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The Best Ways To Get 10 Times More Potatoes

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Americans love potatoes, eating about 125 pounds, per person, per year. Although potatoes are easy to grow, many off-gridders on small plots of land avoid them because traditional growing techniques take up a lot of space. However, by using the caging technique, you can get a high yield in a small space.

Caging refers to the practice of using a wire cage, wooden box, barrel, or any other device designed to grow potatoes vertically. By using this practice, potato yield can be increased by anywhere from two to 10 times using the same area of garden.

Here’s how caging works:

1. The container

The author’s potato box.

Select the container, or cage, for your crop. It should be 18 inches by 18 inches or larger, with room for 1 to 4 feet high of soil. On my homestead, I use either a 4-foot-square or 5-foot-square raised bed, constructed of wood, which is 16 inches high. There are also commercially available cages designed for growing potatoes vertically, but instead of spending your hard-earned money, I’m sure your off-grid homestead has materials available for constructing one.

2. The soil

Before planting, set aside enough soil to fill the container. For potatoes, a slightly acidic soil that drains well is ideal. I like to use a mix of peat moss, native soil, compost and vermiculite.

3. Planting

Fill the cage with 6 to 8 inches of soil. Plant the seed pieces 3 to 4 inches deep. Let the potatoes sprout and grow to a height of 8 inches or so. The photo above is from my 5-foot by 5-foot potato cage for this year, where I have Yukon Gem potatoes that have grown 6 to 8 inches high.

4. Fill up the Cage

Once the potato plants are about 8 inches tall, like in the photo above, it’s time to partially bury the plants. Take some of the soil you’ve set aside and gently bury the plants about a third of the way.

I just did that in my garden. The photo here shows the potato plants after they’ve been partially buried the first time.

Continue the process of letting the vines grow higher, and then partially burying them, until your cage is full. Take care not to ever bury the plants by more than one-third to a half, and make sure there is adequate moisture.

Tips for Maximizing Success

Successful potato growing begins by selecting the right cultivar for your climate, and growing vertically is no exception. Potatoes originated in the cooler high altitudes of South America, and thrived for centuries in the cool weather of northern Europe and Ireland. So if you live in an area where the summers get hot like I do, choose a variety that has been developed for heat resistance. These include Butterfinger, Defender and Yukon Gem types.

The reason caging works is that some varieties of potatoes will continue to form tubers from parts of the vine that have been recently buried. However, not all potatoes varieties are created equal — some excel at this and some don’t. So for growing vertically, consider those types listed above, as well as All Blue, Carola, Dark Red Norland, German Butterball, Yellow Finn and Fingerling potatoes.

Final Thoughts

Potatoes should be grown on every off-gridder’s garden. They give great yields, provide lots of needed carbohydrates for the hard-working family members, and store for months without electricity. If you’ve shied away from growing them because of traditional space requirements, try caging today.

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On advice from a Bulgarian neighbour I tried out this system for planting potatoes in winter, bearing in mind our winter temperatures are @ -25 celcius and we often have 3 foot of snow on the ground:

Dig a trench and line with leaves and sawdust.

Plant potatoes and cover with more leaves and sawdust.

Stack a mound of soil above each potato and cover with straw/hay.

The lower layer of leaves/sawdust feeds the potato while the upper layer of leaves/sawdust/soil/straw/hay insulates the potato over winter resulting in stronger plants and growth during spring.

We tried it last year alongside the traditional way of planting in early spring and also by just placing a potato on the ground and placing a mixture of of soil and straw on top, so  a three way trial and no one system proved better than the other but all resulted in a cracking harvest of potatoes with the ones planted using the above method being ready a lot earlier.

I enjoy reading about these different methods, it shows various systems work in different situations.

 

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I tried this several years ago with good results.

Used an old metal trash can with holes knocked in the sides, and bottom rusted away. Planted seed potatoes in about 8 inches of compost, and, as plants grew filled it with layers of compost and dry leaves gotten from a neighbor's trash. Got an estimated 10 lb of potatoes, and harvesting consisted of kicking the can over. :)

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Living in the UK, potatoes grow if you look at them the wrong way. I have always been curious as to how countries with super cold weather deal with frost etc. Thanks for sharing @adjee !

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3 hours ago, dthomasdigital said:

How much water do potatoes need? I love them (even though I not suppose to eat them, high carbs and all). I would like to try growing them in the high desert.

Keep them well-watered, the soil should be damp enough to stick to your fingers but not saturated especially when they are in flower and the new tubers are forming. Water early in the day or late evening if possible avoiding the foliage as if wet this can cause damage to the leaves and make the plants susceptible to disease and bugs. 

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4 hours ago, dthomasdigital said:

How much water do potatoes need? I love them (even though I not suppose to eat them, high carbs and all). I would like to try growing them in the high desert.

A completely off the wall thought. No clue if this would work at all in a desert environment.  Have a look at "hugelkultur". Basically, you dig a trench someplace that can catch any runoff water, like the base of a hill, and fill with rotting or rotten wood, brush clippings, etc. ,re cover and let them rot into a giant underground water sponge. Needs a nitrogen supplement like perennial white clover for first couple years to break down the carbon in the wood.

I have only grown stuff in sand once, and a block from the ocean, problem was salt, not water, so I'm no expert.

I bet there is a hillbilly hack hiding here someplace that could utilize land close to desert flash flood areas, at least :)

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Great ideas, I will have to try. you never know what you can do till you try. We got spinach and a broccoli harvest this year. It of course  took bringing in some good dirt the red sand would not have cut it.

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We had the first ever near total failure at potatoes here this year, along with just about everything else ( the bulrushes did fine ). The ground was saturated from spring to frost. ( this just north of a near record drought ) Raised cages would have made a huge difference.  Be worth doing a couple  even with the usual couple of acres. I'm also thinking of terracing and planting a 5 meter high mound of top soil beside the dugout ( was formerly the top layer of a perennial slew when we dug the hole ) in a dry year the water is right there, in a wet one so is drainage. 

@Thomas  -40 country here ( use whatever scale you want ) we store potatoes in a 3 meter round buried cement room that stays at 5 to 10 C all year. The ground freezes to a depth of 2 meters most years so any spuds left behind in the ground are mush by spring. Usually we have a 100 - 150 Kg in storage and end up throwing some perfectly good ones away in the fall to make room for the new harvest. 

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14 hours ago, dthomasdigital said:

Great ideas, I will have to try. you never know what you can do till you try. 

That is the truth of the matter, we were told it was impossible to grow rhubarb where we live in Bulgaria but after a couple of years experimenting we now grow enough for all our needs and the surplus makes a lovely wine, it is all trial and error plus a lot of fun!

4 hours ago, Gary_Gough said:

We had the first ever near total failure at potatoes here this year, along with just about everything else ( the bulrushes did fine ). The ground was saturated from spring to frost.

For some reason we seem to have a different crop failure each year, this year it was onions they were fine for pickling etc but none reached a decent size. 

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