Around Spring of 2008 I started noticing molehills in my yard and around the house. Then I noticed a few in my little backyard garden. I was a little annoyed, but that was nothing compared to how I felt when they got INTO the raised beds! Out of five whole potato plants, I got to eat 3, count them three whole potatoes. When the first plant started dying I was curious, so I carefully pulled it up. Lo and behold, not only did I have a potato plant with no potatoes, but I exposed a whole network of underground tunnels! Grrrr!!!
My brilliant idea was to build a potato cage. Unlike a tomato cage, the potato cage is underground. Very simple to do!
Step 1: Gather What Ye Need...or...Mountains Out of Mole Hills
Gathering what you'll need:
Hardware mesh (I picked 1/2 inch as my garden dirt is lumpy and I did not want air pockets to form as the ground settles after I bury my cage. Hopefully, it is still small enough mesh to keep out the vermin!) Mine cost around $7.50 at Lowes.
Wire cutters. Usually there is some form of a wire cutter on your pliers, but really, you should have a dedicated tool for this.
A roll of wire (gauge unknown, just something you can cut and weave through the mesh)
Small zip ties (in case you run out of wire)
Step 2: Measuring Up
Pick the spot you want to put your plants and measure. Here it is roughly 41 inches. I decided that I only need approximately a foot more on either side, for a total of 65 inches.
Carefully unwrap the wire holding the mesh in a roll. You will use this later to wire the pieces together. Measure and cut 65 inches from the roll of mesh.
Step 3: Get Another Body...
CAREFULLY (the wire is sharp and will draw blood if you ARE NOT careful! You SHOULD be wearing gloves, but I could not handle the cutters or weaving in gloves) bend up 12 or so inches on each end of the cut piece to form the upright ends. You may need a second person to help, as the cut section is stubborn and does not want to straighten out. It can whip around and slice the skin like a razor blade!
Unfortunately, I was so tied up in actually making the cage that I forgot to take photos! Oops. Just too anxious to keep my potatoes from those pesky varmints!
Step 4: Zippity Doo Dah!
Cut two more pieces approx 41 inches from roll. If your roll is 10 feet long like mine was, just fold the remaining mesh in half and cut once. These will be the 2 side pieces. If they are too long, just fold one end over. Using the wire you saved from unrolling the mesh, start attaching this piece to one side of the large piece, starting at the top of one end, weaving down and across the bottom, and finally going up the other end. I found that using pliers was easier on my hands than just pulling the wire through with my naked fingers. Also, you need to pull slowly to keep the wire from knotting.
It is best to cut the wire into shorter, more manageable pieces! This wire may not be long enough for the whole job, so that is where the other wire I listed would come in. When I ran out of wire, the only other wire I had was beading wire; too light to use for this. Luckily, my husband had a whole bag of small zip ties that had been kicking around the garage for years. They worked like a charm!
Step 5: Can Ya Dig It?
Back to the garden! At the end where you want to do your planting, dig out an area roughly the size of the cage, at least 6 inches deep. Carefully put the cage in place and backfill with the dirt you removed. Again, USE CAUTION WHEN HANDLING CAGE! Those short cut ends are sharp!!! (I have 2 bloody fingers to prove it!) You do not have to bury the cage completely; you only need a bit of the cage sticking out. Here is where the sharp points come in handy as discouragement to keep vermin and varmints from climbing over and into the cage.
Go ahead and plant your potatoes in the cage. As the plants grow, add dirt around them, building up the depth a little at a time. Do not cover up too much foliage at once. You can continue to go up with layers of dirt and straw. This will help give the potatoes room to grow INSIDE the cage instead of UNDER it. A great source of information about growing potatoes can be found at http://www.thegardenhelper.com/potato.html
I figure this will hold 5 potato plants, maybe a couple more.
The forecasters got it wrong (again), and we got sun when it was supposed to rain, so I took the opportunity to dig! Wanted to get the cage in without compacting the soil too much, as would have happened if I tried this during or right after a heavy rain, which had been predicted.
Step 6: And Finally...
Already edited to remove the weird little code thingys that popped up for each and every contraction used. Sigh.