Growing Potatoes in Cages

Jan 7th, 2011 | By | Category: Grow Something, winter

Even during the rationing period, during World War II, we didn’t have the anxiety that we’d starve, because we grew our own potatoes, you know? ~James Earl Jones

Sack of potatoes--image courtesy if Peter Grima

Sack of Potatoes image courtesy of Peter Grima

Americans love potatoes and consume about 126 pounds of them annually.

While potatoes are plentiful and inexpensive to buy at the grocery store, they’re also among the top 20 commercially produced fruit and vegetable crops exposed to a wide array of pesticides.

Lucky for you they’re easy to grow, making them a prime candidate for home production using organic methods.

Contrary to popular belief, potatoes don’t have to take up a lot of space in the garden. If you grow them vertically in wire cages they take up very little space, but deliver outstanding yields.

Advantages to Growing Spuds Vertically

  • Takes up very little space
  • Can grow them anywhere there’s a sunny spot (including a balcony)
  • No back-breaking labor digging trenches
  • No rocks or hard soil that can cause misshapen tubers
  • Easy to water and fertilize
  • More and bigger potatoes
  • To harvest, just open or lift up cage for perfect potatoes

What Potatoes Want

  • Sunny location that receives 6 to 8 hours of full sun a day
  • Loose, well-draining, slightly acidic soil
  • pH level between 6.0 and 6.5.
  • Good moisture retention without getting soggy

When to Plant Potatoes

When you plant potatoes depends on where you live. In my Central Texas garden, I can plant Irish potatoes (generic term for white or non-sweet potatoes) in late January through mid to late February, and again for a short time in August.  The window for planting sweet potatoes in my area runs April through July.

Check with your County Extension Service about the best time to plant spuds where you live.

What You Need to Cage Potatoes

  • 10 feet of sturdy gauge wire fencing or hardware cloth, 36 inches wide
  • Additional hardware cloth (optional)
  • Twine or zip ties
  • Shovel (optional)
  • Wire mesh (optional)
  • Old newspapers (optional)
  • Straw (optional)
  • Light, rich soil
  • Compost
  • Peat
  • Certified organic seed potatoes

Now What?

Because the wind is very strong where I live, and topples everything I put in cages, I’ve found that sinking the cages in the ground slightly helps to anchor them, but this is optional.

  1. Take your wire mesh or fencing and create a cylinder; attach the short ends together with twine or zip ties. Your cylinder will be approximately 36-inches in diameter. You can reduce the diameter simply by overlapping the fencing or mesh on itself more.
  2. If you need to anchor your cage, dig a hole that’s about 8 to 10 inches deep and slightly greater in diameter than your wire cage. If you have issues with burrowing critters like gophers where you live, you can line the hole with the extra wire mesh, bringing it up the sides of the hole, placing the cage on top of it.
  3. If not anchoring your potato cage in this way, and even if you are, it’s advisable to remove all grass and weeds from the planting area and out from the area about a foot all around, and cover with several layers of newsprint to suppress weeds and grass; dampen well. If you want a more “finished” look, you can cover the newsprint that’s around the cylinder with straw or mulch.
  4. Fill the hole level with the surrounding ground, using a soil blend of  65% soil, 25% finished compost and 10% peat.
  5. Take your certified seed potatoes and place them on top of the planting mixture, eyes out, about 6 to 8 inches apart, and then gently cover them with about 3 to 4 inches of your soil blend, and water them in.

You’ll need to keep an eye in the moisture content of the soil over the course of the season, because caged potatoes dry out more quickly than trenched potatoes.

After the potato sprouts poke through the soil’s surface, allow them to grow about 6 to 8 inches and develop a few leaves, before gently filling around them with more of the soil mixture, and water well . Do not compact the soil around the plants or you’ll affect the yield.

If you want, you can place straw around the inside of the cylinder before each soil addition to help keep the mixture from spilling out, but if you use wire mesh with small enough openings, that’s not a big problem.

Some folks choose to skip the addition of soil once the plants start growing. Instead, they fill in and around the plants with straw. This works, but I find that the cylinder is too lightweight for my windy environment–but you may wish to try it.

Continue this process of allowing the plants to grow, and then filling in around the plants, and watering, until the container is three-quarters full and then stop. This will take a number of weeks.

At this point, water and fertilize as needed, and keep an eye on pest and pathogen problems. Depending on whether you planted early, mid, or late season potatoes, you’ll harvest spuds between 60 and 130 days.

When you see blooms on the plants, that means potatoes are forming. When the foliage turns brown and dies–provided it’s not a potato pest or pathogen problem–it’s time to harvest.

How many potatoes will you get? For every one pound of see potatoes you plant, you can easily end up with ten pounds of eating potatoes.

Before you store your potatoes, they need to be cured for 10 days to two weeks in a dark, cool place with relatively high humidity. After the curing period, Texas A & M Horticulturists say your potatoes will last longest in a cool environment with 85% humidity.

Of course, those are ideal conditions for long-term storage. If you can’t swing that, just be glad you like potatoes–because you’re going to be eating a lot of them.

And when you’re ready to use some of your gorgeous homegrown potatoes, perhaps you’d like to make Creamy Potato Leek Soup, or Roasted Potato and Fennel Soup.

Or just maybe Sir Paul McCartney can inspire you with his favorite mashed potato recipe.

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  1. Cecilia, love this post! I think I’ll give this a try to free more garden space for other crops. Can you harvest new potatoes this way? If I want to get a few at a time, is that possible?

  2. Hi Claudia, thanks for your comment. Yes, you can harvest new potatoes even when you grow them in a cage. To do this, I recommend cutting some openings in the fencing or wire mesh that are big enough for your hand to fit through. Make these openings at differnt heights and stagger where you put them so you can harvest from different sides of the cage. To check on the tubers, gently stick your hand into one of these opening and feel around for the new potatoes. If you are using straw instead of a lightweight soil to support your vines, it will probably be a little easier to access the baby spuds. Do watch out for fire ants, though. Those little buggers can be merciless.

  3. Great information, thank you. I’m trying cage spuds for the first time this 2012 year and really looking forward to an easier harvest. I strategically placed the cages against the outside of the chicken run hoping that they’ll control the tater loving bugs and offer the ladies some shade as well.

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