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Regular readers of my reviews will know by now that not only am I a keen gardener that tries to grow as much of our own veg as possible, but also that our garden isn't really designed for veg growth due to the previous owners aversion to doing any kind of work in the garden whatsoever. When we moved in we inherited quite a large garden, more than 100 metre square, which, unfortunately, is extremely hard landscaped and has at least 80% of it covered in patio and paving slabs.
As a result my veg growing is limited to two small patches of earth which measure about 15 metre square in total so I have to use my ingenuity and get crafty and try and grow as much as possible either in pots on the plentiful patios or up the fencing. My lovely friend, knowing my dilemma, bought me 10 of these potato grow bags for Christmas a few years ago in the hopes that I'd be able to grow my own potatoes. I could grow them in the ground, but then there'd be room for nothing else! In a dream world I'd have at least half of my entire garden space devoted to a potato patch, but in the meantime I'm making do with these sacks!
They're quite a useful little sack really. They're made of tarpaulin, according to the Wilkinsons website and cost £3.28 each, although at the moment they're on offer 2 for £3, and I assume my friend would have got them on a similar offer as I would hate to think she paid full price for all 10! As they're not rigid they can be easily folded down very small for storage in the shed when not in use without taking up too much space. They come complete with several holes in the bottom for drainage which I was slightly worried might be the first place to show signs of wear and tear but as they're rimmed with metal eyelets they seem to be very strong and as this is the fourth year we'll have used them, they obviously have a good life length to them. They also have strong carry handles on either side making it easy to move them around the garden to make the most of any sunshine or warmth that we might randomly have here in the wet north west!
To plant them up you simply have to put some further drainage in the bottom (in pots I would usually use stones or broken up pots but in these, as they're made from material I tend to use polystyrene pieces instead, this also means they're not as heavy when moving them around), fill the bottom with about 6 inches of compost, add three seed potatoes to each sack, cover with another layer of compost and then leave until you see growth peeping through. As you see the plants coming through you need to keep topping up the sack with compost until eventually the whole sack is filled to about 2 inches from the top of the bag.
Potatoes really are one of the easiest things to grow I've found. They need very little after care and when grown in these bags there isn't even any weeding that you need to do, bonus! I tend to feed them with a liquid fertiliser whenever I remember (which isn't often!) but apart from that I pretty much leave them to their own devices. One tip I was given is to roll the bag down at the top when you first plant it up so that more sun and heat can get to the soil and then to roll it up as you go on filling it with compost, so I tried that last year and it did seem to speed up the growing process.
Because of the size of these bags it isn't really advisable to grow maincrop (ie the bigger potatoes you get from end of summer onwards) in them, but they're great for growing early or second early potatoes (ie new potatoes/salad potatoes). From each plant we usually get a good meals worth of pototoes, if not more, so from each sack I would estimate we get 4 decent meals worth of small, fresh, delicious new potatoes.
From planting to harvest takes between 12 and 16 weeks usually. Sometimes my potato plants grow flowers on them and sometimes they don't, but once the flowers start dying back is usually the time I start to harvest. These bags make harvesting potatoes much easier as well as there's no back-breaking digging in the ground to do, you simply pull the potatoes out of the bag and take off any potatoes still attached to the root system, then run your hands through the compost in the bag (or tip it up all over the patio if you're my messy husband!) to find any strays that may have escaped. I tend to take my collander out with me when harvesting, put the potatoes straight in there and then wash them under the outside tap to avoid transferring as much dirt into the kitchen, but when using these bags rather than planting in the ground, I find that the potatoes don't tend to get as dirty and don't get absolutely covered in thick, clarty mud.
As I've said, we do tend to quite quite a few potatoes from each sack and usually end up with an absolutely heaped collander full. I don't think we get quite as many as when we tried growing them in the ground, but the space saving is more important to me than higher yield so I'm perfectly happy with the amount we get. The good thing about potatoes is that you don't have to harvest them as soon as they're ready, you can leave them to grow for longer so you don't end up with a glut of them. Obviously with new potatoes it's better to eat them younger as they're fresher and taste better and they don't tend to store as well as main crop potatoes. But our 10 sacks worth usually lasts us for a good 7 or 8 weeks through July and August.
So is it worth growing potatoes in bags, economically speaking? It goes without saying that if we could have a proper potato patch in the ground it would be much more cost effective than growing them in these sacks as we could grow a lot more and wouldn't have to fork out for as much compost. However, if like us, you're short of planting space these sacks really are a useful way of growing your own. The cost of the sacks is soon redeemed as you can use them year after year but the biggest cost, without a doubt, in growing in them is the compost needed.
So far this year we've used 3 x 60 litre bags of compost and I would estimate we'll need another 3 bags to keep filling them up before they're properly established. Luckily we managed to get a special offer on compost where we got 6 bags for £15, but it's still a lot of money! If you're lucky enough to have space to do your own composting obviously you can offset the cost of growing even more but we don't have that capability yet. So I sat down and worked out how much it costs us to grow our potatoes and how much it saves us in the supermarket.
We'll have spent £15 on compost and only £2.99 on seed potatoes, I'm not taking into account the cost of the sacks as I think ours have paid for themselves now. So for a total of £18 we should get around 40 meals worth of new potatoes which in the supermarket at around £1 a bag would have cost us approximately £40, so quite a decent saving! Because our growing space is so limited I don't really grow veg with the main aim being to save money (although I would love to get to that stage eventually), I generally do it because I enjoy it, get a lot of satisfaction from going into the garden and picking our own dinner and because I like to know where my veg is coming from, but I do still like to tot up how much I've saved each year from my endeavours! (Last year I worked out I saved around £150 just from our little patch and that was quite a bad years harvest, so it's definitely worth doing!)
So do I recommend these sacks for growing potatoes? In a word, yes. I'm sorry, I seem to have rambled on and on in this review but it's because I get so carried away on subjects like this! For us these sacks have been a god send, enabling us to grow enough new potatoes to see us through summer without taking up valuable ground space that could better used for other things. They're sturdy, longlasting (not one of ours has torn or split yet) and can be used year after year. They fold down small so they don't take a lot of space to store when not it use and they usually provide a good crop of potatoes. The only negative for me is the amount of compost needed to fill them, but at this time of year you can normally find that on good offers anyway and I won't be deducting a star for that.