‘Taters Gone Wild: Troubleshooting Cold Weather and Potato Pests

Reader Contribution by Blythe Pelham
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Read Part 1:‘Taters Gone Wild: Planting Potatoes from Sprouts.

Read Part 3: ‘Taters Gone Wild: 2 Bushels and Counting.

I held my breath for about a week after I planted the potential potato babies freed from my basement. Even though I knew I was experimenting and that it could result (at worst) in an amended bed with better soil, I was thrilled when the first plants poked their little leaves through the straw.

It wasn’t for another week or so that my adventure was showing fairly widespread success. I had plants of all four varieties coming through. The plants continued to grow and thrive as though I’d planted them with the barely sprouted eyes as I normally do.

Growing Potatoes in Cold Weather

Then in mid-May (later than we ever do), we had a hard frost/light freeze. Thankfully, we suffered only two nights of dangerously cold temperatures. Potatoes prefer temperatures between 40 and 75 degrees (Fahrenheit). I covered both beds with sheets and hoped for the best. I also covered a silly, little volunteer in my tomatoes-to-be bed since it was working just as hard as those I’d intentionally planted.

I was quite pleasantly surprised that the tuber had survived the cold over the winter when I came upon it. I serendipitously discovered this plant on my way to cover the grapes, otherwise I could have easily missed it.

Unfortunately, most of my ‘Gold Rush’ variety were nipped by the cold. I’ll end up with just a small offering of those this year. The ‘Strawberry Paw’, ‘Thunder Row’ (a TPS — True Potato Seed potato), and ‘Yukon Golds’ all came through like champs!

After that cold snap, our weather moved from a few weeks with daytime temps in the 60s and 70s to more full-on-summer temperatures climbing more regularly into the 80s. I’ve added more mulch twice. The plants are already needing another layer but I had to get the rest of my garden in so they’ve had to wait.

Garden Pest Control for Potatoes 

The next chore now added where my potatoes are concerned is pest control. I still remember the first time I saw the larvae of the Colorado Potato Beetle. The truly alien appearance of this beast is what caught my eye, along with its sometimes bright orange color.

My introduction to these creatures was an infestation of the nightshade growing near where we park our vehicles. I wasn’t growing potatoes at that point in time so I banked the information I learned (particularly about the insect liking nightshade’s cousin—the potato) and battled the bugs.

Because I choose to avoid biocides in my garden, I currently utilize two basic approaches to winning this fight. One is to have closed containers of soapy water set around the garden. When I come across a pest I want to get rid of, I shake or place it into the water, close the top, and shake gently. The insect drowns almost immediately.

My other death-method comes more quickly with the bottom of my boot. I wish I could shed the pangs of guilt I feel for offing these insects, but I actually prefer to feed my own family and friends. Colorado potato beetles can continue to feast on all the nightshade they wish, but they take their lives in their legs when they choose my taters.

Tiny black flea beetles have joined the battle against my potato plants this year. I’ve been employing one of my late father-in-law’s kill methods for those — my bare hands. Where using this technique with larger, juicier insects gives me the shudders, I have no trouble rolling these little dudes between my fingers as I check the leaves for more offenders. You can see the classic, bb-like damage on the leaf (lower right) along with one of the li’l buggers (alive) in the photo above.

I’m excited by what looks like a good crop of ‘taters this year, even though it was completely unplanned. I highly recommend trying to plant those potatoes you thought were lost. They really might surprise you.

I laughed out loud with awe when I noticed some of the babies that I’d thought had no prospects were bursting forth in the compost pile. Never one to ignore hard work, I carefully dug down to extract them and move them over to the area the frost diminished the gold rush. Interestingly, the compost volunteers were also gold rush potatoes.

I will add one more installment to this adventure once I harvest later in the season. Who knows, maybe I’ll even include a recipe! Stay tuned for the continuation of this botanical adventure.

Blythe Pelham is an artist that aims to enable others to find their grounding through energy work. She is in the midst of writing a cookbook and will occasionally share bits in her blogging here. She writes, gardens and cooks in Ohio. Find her online at Humingsand Being Blythe, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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