Introduction: Tater Totes: Potato Grow Bags

Picture of Tater Totes: Potato Grow Bags
We've grown potatoes successfully in discarded tires with mulch, in lieu of hilling with dirt, but this year we tried growing them in homemade, specially designed, bags! The expensive commercial "Potato Bins" look to be made from simple landscape fabric (weed block film). So, that's what I used to design my Tater Totes. I've had good success so far and the taters are still growing.

Step 1: Why Bother With a Tater Tote?

Picture of Why Bother With a Tater Tote?

- Potatoes are traditionally "hilled up" with dirt to prevent sun scald (poisonous green skins) from forming on the spuds. The dirt is only used as cover and is not necessary for the spuds to form.

- Potatoes are produced along the stem of the plant and not on the roots. Supposedly the longer the stem, the more potatoes produced (theoretically).

- Digging the taters out can be damaging and some are missed altogether.

So, if the potatoes are contained, they can be harvested without missing any spuds, and the mulch gives sun protection and a nice clean medium, as opposed to dirt, at harvest time.

Step 2: What You Will Need:

Picture of What You Will Need:

SKILL LEVEL: Beginner; straight cuts with scissors and straight line stitching on sewing machine.

TIME: About 30 minutes to cut and sew the Totes

- Landscape fabric
- Nylon sewing thread

- Scissors
- Measuring tape
- Sewing machine

Step 3: Tater Tote Construction:

Picture of Tater Tote Construction:

The landscape fabric I had on hand was a partial roll 36" wide. I cut the remaining fabric on the roll down the middle, making each half 18" wide strips. I cut the strips into 48" long pieces.

Fold the fabric in half and sew the short ends together with nylon sewing thread at least 1/2" from the edge. For more stability, I folded the finished seam to one side and sewed it down, too (see display photo).

Sew darts about 3" long at each corner along the bottom. Pull opening apart between darts to fold fabric in opposite direction to sew two more darts at the bottom, being careful to leave an opening (see diagrams below).

When you are finished with the sewing portion, you should have a square hole in the bottom of your Tater Tote ready for planting (see last photo below)!

These Totes finished out at around 14-15" in diameter and about 16-18" tall, but you can make them any size you want or your materials allow.

Step 4: Planting Taters in Totes:

Picture of Planting Taters in Totes:

Place a biodegradable mulch material (newspaper, cardboard) on the ground for weed control where you would like to plant your Tater Totes.

Measure the diameter of your Totes and use this dimension from center to center between your Totes. Cut out holes through the paper to expose the ground where your Totes will be positioned over.

Roll the sides of your Tater Totes down until they form a shallow bag. Place the Totes over the holes in the paper. Dig very shallow holes in the ground to plant your seed potato and lightly cover with soil and compost.

Place a rock or two in the bottom of the Totes to weigh them down. Place a layer of mulch in the bottom of the Totes to cover the spuds. Mulch can be anything you have plenty of like: shredded leaves or paper, hay, straw, sawdust, etc.

Step 5: Add the Mulch:

Picture of Add the Mulch:

As the potato leaves grow, unroll the sides of the Tater Totes a little at a time to allow more mulch to be placed around plants. Planting a group of Tater Totes at one time allows the plants to help support each other.

Step 6: Spud Harvesting:

Picture of Spud Harvesting:

The potato plants will continue to grow well beyond the height of the Tater Totes and become top heavy and may fall over. At that time you may want to check around near the bottom of the bag for potatoes.

If you're careful, you may be able to harvest spuds without damaging the plants, allowing the smaller potatoes to continue growing.

Happy harvest!!

Step 7: The Final Tater Tote Numbers:

Picture of The Final Tater Tote Numbers:

I will place updated information about the final numbers like: height, pounds of harvested potatoes, and notes on this Step.

THIS YEAR (2009):

- I lightly fertilized the soil before planting with composted manure with sawdust and green sand mix, and only fertilized once afterward with liquid fish emulsion before the rains came and stayed for 6 weeks. By then the plants were so huge I saw no need to fertilize.

- 9 out of 10 red potato plants survived the constant rain. I attribute that to the porous Tote fabric which allowed good air circulation, and water drainage.

- The one plant that died showed signs of severe rot (blight?) and an infestation of slugs, both caused by the wet weather. The rot was located within a layer of hay mulch I used when I ran short of the shredded leaves. My best guess is that it was not the hay, as much as mixed mulches, that caused the rot. The shredded leaf mulch is heavier and compacted the hay layer, possibly trapping moisture in that area.

- I used bush beans and nasturtiums as companion plants and had no bug problems at all. There were plenty of earthworms living in the Tote mulch.

The final tally is in:
I harvested approximately 1-3/8 pounds (0.63 kg) of red potatoes per Tater Tote.

I harvested twice from 4 of the Totes and kept the plants intact for a second harvest, but chopped them back to within 18" of the Tote because they shaded the sun from other plants.

At least 2 potatoes were found in the dirt UNDER each Tote!


- I will definitely reuse these Tater Totes and make a bunch more.
- I will not mulch between the bags to allow more air flow and water drainage.
- I will cut back (trim) the potato plants after they reach 2' over the top of the bag.
- I will plant them in blocks of 9 (3 plants x 3 plants) for easier care, and they can more evenly support each other.
- I will plant at least one traditional hill of potatoes as a control for comparison purposes (I don't believe traditionally grown potatoes would have survived the wet weather this season).


WVSundown (author)2017-02-24

egull2, I have never heard of the Demo Bags. They look great and the price is very reasonable too! I'll have to see if I can find them here! Good luck with your tater crop and thanks so much for the heads up and sharing your pics!

egull2 made it! (author)2017-02-23

I used demo bags from the Home Despot - 20 bags approx $20. These are made out of a Tyvek-type material and are very tough. Poked holes in the bottom, rolled down edges, added dirt, added potatoes, topped with compost. 5 small seed potatoes or one large potato per bag. I plan on protecting the bags from sunlight with some straw or something - I know they'll get brittle if exposed to sunlight for long periods of time. I have 5 varieties going: Cara, Peruvian Purple, Austrian fingerling, Red Thumb fingerling and Russet. Looking forward to harvest!

kbigger1 made it! (author)2016-05-23

I made these bags using the wead-stop plastic. I'm using them in my community garden plot.

WVSundown (author)kbigger12016-05-24

That's fantastic! The taters look like they're doing well . . . hope you harvest a bunch!! Thanks for sharing your pics.

Pa1963 (author)2016-02-21

I've read, in the Mother Earth News I think, that tires can leach such things as heavy metals and oil based nasties into your growing medium, so that might be something to consider.

kerryaswanson (author)2015-03-23

Did you use regular dirt or compost or peat moss to cover them?

WVSundown (author)kerryaswanson2015-04-01

I used a combination of composted leaves and straw. I liked the composted leaves best and think the tater did, too! Use whatever you have handy.

JimF5 (author)2015-02-20

I grew potatoes last season with great success. I did quite a bit of studying before I started. We did use grow bags that I purchased and found in my study that you dont want to add lime to your mix as potatoes like a more acid soil. And also I was told use a more full season potato like Kennebec which I did. I only tried it as a trail with one 7 Gal grow bag with 3 sets in it and when we dumped it out we found 10 pounds of multi sized taters some very large. All were perfect with no blems of any kind. Also I learned that potato beetles will not bother as much. I will be planting many bags this way this year.

WVSundown (author)JimF52015-04-01

That's a great potato production!! Tater bugs get confused if you plant marigolds and nasturtiums so they'll help keep them away from your tater crop.

JstCamie (author)2015-01-12

This looks like a great idea. I like how you start with a small layer, with the bag rolled down and as they grow, and you hill them, you unroll the bag. I am going to try this. Plus, storage of these after will be much easier.

WVSundown (author)JstCamie2015-01-13


aporte (author)2014-05-10

Hey I just saw your post and am wanting to try this but my hubby says that he does nto want potatoe sin the garden because of potato bugs. Did you get any bugs like that with this method? I thinkI have him half way convinced to grow potatoes this year ;)

WVSundown (author)aporte2014-05-11

Potato bugs don't seem to care what type container you grow your taters in, they will eventually find them. Companion planting does a great job of deterring the Colorado potato bug. I plant marigolds, nasturtiums, and bush beans with, and around, my potatoes and rarely have a bug problem. I hope your hubby will be relieved of concern and you can get your taters growing!

aporte (author)WVSundown2014-05-16

Also, can these be used to grow potatoes in a greenhouse / indoors rather than outside?

WVSundown (author)aporte2014-05-23

I'm sure they could be used inside as well as outside

jcrosley (author)2014-04-18

Great tutorial! Made 4 of em in about an hour! Have a tater box a friend gave me but needed some more ideas for the rest of my starts! Had to get them in some dirt a couple weeks ago cuz they were already sprouting. I have them in grocery bags w/ slits at the bottom in a large plastic bin with some soil. Going to get them in their new bags on Sunday (Happy Easter!!!) Hope they make the transition ok. Thanks for the amazing idea!

WVSundown (author)jcrosley2014-04-18

Thank you for the kind words! Sounds like you'll have plenty of taters this season! Good luck and post pics if you can.

anguevuberwald (author)2014-04-12

Thanks for an great idea! Made 9 this weekend. 8 for taters and a bigger one for onions!

WVSundown (author)anguevuberwald2014-04-12

That's great! Post some pics if you can.

nalemany (author)2014-03-11

I have a question. How many potato eyes, i.e. plants do you put in a bag?

WVSundown (author)nalemany2014-03-11

I add a few (3 to 4) chunks of potatoes that have one or more eyes on each piece. Sometimes all the eyes will sprout; sometimes only a few will.

WVBonBonQueen (author)2014-01-31

So am!
I am actually looking forward to having a garden again this year.
I ordered my Heirloom seeds earlier this year, and have them in a jar waiting for the weather to be ready for them.
I am going to do most of my garden on the porch, in buckets, to keep the "critters" out of it, hopefully anyway.
I have about 20 acres to have a garden on, but... the critters take over and I get pretty discouraged about it. LOL
So... this year we are gardening on the porch, except for the potatoes and they will be near the porch too, so DH doesn't get weed wacker happy and mow them down. LOL
How much garden do you have?

WVSundown (author)WVBonBonQueen2014-01-31

I have a small lot under a shady oak grove on a northern slope, so I plant in the only ray of sunshine found in the yard. It's around 400 sq ft plot with wild critters foraging at night. I use hay bales in raised beds, arched trellises, crates, and grow bags to get the most bang from my shiny spot. Good luck with your porch fortress garden!

WVSundown (author)2014-01-30

Sure feed sacks will work! I've seen them filled with compost and soil, then planted every 10" or so all around the sack! Go for it, and happy gardening!!

WVBonBonQueen (author)WVSundown2014-01-30

I figured it would work but wanted another opinion on it, before trying it.

Our feed sacks are now made from plastic and so is the material you suggested using, so... it was just a thought.

I do know there is writing on it, but since feed is being stored it them I didn't think it would hurt the plants since it was already used for feed.

Thanks for the insight and I look forward to seeing more from you and hope to report good outcome from my endeavor with my taters. LOL

WVSundown (author)WVBonBonQueen2014-01-30

Looking forward to seeing your tater count! ;-)

WVBonBonQueen (author)2014-01-30

I wonder if this would work using 50# feed sacks? We have a lot of them every year, as we have two horses to feed and we buy them alfalfa cubes instead of hay. We have at least 40 per year, that we just usually throw away. Not counting the regular feed we buy every month too. I may have to try using those instead of buy the recommended material.

What do you think of using these bags?

juanangel (author)2013-04-10

On my first try I was able to harvest close to two pound from three plants. I plant them inside a washing machine inner drum. Great choice since it has plenty of openings for drainage. Plus it is wide for the three or more plants. I just planted them and forgot about it until harvesting. Next time I will not fill it to the top. I will plant from the bottom up to see the results. I used compost but this time I will try a mix of leaves and compost.

WVSundown (author)juanangel2013-04-12

Great idea! Let us know how you do this year, too!

maemae97 (author)2012-03-06

I am going to try the reusable grocery bags to grow fingerlings. I have a lot of the recyled fabric bags and thought I would give them a try. Has anyone ever used these before?

WVSundown (author)maemae972012-05-18

Sorry to take so long to reply . . . your message got lost in some others. I've researched using the fabric grocery store bags and found the only concern may be the ink used to dye the bags, or silkscreen the bag logos, might contain lead in the paint/dye. I don't know how much of the possible amount of lead would be absorbed by the plants, but would think the same would be true of re-using the feed sacks with imprinted labels.

Regardless, if you're wanting to go organic, try to find out about the lead in the paint/dye. I personally feel the risk is minimal and compared to the chemicals used on commercially grown crops we buy at the supermarket, I'm willing to risk using the shopping bags myself. I'd go for it, they're the perfect size for planting!

Good luck with your gardening!

suezq (author)2010-02-15

I love your tater totes and have tremendous leaf envy over what I see in the pictures. I have no trees yet that produce leaves and have to mow my neighbors lawn just to get grass clippings. I am too shy to knock on someone's door in the fall and beg their leaves off of them. It makes me so sad to see all those lovely leaves in bags at the curb for weeks on end knowing they are only going to our local dump. sigh... the reason I'm writing is to find out why you roll the sack down? (don't laugh, I'm a late bloomin' gardner). I love potatoes and last summer I stuffed a brown paper sack into an old mesh sack that my oranges came in. I added some dirt, stuck a sprouted tater in the bottom, filled the rest with dirt, and hung it on the fence. It looked real pretty growing there until the plant got so big it fell over. I just kept watering it not knowing when or what I'd get out of it. Come October I got sick of looking at it all withered and hanging there so I dumped it out in my compost box and low and behold I had about 12 medium sized red potatos! I didn't know about the green skin thing and thought that some of mine were just "green". You know, like not ripe. I took a bite out of one anyway and promptly spit it out. lol. Back on the first potato seed is actually planted in the ground and then the rest grow in the straw and leaves with no dirt?

kajons (author)suezq2012-05-17

Get over your shyness. MOST people will be more than happy to let you take their bagged leaves or straw. Make sure you clean area and they will let you repeat or maybe even call you when they have a load. They got to be good people if they rake their yards. I used to rake a friends yard for the straw. (It would take 3 of us at least 1 FULL day making many trips) I also know a guy who gets paid to rake and he sells it.

vtbeachldy (author)suezq2010-06-30

There is a website called Freecycle Just post a request asking for folks to save their leaves for you. That way you get JUST leaves instead of mixed bags that you might pick up on the side of the road. Specify an area that you'd be willing to travel to pick up the bags. This way you don't have to worry about being shy-- everything is handled by email. You might also ask if anyone has "bunny berries" while you're at it -- good fertilizer makes good 'taters.

WVSundown (author)suezq2010-02-16

suezq, The reason to initially roll the Tote down is to create a shallow growing area for the potato to sprout. Once it sprouts and starts getting taller, fill in around the plants with mulch. As it grows taller, add more mulch, and roll up the sides of the Tote a little to contain the mulch.

The seed potato needs soil to grow the plant stems, the stems produce the new potatoes and just need protection from the sun while they're forming. You may have a potato or two form underneath the Tote in the dirt, so be sure to check!

I did notice that most all the new potatoes formed closer to the ground level, which RULES OUT "the taller the plant the more potatoes" theory!! But the Tater Tote process did seem to improve the plant growth in general.

Hope you can muster the courage to collect those leaf bags this fall!! Or maybe post a sign at your curb "Dump Bagged Leaves Here."

Good luck with your taters!!

Lee-in-Iowa (author)2011-12-20

Thanks! I'm going to try this with leftover chicken and dog food bags (cutting some drainage holes, of course).

Two ideas: 1. Drop a piece of brick or a rock into the bottom to help counterbalance the bags as the potato plants get taller. (I am a dedicated scavenger and have a small pile of partial bricks left from a patio project of recycled pavers.)

and 2. Look out for SNAKES! I used the straw-as-hilling method in my potato patch and at harvest time, the straw was full of BABY SNAKES. Wear some VERY GOOD GLOVES when you go to harvest your bag of potatoes!

WVSundown (author)Lee-in-Iowa2011-12-21

I've run into some nasty little critters mixed in the hay, but not a snake yet...eeew!! Thanks for the info!

Lee-in-Iowa (author)WVSundown2011-12-22

If it had been just one.... It was a whole nest of babies, brown with white pinstripes, and they were furious to be disturbed. Every one of the little devils was striking at me while I was frantically trying to get them out of there without hurting them...using a pitchfork.

WVSundown (author)Lee-in-Iowa2011-12-23

Yeah I would have used a pitchfork, too, possibly in a different manner than you, hahaha. Seriously, snakes are good garden buddies, but a whole nest of babies are no fun at all. I got into a nest of baby copperheads once . . . I stayed indoors for a week afterward.

Lee-in-Iowa (author)2011-12-20

Someone asked whether this would work for sweet potatoes, and the answer is actually "Yes", but you would want to fill the bag completely with your soil mix and put your "slips" or starts in at the top. For those of us who try to grow sweet potatoes in Northern climates and richer soils, growing them in a container helps two ways--we can start them indoors while our weather is still cold in the spring AND we can corral them in that container so they don't wander off and make spindly little 'taters instead of a nice cluster of fat ones.

WVSundown (author)Lee-in-Iowa2011-12-21

Good idea with the sweet potatoes!
Thanks again.

nanaki (author)2011-12-18

Neato! Thanks for this. My soil is horrible, and organic potatoes are so expensive . Being a "scrounger", I'm going to try this with a 4'-0" wide canvas tarp I don't need anymore. It only has a little latex paint on it. It seems like tougher stuff than weed-fabric, but I wonder how the lighter color of the tarp will work as opposed to the dark weed-fabric. Perhaps an experiment is in order.

WVSundown (author)nanaki2011-12-20

I've known folks who took a new fresh bag of potting soil (on its side), jabbed a few holes on the side next to the ground and cut an 'X' on the side exposed to the sun, and planted veggies and flowers very successfully. I imagine a tarp would work quite well used in the same manner. You could place a few plants in a tarp roll of soil! Let us know how it works for you, and thanks for posting.

grannyjones (author)2011-11-26

Add endive to the list.
mulch only,
Blanched endive is the best.

WVSundown (author)grannyjones2011-11-26

Aaaah yes, that's the one I couldn't remember!! Thanks you!!

Jenn13 (author)2010-01-15

Wow!  Nice Instructable!   I have read that potatoes will keep getting taller and continue to produce more on the stems.  Can you keep the tote at 36" tall instead of cutting it to 18" and keep growing up? 

WVSundown (author)Jenn132010-01-15

Thanks, I guess you could make the Tote as tall as you want, but remember the potato plant will get top heavy and may pull the Tote over, possibly pulling up and/or exposing the plant roots. If you stake the Totes, or have them positioned in a "block" to help hold each other up, you might get by with taller Totes.

zutcom (author)WVSundown2011-05-04

If I used soil instead of mulch, which is considerably heavier, then that would fix the toppling issue, right? In my experience, soil piled up becomes really much like a blob of concrete as long as nobody fiddles with it, especially when it is contained. So, do you think raising the height of the bags by a foot or so and using soil instead of mulch would work out?

I know that soil is harder to dig around in looking for spuds, but I don't want to take the risk of partial harvest which could hurt the plant, so I would harvest all my taters at the same time. In this case, I would really be pulling plants up, thus, using mulch for me wouldn't have much of an advantage over using soil.

WVSundown (author)zutcom2011-05-05

You could use the Totes with any medium you like with each having it's own specific pros and cons. Try a taller Tote with dirt to see how it works out, then report back here to share the experience. We all learn from each other's successes and mistakes! Good luck!

Jenn13 (author)WVSundown2010-01-15

Thanks for the tips!

About This Instructable




Bio: Semi-retired design-drafter, enjoying my garden, a lil writing, and making stuff from recycled materials.
Add instructable to: