*** For reference, this post was originally written when we were still living in Nevada. I learned in doing these there, that the climate was not ideal for growing above ground. However, these plans are still going to be used once we have the available area!***
I absolutely LOVE to garden. It's been one of my favorite things since I was just small, and in all honesty some of the best memories I have of my family were made in the garden. I remember members of my family that passed away when I was very small, because of the times we spent in the garden. So, when I grew up and moved out on my own, I knew a garden and plants were always going to be around me. Then, I made the dumb ass decision to move to the middle of hell.
Our house sits about 12 miles from the California state line, and about 35 miles from Death Valley National Park in the Southern Nevada desert. Because of this, our weather is awful and our soil is even worse. We run from 20 degrees to 130 degrees in temperature, and from zero wind to 75+ mph gusts at times. I also went from a place in Southeastern Ohio where we received around 40 inches of rainfall every year, to an area where we max out at around 5 inches of rainfall yearly. Talk about some serious differences.
One of the biggest struggles we have here other than water, and sun, and wind, is the soil itself. The soil here retains little water, and when it does get wet it gets horrible hard. There's little nutrient in the soil here at all, and there's extremely high concentrations of calcium and alkali in the soil. That combination alone makes for rough soil conditions. Some people here will amend their soil for YEARS before they ever actually put anything in the ground. Or, they'll do what we did and they'll build boxes above ground in raised beds and use those for planting in.
These potato cages were our way of growing vertically, and eliminating a lot of bed space these potatoes would have taken up. We only have so many beds, so anytime I can add square footage to our garden space is always a plus here. Also, I learned finding seed potatoes here in the desert is horrible and they're ungodly expensive! We ended up paying almost $9 for a package with only 5 seed potatoes in it. That's just unreal to me, but anyway.
We created our towers out of some stock fencing wire we had on hand. We formed them into a circle and wired the ends together to create the cage. We made two of them out of the wire, they're about 3 feet tall and roughly 18 inches across. Thanks to the critters around here, we always seem to have straw on hand. So I used the last of the bale from winter to line the cages with, shaking out a flake into each cage. Fluffed up and separated each flake of straw just about filled the entire cage. The straw allows the dirt to remain inside the cage, considering how large the holes in the wire are. The straw in our case, also helps hold moisture into the soil as well. I then literally dove right into the cages with both hands, pushing the straw up and around the sides of the wire, still leaving some in the bottom of the cage as well. Once all the straw had been packed in, I began filling the cages full of vegetable potting soil and compost. By the time the soil was about 4-6 inches deep in the cages I added in the seed potatoes, and covered them with more dirt. As the plants grow, I'll add more and more dirt into the cages to mound around the plants. In the second cage, I actually planted two layers of seed potatoes just to see how they would do.
We simply used what we had on hand to create these, and I'm sure there are numerous other possibilities as well. Chicken wire, old laundry baskets, using bamboo stakes sunk into the ground in a circle, old trash cans drilled full of holes, burlap sacks, milk crates, the possibilities here are endless with a little creativity. Shredded news paper, shredded cardboard, pine needles, small branches, really anything compostable could be used as filler as well. The idea is taking what you have on hand and creating from it something that works for you.