[Potato Update] I Changed Nothing, Everything is Different (aka. Tales of Garden Neglect!)

For those of you who have been following my salvaged seed potatoes on their journey into great deliciousness, I have an update. Everyone else can catch up with this link to my previous post on being optimistic about what you have (in this case, potatoes), even if it means less than ideal materials.

With regular rains and a couple of waterings in between, the last several weeks were very kind to my excited young potatoes. They were growing right along and obviously contributing quite a bit to my excitement, both as a competent gardener and as an eventual potato eater.

Then I didn’t get a chance to look at them for 4 days. They even got some fresh rain two nights ago. I was so sure they were all doing so well out there, growing, loving life ‘tuber’-ing away in cool weather and optimal growing conditions. (oooh, gotcha! potatoes aren’t technically tubers, they’re stem tubers because the spud itself grows off of the stem rather than the roots, but I digress)

Everything was set, they were on autopilot in my mind. The only thing was, maybe, just maybe, I walked by the window on Wednesday morning with a cup of coffee in my hand and and vaguely remember catching a glimpse of something strange out of the corner of my eye, something that put a note in the back of my mind to check the potatoes when I got a chance. I went on about my business and off to work, with this image tucked neatly into the folder in my brain labeled “Garden: Potato Status”:

My chance to check them came four days later, on a leisurely stroll through the garden just to celebrate the new life the rain brought…

That’s when I found this:

That’s right, right where my sweet, young potato plants were before, complete with their compelling, inspirational backstory about overcoming adversity, was this leaf-stripped wasteland!

What could have happened?! They were on autopilot, weren’t they? Just sip coffee and let the plants do their job with their coworkers, Mr. Sun and Sister Soil, right? Not this time. It seems like Mr. Caterpillar came to the party while I wasn’t looking and stripped the leaves off of every single potato plant in the patch. It’s a small patch, so by the time I got there, they were long gone. I only found one caterpillar and a wilted potato leaf covered in eggs. I would show you a picture, but, while I wasn’t visibly angry, I promptly thumped the caterpillar into oblivion and relocated the egg-laden leaf to their new home in the bucket of ravenous eating machines black soldier fly digestor. I’ll see if there is anything left for a picture and a bug ID.

Lessons and notes about this kind of garden experience: 

Check your garden closely and frequently. If I had looked at this patch even two days before, because it is so small, I could have probably picked off the several caterpillars that were doing this and squished them, leaving some damage, but nothing serious. As it is, this might be the end of the line for the spuds.

Don’t freak out, Replant. If you garden long enough, eventually, you will lose some plants suddenly. Take it as an opportunity to learn more about the season and the environment around you, and then find something else to seed, or to transplant into that space. Be creative! It’s an opportunity!

Life is always changing, growing, evolving. I was sad to see my potatoes go through that, and I’m eager to see if they recover, but this is definitely part of life in the garden. Don’t be surprised when the living systems that you are partnering with in your garden throw you some curve balls, you were the one with the incorrect expectations. Those potatoes knew they were risking getting eaten up, as sure as the caterpillars knew they had to eat something or they would die.

All of that to say, I keep a garden because I love working with the productive magic of nature, so even though it’s frustrating that tiny monsters ate my potato plants while my back was turned, the caterpillars’ hungry march forward  into a butterfly isn’t really that different from a flower’s bloom. Both are beautiful and different pages in the same story we read in the garden.

Keep Growing,




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