes that are happily growing semi wild beneath my deciduous fruit trees. They began in the way of all my gardens – with cardboard laid on top of the ground. A generous shovelful of compost or good garden soil + seaweed or comfrey beneath the seed potato and on top, a mash up of whatever organic matter I could scrounge piled about 1m high. When the tops have flowered and are looking lush and full, take an easy rummage beneath and feel out a few good sized tubers for dinner, then plop on a bit of mulch as a thankyou and impetus to keep up the good work. A handy dandy supply for between harvests.


I don’t feed my potatoes, nor do I water them – they stay beautifully moist on account of our generous spring rains and the pile of moisture retentive organic matter they are growing in. If you are somewhere dry, potatoes will benefit from water, particularly around flowering time. Finding a way to bypass the foliage and get to the soil.

I do cover them though, with insect mesh on plantings from October onwards to prevent the psyllids getting to the crop.


  1. Hi Kath, you don’t mention if you mound your potatoes up? I’ve only grown them once before and they didn’t go so well. I read to mound them up repeatedly??? Thanks, Liz

    • I dont mound them Liz, but it certainly is one way to go. I pile it all up at planting in the event I dont get back later on. Align temperature with your planting times this year and be sure of good organic matter.

  2. I have some organic sprouted spuds in a bag, are these OK, or do you buy those spuds specially for planting? I like to keep things organic

    • Those are perfect! I either use my own grown leftover potatoes from storage, bought organic spuds or bought seed potatoes if I see a bag of Maori or heirloom seed potatoes I like to buy them to keep stores stocking them!

  3. Hi Kath
    I live in Central Otago and have trouble storing my potatoes over winter. It’s too cold to leave them in the ground where they’d freeze and too warm in the house where they go soft. The garage is also too cold.
    Do you have any suggestions for me please?

    • Storage is tricky at home. Somewhere between the two is going to be your best bet. How about in an old filing cabinet in a cooler southern room? Or in a cool cupboard? A porch perhaps?

  4. I plant in heavy clay soil in the ground in June In Tirau but cover with cardboard if forecast says frost.

  5. Pauline Curtis-Smith says

    Do you sprout the potatoes first?

    • I don’t bother Pauline, but go for it! Either way is sweet.

    • Kia ora Cath, I’m quite urban and strapped for bed space, so am planning some container potatoes for my first ever foray. Would PB40 bags be a suitable option for planting into? If so, anything I need to do differently to buckets?

      • Yes – perfect! Any container goes, as long as it holds soil in and lets water out – just follow along the guidelines same as the buckets. Awesome!

        • Thank you! have just got them in before the weather turns sour. In terms of organic matter to pop on top, would spent grain from brewing be useful? My husband is an avid homebrewer and we often end up with a big tub full. Alas, we are too small for composting of any useful scale, but would be great if we could use it on the garden…Tho I wonder if it would be attractive to slugs and snails…

          • Oh yes for sure use it! Spent grain is awesome – a carbon source… as long as it has no residual chemicals in it.(I’m not a brewer so dont know the process) As a fail safe kind of rule – always make a mix with other organic matter – in that simple way you keep things more balanced. Then watch and see what happens with your crop – thats the acid test!

  6. Hi Kath, I’m planning to try the spud in a bucket technique, is there a reason you fill the bucket at the beginning rather than adding layers as the foliage emerges?

  7. Hi Kath.

    I don’t have any comfrey, but can I use borage instead? I have plenty of that.
    Also, if growing in buckets/containers, how many potatoes do you recommend per vessel?