This year I tried a variation on the potato buckets that did so well for me last year. But 2010 was a very different growing season than 2009. In fact, you could say the two years were opposite extremes. And the method that worked well in 2009's conditions performed poorly in 2010's.
June of 2009 was a month of rain that was nearly Old Testament in its lack of moderation. That led to all my potato plants in the ground developing late blight in early August. But the potatoes in buckets, with their better drainage and higher elevation leading to better air flow around the plants, resisted the blight for an additional month after all the others were finished. I saw pretty good yields out of those buckets.
Not so this year. We had hardly a drop of rain all summer, which is quite unusual for this area, plus heat that was higher than average. I discovered that potatoes don't particularly love the heat. The ones in buckets fared especially poorly. In the beginning of the growing season I had situated them on the driveway. My thinking was that I would be getting some production out of an otherwise unusable space. Of course, I couldn't know at the time what sort of summer was in store, but this was a bad move. And I should have corrected the mistake by removing the buckets from the blacktop once the heat set in. But - and I won't bore you with excuses - I didn't.
The yields I saw from these buckets were too embarrassing to report here. Really abysmal. Suffice it to say I'm glad that we had potatoes in the ground as well. That said, I don't think the new design of my self-watering buckets was at fault. I suspect the water reservoir was the only reason I got any harvest at all. Had I avoided the foot infection that kept me from watering for several of the hottest days of the summer, yields might have been a bit better. My feeling is that my real mistake was keeping them on the blacktop when it was clear that they were struggling with the heat. Chili peppers or tomatoes might have fared better there.
I will certainly try potatoes in buckets again next year. The harvest remains as easy as ever: tip the bucket into a wheelbarrow and pick out the spuds. It's even possible that I might position the buckets on the driveway again if we were to have another atypically cold and wet year. But in an average or hotter than average year in this region, my observations suggest they'll do better somewhere else.