Why cant I grow potatoes?

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Well, I thought that I had finally done it, I dug a few potatoes that were really nice and plentiful. I guess I should not have been patting myself on the back so quick.....

I dug up about 150 feet of potates, I had planted them about 8" apart-I ended up with 2 and 1/2-5gallon pails of potatoes:(

I planted them in May, I hilled the dirt over them a couple times as they started to grow. They probably had at least 10" of dirt over them.

They seemed to die back pretty early. Same thing happened last year. I dont even remember seeing any blooms.

Now, here is perhaps the key-I cant grow tomatoes in this garden. They come to the point of beginning to set fruit and wilt and die. I have yet to determine whether it is tomato wilt or walnut trees(which are about 100' away). Garden store says walnuts are far enough away, but it seems that the wilt would eventually go away. I tried tomatoes again this year and they died. This has been the case for 4 years. Yet I can plant them about 50 feet away(and farther from walnuts) and they do fine. But green peppers have always done fine.

So I wonder if this is related to the wilt or walnuts just affect the nightshade family, although peppers arent bothered-or what?

Something else that I notice is that I had a lot of volunteer plants come up. I left some of them and when I dug them they had done really well.

I had thought of later this fall putting out a few potatoes and doing an experiment to see if they would make it overwinter and grow next year(here in WI)

Any suggestions would be most appreciated. Tami in WI

-- Tami Bowser (windridg@chorus.net), September 08, 2000


Are you using "seed" potatoes, or potatoes commercially produced and meant for eating? The eating spuds won't produce as well as a seed variety.

-- Tracy (trimmer@westzone.com), September 08, 2000.

Tami, is sounds exacty like my garden! Potatoes didn't do a thing, the tomatoes died, but got a boatload of peppers and corn. I think part of my problem is that my ground is clay and shale. No matter how much manure you put on it, things still die. Could it be your soil is poor and you just need a load of manure?

-- Misha (MishaaE@aol.com), September 08, 2000.

Im not a potato expert but here are some thoughts...

All members of the walnut family produce juglone. Juglone is the chemical that kills off plants trying to grow in the walnuts realm of competition. Juglone is exuded from the root structure and is contained in the leaves and husks. The root structure (if I remember correctly for walnuts) can radiate 50% greater than the height of the tree. If, for example, your walnut is 80' tall then the zone of juglone poisoning around the tree is a 120' radius. The leaves and husks would spread juglone wherever they fell or piled up. If youre using the black walnut leaves as mulch in your garden, you may be poisoning your tomatos. Removing the tree does not remove the problem because juglone is not water soluable and stays in the soil for many years after the tree stops producing and the juglone is released by rotting roots until they are completely gone.

Some plants that are sensitive to juglone are: Asparagus, apple, blackberry, pear, tomato, pepper, cabbage, blueberry, eggplant, cabbage, ornamental cherries, pines, asparagus, rhubarb, rhododendron, petunia, columbine, alfalfa, lily, crimson clover, red chokecherry, crabapple and tobacco.

Some plants that are tolerant of juglone: Squash, carrot, corn, black raspberry, jumipers, Kentucky bluegrass, coral bells, Jerusalem artichoke, sweet woodruff, violet, lima bean, Virginia creeper, melons, pawpaw, bee balm, wild ginger, onions, parsnips, pot marigold, sweet Cicely and parsnips.

Another thought...

Pa says he once lived somewhere near where we are now (NE Wisconsin) where they couldnt grow potatos. The potatos always died off early. They looked alright but were gluey and soft and rotted easily. He says that he was told at the time that it was the high acid content of that land. I was just thinking about this story and realized that its kind of like a rumor about a rumor about a rumor but hey, its something to think about if the juglone toxicity doesnt make sense in your situation.

-- William in WI (thetoebes@webtv.net), September 08, 2000.

Potatoes and tomatoes are of course in the same family. Are you rotating? If there is a virus or something in the area are you allowing enough time between planting those crops? Can you solarize if it is a virus? Just suggestions, annette

-- annette (j_a_henry@yahoo.com), September 08, 2000.

Potatos cannot grow well in a nuetral ph soil. Sounds to me what you are describing. They need either a higher ph or a lower one, but either way I think I would start by checking the ph level of the soil and then trying to make specific changes in the direction of least resistance. Tomatos appreciate a little sulfur in their diet as well. But although I have been lucky to never have any tomato problems, there are people around here that swear they can't be grown on their property. Again I would probably check the ph.

Is your soil sandy? Do you know the history of it prior to you working it? There could be a lot of things. Isn't that always the case!

Burying some dead fish where you intend to plant toms next year would probably help them out as well. If you want some more specific info on ph's please feel free to email me.

-- Doreen (liberty546@hotmail.com), September 08, 2000.

OK, here goes...

Yes the soil is suppose to be sandy-on the soil test it was sandy loam. It doesnt seem sandy to me. I need to find my soil test(which I will admit is a couple years old.) to find out the ph. It seems it was recommended to add some lime. I will check that maybe that is the problem!

The land was a pasture for many years before with red clover and grass. I have been using oak leaves, horse compost, chicken manure, lots of hay, weeds, some wood ash, and last year winter rye cover crop. The soil seems to be getting much nicer to work, even if it wont grow anything;)

I wonder about the walnuts, yet it has me puzzled that other things ie.blueberries, peppers, asparagus, cabbage all seem to do fine. Also that the volunteer potato plants out produced anything that I planted.

I do rotate, I did use seed potatoes and a few that I had left over too.

I had almost as many cherry tomato volunteers as weeds and they all do fine. I know that cherry tomatoes are much more resistant to all that ails tomatoes so that doesnt surprise me.

I think that next year I might try the deep mulch potatoes in hay, if that doesnt work I will just have to buy them at the store!

Thanks for any and all suggestions! Tami in WI

-- Tami Bowser (windridg@chorus.net), September 08, 2000.

Don't remember how many years ago I read an article in TMEN about growing potatoes in used tires. Seems like one or two tires were used at first, with something like mulch as the fill. As the potato plants grew, another tire was added and mulched, until the stack was seven or eight tires high. When it was time to harvest it was disassembled one layer at a time. I don't remember the particulars, but it seemed like you could grow a large amount of potatoes in a very small area.

-- Ken S. in WC TN (scharabo@aol.com), September 09, 2000.

On a side note about the walnut toxins: You have to be careful with the wood shvings, also. Animals bedded on walnut shavings and sawdust can develop lifethreatening injuries to their feet because of this toxin leaching into their soft footpads (feetpads?). Also the dust can be more harmful than most when breathed.

-- Soni (thomkilroy@hotmail.com), September 10, 2000.

We have poor luck with potatoes in zone 10/11 since irish potatoes won't set if the ambient temp is over 82 degreeF. Any we get from our kitchen waste thrown into the garden in winter is considered a bonus.

-- Mitzi Giles (Egiles2@prodigy.net), September 11, 2000.

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