About Us

Enjoying the modern conveniences of life in a sustainable manner through technology, resourcefulness, and Zone 8a (North Texas) Gardening.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

An Investigation, Autopsy, and Truce

The Investigation
A couple of weeks ago, my potatoes started dying one-by-one. I had no idea what was going on. The DH noticed that there were a lot of ants around the dying potatoes. I researched all the diseases and none of those fit. Then I saw this (ants sucking on my plant):

A day later (left) and about 7 days later (right), this is how that ant-infested plant looked:
Yep, the ants were killing my potatoes. They were sucking the sap out of the plants, causing them to wilt and kill over.

The Declaration
I declared war on these ants. I was not going to let them mow my potato bed down one-by-one. An eviction notice was served. The bed was sprinkled with pepper and cinnamon. I put borax and sugar in little dishes. I put garlic cloves at the stems of the plants. I even rubbed the bases of the plants with Crisco (don't ask...I made this up...trying anything at this point). I no longer use Criso to cook and had some left, so why not?

An Autopsy
A few days had gone by and another potato had not died. But the ants were still there; nothing had evicted them. As a matter of fact, the ants had been on two potato plants consistently and those potatoes hadn't wilted at all. They had a little damage, but nothing significant. This doesn't make sense. Are some potato varieties immune to ants? I have 4 different varieties planted in the bed. Now I am starting to suspect black leg. I decided that an autopsy was needed to give us some more clues. So, we dug up one of the dead potatoes. And this is what we saw:

The entire potato stem was dead. It was unraveling like string. What is going on? Yep, this must be black leg. We need to dig up the rest of the dead plants. Based on the accounts of other gardeners (and their plights with ants and potatoes); I expected to find ants at the base of this plant and ants attacking the seed potatoes. But there wasn't an ant in sight....

The Revelation
What's missing from the photo above? The seed potato. We need to find the seed potato. Perhaps it will hold more clues. We dig and dig. And what did we find:

Yep, we found multiple potatoes. After we found the first one, we wondered....is this the seed potato? Couldn't be. It's in great shape. We finally found what must have been the remains of the seed potato...it had decayed as well. So wait a minute? Is it possible that these potatoes all died of natural causes? That the ants just came to 'clean up' the decaying plant material (it was decaying from the bottom up). The only dead variety is the red potatoes. All the other varieties are fine. After a quick look, the red variety is an early potato and it is now passed its maturity date.

Boy do we feel stupid.

The Truce
So perhaps it wasn't the ants. Perhaps, it wasn't black leg. Perhaps the potatoes did exactly what they were supposed to do. The potatoes yielded their harvest and died. Duh! Go ahead, have a good laugh at us. We are laughing at ourselves. We're new at this and still not 100% sure. We're going to just keep watching the bed. But, given this new evidence, we have come to a truce with the ants......for now.


  1. Wow. I have never grown potatoes. I would have no idea when to harvest them. Great harvest.

  2. I reckon your last theory is the most likely and the best one - I am a sucker for a happy ending.

  3. I agree with Liz on this. Gardening is always a learning experience.

  4. Ok, I did laugh but only because I could see it happening to me. I do hope I get as good a potato harvest as you have, lol.

  5. I would have thought the same thing! This is my first year growing potatoes and I keep checking them expecting something to go wrong. :) I am glad your story had a happy ending- and your potatoes look great!

  6. good looking taters. But I have had fire ants kill plants, they are especially attracted to things like cow peas and okra. They even crawl all over damp laundry at night on the clothes line sucking the water out of it....