I thought it would be nice to have a discussion topic that would be a "catch-all" for potatoes. THere were a couple of articles to share, up - to - date potato research, and a book to review.
We are coming close to the earliest possible time to plant them. My family in the midwest associated potato and pea planting with Saint Patrick's Day. Last year my potato plants grew nicely, then froze to death, so I lost that crop.
First, why grow them?
Potatoes are packed with nutrition. Potatoes are rich in vitamins and minerals. When potatoes were brought to Europe from Peru as a result of the Columbian Exchange, the result was a population explosion in Europe. Same for China. The reason is, for the same amount of effort and land, potatoes are far more productive than grains, including wheat and barley. "All told,they estimate that the introduction of potatoes accounted for up to 65% of the increase in Western Europe’s population after 1700 and 25% of the increase in the rate of urbanization." Also from Smithsonian, "Before the potato (and corn), before intensive fertilization, European living standards were roughly equivalent to those in Cameroon and Bangladesh today. On average, European peasants ate less per day than hunting-and-gathering societies in Africa or the Amazon. Industrial monoculture allowed billions of people—in Europe first, and then in much of the rest of the world—to escape poverty. The revolution begun by potatoes, corn and guano has allowed living standards to double or triple worldwide even as human numbers climbed from fewer than one billion in 1700 to some seven billion today."
One author claims, "If you’re only allowed to bring one vegetable to that deserted island, the potato is the way to go."
There's the potato blight - which is not so much a result of vulnerability of potatoes as a species, but rather the folly of monoculture - growing all of an important crop as a single genetic clone.
I grow mine in containers. One large container, such as a half-barrel, produces a lot. People use baskets, raised beds, tubs, all types of containers. The container is filled to about a foot deep, the potato starts are planted. As the plant grows, the tub is filled in around the plants.
I've referenced the method here before, but will include it here.
There are many varieties of potatoes. Some are more starchy, some have more buttery flavors. Growing yourself, they can be organic, and you can eat the skin without concern for chemicals.
I can't wait to get potatoes started this year.
Here are a couple of recent articles about potatoes.
"In the U.S. we rely primarily on 10 to 12 types of potatoes total," said Karl Zimmerer, department head and professor of geography. "In fact, mostly we use only 5 to 8 varieties. In South America, by contrast, there are 74 different types of potatoes in a single field. The fields, tubers and landscapes are visually stunning"
and in the opposite tone, genetic engineering of potatoes for blight resistance. Because one company must control all foods around the planet, I guess. One monoculture for all. Oh well.
A while back I read the book,Potato: A History of the Propitious Esculent by John Reader. I remember it being an interesting tale of the potato's origins, travels, effects on human history and nations. It's been a while, so I think I will re-read it.
All images source: Vintageprintable.com public domain images.
Here's one take on container potato growing.
very informative -thank you
Steph, glad you liked it! Thanks!
Thanks Daniel. I'm going to try growing some of my favorite food this year.
I watched P. Allen Smiths video on growing them in containers, then his video on storing them because I don't have a good place to store them for more than a few days. But, from everything else I've read, he was wrong on one thing. They should be stored in a moist environment for long storage periods, and he said "dry".
I didn't see a storage humidity mentioned in Wikipedia, but the University of Idaho Extension site indicates 95% relative humidity is best if possible:
That's not possible for most people, but they recommend storing them in plastic bags with lots of holes for ventilation because they need good ventilation for best storage.
Ideal storage temperature is 42 to 50 degrees F (5.6 to 10 degrees C). Colder temperatures will make them taste sweeter. It will also turn them a dark color if fried, but not if baked or boiled.
If only storing them for a few day, then the conditions don't matter much. Although, I think I've seen them turn green in only a few days if exposed to light.
One thing I just read that I've not thought of or heard before is storing them in an extra refrigerator that you keep at 42 to 50 degrees. I've got a wine refrigerator that I'm not using that's made for those kind of temperatures, so I'll try it. I'll just have to cover the window with something to keep-out the light.
Spud, you are right about them turning green with not much light exposure. I've ruined many potatoes that way, including "special" ones that I grew myself. I might have a good storage area in my garage or basement.
I bought 2 packages of seed potatoes today. Just what they had at the store - Pontiac and White Superior. They look like pretty standard varieties. I don't have time to shop around. I will let them sprout a little more which will get me a chance to get the containers started. Also I think it's a little too early. One year I started them March18, with a good crop resulting
Daniel and Spud, great article and inspiration to plant them. It's a bit early here. We expect snow again tonight. or tomorrow night. I've Bookmarked your articles.
I guess we're assuming everyone knows why potatoes are good for you. It's what we add to them that's bad--salt, butter, sour cream, etc.
Idaho: I've never been able to determine what environment is best for potato preservation. I've tried storing them cold, warm, dry, moist, dark, light, etc. It doesn't seem to matter. In fact, my daughter at age 10 did a science fair experiment (upon my suggestion and curiosity) concerning enviormental conditions affecting the sprouting of potatoes in February. She concluded nothing matters! Mother nature defies us again.
My dad used to take the family gleaning potatoes every year. We ask the grower for permission, then dug them out of the row ends that the harvesting machinery couldn't reach.
He stored them in a room in the basement that had dirt floors and walls. I think that gave them a moist atmosphere. It was under the outside of the house, so it remained cool. It had a couple of outside vents for ventilation.
He had no shelves for them. They were just in a pile on the dirt floor. He sorted them periodically to remove any going bad, and they lasted until spring, maybe longer.
It was in the 60s here yesterday, and the day was dry. It was too nice, not to try planting my first potatoes. I planted 2/3 of the sets, and reserved the other 1/3 for, maybe, a month from now.
I have to do things in parts. If I take on a big task in one day, I wear out and can't complete it. So I do a little at a time. During the winter, I pulled edging out from several plantings and trees, that now need wider rings of mulch or that I moved into raised beds. I didn't know what to do with the edgings. I didn't like the thinner plastic tubs I used for potatoes, so here we are. These are brick-red but more like a cinder-block material. Each is 1/3 of a circle. One side is flat, the other scalloped. The scalloped edges sort of inter-lock. As I recall, they were about $2.00 a section when I bought them, several years ago at the home improvement store. On the grass, I placed a disk-shaped circle of chicken-wire to reduce or prevent moles from tunneling into the raised "pots". They look like wishing wells.
A few weeks ago, I added the bottom layer of soil. It is a 50:50 mix of compost and yard soil. The yard soil is from the never-ending supply of gigantic mole hills, my standard method of putting moles to work. My little furry helpers. They also eat underground wildlife, some of which might be harmful.
As the potato plants grow, I can add more edging rings and fill in with more soil/compost mix. I will watch the weather prediction. If it frosts, I will cover them and use the extra edging rings to hold the cover in place.
The main thing is, it got me into the yard to do some easy planting. It was nice being outside.
I don't think my seed potatoes are blight resistant. I've never had potato blight, that I know of.
There is a new strain of genetically modified potato that UK is supporting. From what I read, this new potato is resistant to only one strain of blight, and there are others.
Meanwhile, non-genetically engineered potatoes have been developed, are resistant to multiple strains of blight, but I guess the gov't is not supporting those. $$$$$
There has been some work in the US to develop blight resistant potatoes.
From SF gate, there are some potato varieties on the US market that resist blight. For early blight, Idarose, Red Cloud, Sangre. For late blight, Buffalo Red Ruby, Chieftan, Red Lady, Redsen.
Michigan states "Defender" russet and "Jacqueline Lee" yellow are blight resistant.
I started a search on US sources of blight resistant seed potatoes. I need to search some more. I have not bought seed potatoes via internet, because most sources I've looked at seem to ship too large a package.