A Garden Murder Mystery: Our Potato Crop Autopsy Results

It’s not every day your average gardening channel turns into a mystery channel, but today, we’re going to transcend exactly that boundary. We mentioned our potato crop yesterday, that they were thought to be lost to blight. To invoke Sherlock Holmes, “Education never ends, Watson, with the greatest set for last.”

We did our proverbial potato autopsy today, performing an emergency harvest of our potato crop in full. While we did take a major hit to our potato harvest, more importantly, we have a serious problem with our previous diagnosis of plant disease! There was zero evidence of disease below the soil line! Bear with us, as we have an important gardening point to make.

Plant disease, such as blight, will demonstrate itself across the entire plant, especially in advanced stages like we were seeing in our potato crop. With a root crop, like potato, you’ll see evidence both in the foliage and the produce itself, the potato in this case. With blight, you’d expect scabs, lesions and “mushiness” across the crop. Meaning, you’d see the problem both above and below the soil line. As you can see, our potatoes are just fine. But, our plants were not OK.

Absent logical conclusion, we performed a bit of an environmental analysis. As we dug, we found further evidence of environmental problems. Various weeds were affected, chickweed was impacted, fireweed was also yellowing prematurely. The strongest natural plants were suffering! Nature, outside of the garden, doesn’t experience imbalance as it is inherently tied to the law of conservation. The cause of nature’s failure and also perhaps our crop failure, therefore, HAD to be environmental.

Long story short, our community garden has had some major construction (apartment building) going on literally right next door to our plot. As we learned more about our mystery, we deduced the developed property next door used to be a proverbial “junk yard” that was possibly contaminated with barrels of “who knows what.” As we observed the environment, a major disturbance could have put our community garden patch right in the path of that disturbance. With few trees and little to stop wind blowing any contaminants our way, we now think our potato crop subsumed to an unknown environmental circumstance.

The good news is, we don’t think any contamination transferred via soil. This was 100% airborne. Once we considered this new diagnosis, we could literally “see” the path it took across other flora. Where it started, where it ended and the edges by which trees had shielded the spread. Trees which also took the brunt of the impact. If we are correct, fortunately, this means our troubles will be transient and were not disease related.

To wrap this up into an important gardening lesson? You can control your soils, your nutrition and all sorts of other aspects of your garden. But, no matter what, you’re not in control of everything. Even if you “do everything right,” sometimes things can still go sideways on you. If you’re going to grow things successfully, you have to learn to let failures go. Whether you caused them or not.

Oh, and yeah, we’ll be thoroughly washing our produce, as we always do, regardless.

That’s All We Wrote!

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