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problems growing Potatoes

 
jacque greenleaf
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Location: Burton, WA (USDA zone 8, Sunset zone 5) - old hippie heaven
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I'm not having very good luck with growing potatoes, and I'm wondering why. I would have thought that the long spring and coolish summer this year and last year would have been potato heaven.

I'm growing purple vikings. What is happening is that the plants grow slowly and quit early. I get nice-looking, tasty potatoes, but only about 1 or 2 eating size per plant, and several "marbles" before the plant shuts down for the year. They're all done now, and were done about this time last year as well.

Soil conditions? (the neighboring kale and marigolds are doing fine). Virus?

.
 
Rob Sigg
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Ive had similar problems in the past, so Im curious what type of advice people have.
 
Jeff Mathias
Posts: 125
Location: Westport, CA Zone 8-9; Off grid on 20 acres of redwood forest and floodplain with a seasonal creek.
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Hi Jacque g,

Does not sound like a virus if your not seeing any signs. Potatoes are heavy feeders, is there enough nutrients to support them? Also when do you plant them? And how are you growing them?

Jeff
 
Dale Hodgins
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    Potatoes like full sun. Grown in too shady conditions you will still get beautiful green foliage but a very poor crop. They prefer acidic, well drained and furtile soil.
 
jacque greenleaf
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Location: Burton, WA (USDA zone 8, Sunset zone 5) - old hippie heaven
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Jeff, I planted them in May, in a raised bed. We have silty clay loam, which sets up hard when disturbed, so I have added chopped straw and other dry material, mixed with aged chicken/duck/alpaca manure and spent commercial potting mix. It may be that I have not lightened it enough for potatoes, or maybe there's not enough nitrogen. The other plants in the bed are doing OK.

Dale, they are getting full sun. They are even on the south side of the bed, so the kale is not shading them.

Thanks for your responses, I don't know much about potato virii, seems as if that is the problem that I would get abnormal tubers. Is there a virus that does not affect the spuds but leads the plants to a premature death?
 
                              
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HEAVY FEEDERS.  Really they are.  If you don't see signs of virus ( visual) then there is not one present.  If they did not size up, they probably did not have enough to eat.  How far did you space them? How deep did you dig them in?  Did you hill them?  How did you prepare the bed?  How tall did the plants grow?  When in relation to them flowering did you dig them up?
 
Saskia Symens
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I have had two reasons for undersized tubers and plants quitting early:
One was planting too early in cold clay soil, evidently that is not your case...
The second one was not enough nitrogen in the soil. I solved this by sowing broad beans in fall (early spring might also work) on the future potato beds: tubers doubled both in size and in quantity...
 
John Polk
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Nitrogen is a double edged sword with potatoes.  Not enough N, and the plants will not grow well, ergo poor production.  Too much N, and you will have big, beautiful plants, but poor production of tubers.

Root development depends on P.  If there is not enough P roots/tubers will fail to reach maturity.  Bone meal is an excellent source of P.  Bone meal typically has an NPK of 4-12-0.

Fifty pounds of chicken bones will give you 6# of P!  What the Hell, if your family eats a chicken per week, then boils the carcasses for stock, what do you have left?  A pile of 'used' bones that still has value to your garden!
 
jacque greenleaf
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Location: Burton, WA (USDA zone 8, Sunset zone 5) - old hippie heaven
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Heartseed, I planted them about four inches deep, about a foot apart, and did not hill. I turn the beds in the fall and add organic matter, but not in the spring. I mulch the beds heavily with straw over the winter to protect the soil from rain impact, and remove the mulch a few days before planting to let the soil warm up. The plants got about 6" tall, and died back before flowering. I harvested when dieback was pretty well complete.

From your responses, I am thinking that I should have fertilized!
 
Rob Sigg
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Is your soil loose so they can develop? Mine did better when they were 12-24" deep with mulch/organic matter.
 
jacque greenleaf
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Rob, my soil could definitely be looser, but it gets better each year. I can't dig down a foot deep in May without making nasty clods - the soil is just too clayey and silty. (My raised beds are 18" high.)

Hmmm, thinking I'll try the straw bale method next year...
 
Rob Sigg
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Hmmm, if you are saying that they have 18” of loose soil to grow in then Id say, that your soil depth is fine. I started growing mine inside of a wire mesh that goes 4 feet tall. I just fill the cage with leaves, grass clippings and other organic matter so that the tops of the plants are always just sticking out. This has really improved my situation. I was curious this year to see what was going on underneath all of this so I dug out some early potatoes. Sure enough I had a potato “vine” underground that was almost 3 feet long and every 4 inches or so I had potatoes growing. It seems that everywhere this vine comes into contact with soil/organic matter it will provide a potato.

 
Cate Weaver
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I have a question - how do those big ag companies grow zillions of huge potatoes?  I'm sure they're not coddling them with extra compost, manures, fluffy organic matter, etc.  And why do we hear reports of people being able to grow them successfully on the worst compacted messes by just placing them on top cardboard with covering them with straw?  Potatoes have me baffled too.  I've had great ones some years, and miserable returns other years.  This year was a poor year as they got too hot too soon after being planted (which was late - my bad) and the tops fried off leaving me with only very small, round tatties.  I'm thinking of just holding them all over the winter and trying again. 
 
Ray South
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Location: Northern Tablelands, NSW, Australia
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jacque g wrote:Heartseed, I planted them about four inches deep...


Four inches doesn't seem deep enough. I would consider either planting them deeper or hilling. New tubers grow above the planted tuber, off the stem that reaches for the surface. I've never tried the above ground method but lots of people swear by it.
 
jacque greenleaf
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Location: Burton, WA (USDA zone 8, Sunset zone 5) - old hippie heaven
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Weaver, I share your puzzlement!

I'm definitely going to try the straw bale method next year, I think the amended soil in my garden beds is still too dense for taters.
 
Saskia Symens
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weaver wrote:
how do those big ag companies grow zillions of huge potatoes?  I'm sure they're not coddling them with extra compost, manures, fluffy organic matter, etc. 

micropropagation, that is tissue culture, in fact cloning from small bits of plant, and feeding them chemical cocktails...
 
Kathleen Sanderson
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Next year, try planting them only a couple of inches deep, and then hilling up as they grow.  It sounds like they are possibly too cold (because too deep) to start with.  Then hilling up a few times over the summer will allow them to grow additional roots, and take in additional nutrients to support bigger plants and more tubers. 

Also make sure you are planting them in clean soil which hasn't had any solanum sp. plants in it for several years. 

And some bone meal certainly wouldn't hurt. 

Are you starting with certified seed potatoes?  I recently got Carol Deppe's excellent book, The Resilient Gardener, and she spends a lot of time on potatoes, which are one of her staple crops.  She tells how to spot plants that need to be rogued out and one of the things she looks for is plants that don't grow as well as they should -- they may have a virus even if there are no other obvious symptoms of disease.

Kathleen
 
                            
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water. how more water they have more potatoes you get.
mulching doubles the yield at least. clay is not problem.
 
paul wheaton
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Rob Sigg
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Paul have you tried this potato box? Im curious if anyone has used this method since IM considering do it this year.
 
Ken Peavey
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What works for me:
-To extend the start of the season, get out your seed potatoes a couple of weeks early. Set them in the sun. The bigger the sprouts, the sooner the plants get going. I'm talking sprouts 6" long. You can get them wet at the start of this, but the skin needs to dry or the spuds can rot. I once tried soaking them in a bucket for a day, lost them all. They already have everything they need inside to start sprouting, just a little water is all you need. The sun does the rest.

-Once in the ground, give them a good soak. The spud wants to be covered, but you can leave the sprouts or the tip of the sprouts exposed. They will start to bear leaves quickly, but you have to keep adding soil until the spud is a couple inches down. The sprout will keep on pushing its way up as leaves grow. This is what you want-think of potatoes as an underground vine. The tubers form on the underground vine. When the vine gets out of the ground you wont get potatoes growing off it. If the vine is more than 6" high out of the ground, cover with soil/mulch/compost/leaves.

-This is a rule: NEVER EVER, under any circumstances, no matter what, never add lime. NEVER.

-Keep the vine and area around the vine covered to a distance of a couple of feet. When you think you have added enough, add another couple of inches a week later.

-If you cut the spuds, you must have at least one eye. 2 is better. more is better. If the eyes have sprouted, its better. If the spud in uncut, its also better. If you must cut them, let them dry in a shady spot for a couple days to form a skin over the cut. Sometimes the cut will turn grey/dark/black. This is normal.

-Potatoes are heavy feeders and they like a diverse diet. When hilling/covering, use everything available: soil, hay, leaves, grass clippings, compost, well aged manure, old rotted pine needles. Think lasagna. Potatoes like a diverse diet. Think buffet. If the stuff you are hilling with will support earthworms, you are doing it right. Don't worry about how heavy the stuff is. Healthy growing potatoes will move concrete.

-About those worms-Earthworms reduce nematodes. You'll get better looking potatoes and vibrant growth. If you have a spot with lots of worms, plant your potatoes there. Good luck keeping up with them.

-You gotta give em a good soaking once a week.

-As more vines show up on the same plant, spread them as you hill. You dont want all your vines poking up from a central spot like a bouquet of flowers. Add soil between the vines, even if it flattens them.

-Sun. All day, every day. Sun is needed for the plant to make sugar. Sugar is converted to starch. Starch is stored in the tubers. More sun=more sugar=more starch=more and bigger potatoes.

-If you see fungus on a leaf, perform surgery, take off that leaf. If on a vine, cut the vine below the fungus. When handling the plants, make sure your hands are dry.

-Lots of rain and cool weather promotes late blight. Air circulation hinders it. Pulling off leaves and keeping the vines spread out will help with air circulation. Have you seen ruth stout and her hay? That hay allows for good air circulation.

Ruth Stout on youtube, part 1


Ruth Stout part 2


-A dozen potatoes from a plant is a decent showing. Big'uns is a great showing.

-Potatoes are grown from spuds, there is no concern about cross pollination. Its OK to plant different types of potatoes beside each other.

-Potato beetles get squished when you see them. Every time. When you see one, check every plant, top to bottom.

-Weeds get pulled up when you see them. Then add more cover.

-There are hundreds of types of potato out there. Try some out. One of them will THRIVE in your soil.

-When the plants bloom, stop watering. When the vines drop dead, wait a week before harvest. It seems to help the potatoes cure.

-After harvest, spread them out in a dark spot with good air flow. Dark, darker, darkest.

-A little green on a potato says Plant Me next year.

-Marbles can be deep fried. Alternately, shove them in the ground somewhere, let them do their thing, but dont expect much.

This past April I put in 50 pounds of spuds. They came right up but I left town for a couple of weeks in June. 150 plants dried up and blew away. Mostly. I dug some up, found nothing but marbles. I gave up on digging more. 14 have since shown up and are doing fine-and its December. If the conditions are right, the plants will grow.


 
paul wheaton
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Ken, you can embed youtube videos by using the square backets (instead of parens) like this:

(youtube)http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ta2ozf_uJJ8(/youtube)
 
Tom Allyn
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Location: Maple Valley, WA
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Jacque, I grow potatoes in my garden in western Washington using the box or cage method.
http://www.irisheyesgardenseeds.com/growers1.php

I've had especially good luck growing Yellow Finn potatoes with this method. In 2009 I grew this box from a single seed potato. At it's peak it was 8' wide, 6' tall and it produced 32 pounds of potatoes.

 
Tom Allyn
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That was grown in 'garden mix' soil from local Cedar Grove Composting. It was fertilized with liquid Alaskan Fish Fertilizer (0% nitrogen).
 
Rob Sigg
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Do you actually harvest them from the bottom and work your way up over time or do you do them at once? I don't know how you could harvest the bottom without everything falling down on it. Just curious. Im going to try mine in a mesh type cage, not solid and see how it goes. Have you ever tried that?
 
Julie Helms
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Thanks for sharing the videos, Ken. Really enjoyed them.
 
jacque greenleaf
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Location: Burton, WA (USDA zone 8, Sunset zone 5) - old hippie heaven
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Ken, thanks for all the great info, it will help me refine what I'm doing.

Square peg, that's amazing growth there! Two questions -

At what point do you start to harvest the oldest potatoes? I gather you don't wait until the plants die back.

How do you prepare your soil?
 
Julie Helms
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To piggy-back on Jacque's questions.... in the box, what happens if you wait and harvest the whole thing at one time? Have the bottom taters rotted?
 
Tom Allyn
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Location: Maple Valley, WA
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I will occasionally harvest a few spuds from the bottom of the box, but if I do it's from my early red potatoes. The soil is settled enought by then that digging a few from the bottom doesn't cause it to collapse. I shove as much dirt as I can back in and close up the box after pilfering.

By the time the Yellow Finns are maturing I already have plenty of reds to eat so I just let the Yellows die back. The reds don't store as well so they need to be eaten first anyway.

I use the 'garden mix' soil as-is, straight from the composters. I start the boxes with 7" of soil (2 rounds of 5/4 cedar boards). I lay in the seed and cover with another 3-1/2" of soil. When the plant reaches 12" above the level of soil I add another round of boards and another 3-1/2" of soil. With the Yellow Finns I'll build the boxes up to 9 or 10 boards high. With reds I'll stop at 7 or 8.

Oh, and one more thing. I cover the bottoms of the boxes with 1/2" hardware cloth just to keep the moles out. I'm not sure moles actually do any harm but I keep them out anyway.
 
Thelma McGowan
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I always start sprouting my potatoes in february and I plant them out in March. They are usually the first thing to pop up in the garden with the peas.
They do most of the growing in may and june.

fresh potatoes are so wonderful and worth the effort.


 
Rob Sigg
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What zone are you in?
 
Tom Allyn
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I'm borderline 8a/8b. Thelma is probably the same (Snohomish Co.).

I start my potatoes a little later than Thelma. Last frost date for my locale is ~April 20th. I'll plant around tax-time, April 15th. They take about 10 days to emerge.
 
Thelma McGowan
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March
5 purchased onions, potatoes
cut seed potatoes to dry and sprout chieftain red, Yukon gold, fingerling rose

10 got my seeds in the mail

19 start toms and peppers and basil
20 started marigolds basil tomatillos and celery thyme lemon balm

26 Planted potatoes, spread chicken manure for potatoes and onion patch planted in tires, lettuces and radishes and green onion
27 planted onions and peas
31 started big compost again with chik poop , leaves and kitchen scraps

Here is my record from last year march. I was a bit late in buying my potatoes at the co-op. and did not get the potatoes cut until the first week of March. I planted the last week of march.
Here on the forums and old addage was told to me that you should plant the potatoes when the Dandelions bloom. I am going to try that this year..:0)

so for the record the Potatoes that I planted last year popped through the soil on april 28th. so it goes to show that they aren't going to sprout until it is warm enough. But it seems to me that tax time is a good time to plant too. I don't get huge bumper crops of potatoes but I probably get about 5-10 lbs each. the best producers for me are the fingerlings and the red potatoes. the problem with yeilds might not be the garden or timing but the variety. I love yukon golds but i never get as much as with the fingerling. The earlier the better for planting so they can grow as much as possable before the heat of summer shuts them down.

I am always the first one out in the garden, and the neighbors always tell me it is too early. I am in zone 8b. one of the reasons i keep such records is so I don't start too soon or repeat bad practice. I have also kept records of what is happening in the natural world so I can plant in tandem with the natural cycles.
 
loner McDonald
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is it to late to plant potatoes if not were to i buy seeds or what ever to plant . how can you tell its my first time at trying this. i hope i have time left to grow some potatoes. please help this old man if you can . thank you loner
 
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