Potatoes, part II

Larry G. Field
Thursday, June 20, 2019
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On Good Friday I visit the cellar and select 6 hen’s egg sized potatoes, 4 red & 2 white, that have multiple “eyes”. Each eye will develop into a stem and each stem will form potatoes. I dig six holes in my garden row the depth of a standard shovel with tops about the width of a pail. The centers of these holes (plant spacing) are spaced 20 inches. I drop one small potato into each hole; or gently place them if the eyes have already sprouted, with the

sprouts pointing upward. I make enough planting mix to fill the six

holes. This mix is 75% sand, 25% well aged manure and one large handful of high nitrogen fertilizer. I mix this creation thoroughly with a tiller. I gently cover the potatoes with about an inch of only sand to prevent physical damage to growing “eyes” and to prevent

chemical (manure contact) damage to the fresh sprouts. I finish filling the planting holes with the mix.

One of the many “observations” that I have made with potatoes is that of determining what part of the “eye” is alive. I have taken already sprouted small potatoes and thoroughly rubbed them in my hands until all traces of the sprouts were gone, broken off. When planted, these potatoes still grew well. The area under and around the base of the eye is the living part that will again produce new sprouts. If your seed potatoes are sprouted and you accidentally break a sprout or two while planting, it will grow

again. The sprout, if significantly rooted, will grow without the

potato if the terminal bud is gingerly exposed to sunlight. Break the rooted sprout from the potato and plant it such that the tip is just even with the ground so that it doesn’t die from dehydration-if overly exposed-but does receive sunlight. In fact, yams and sweet potatoes are grown from rooted sprouts. On the rare occasion that my cellar stored seed potatoes become overly sprouted (6” sprouts with numerous roots) by Good Friday, I grow potatoes from the sprouts, I plant the sprouts spaced 6-8 inches in a row. The roots

on these sprouts will be fine, similar to white hair, and very fragile,

handle and bury carefully. The starch in the tuber feeds the growing sprouts until they emerge if growing from seed potatoes.

Potato eyes (seed potatoes) can be purchased from seed companies. The individual eye is removed with a “melon ball” type of cutting device. Each hemisphere shaped seed potato will have one eye on the skin side. Just beyond the middle of last century, I was working my way through college and starting a family, money was tight. I was forced to be very frugal. I developed a technique

of “peeling” large food potatoes in a specific way to generate seed

potatoes and still eat the bulk of the potato. When “peeling” the potato I would begin by starting a cut an inch from an eye, with my knife angled into the potato so as to pass about ½ inch under the eye, at which point I would angle the knife upward to exit the potato about an inch from the other side of the eye. This would give me a patch of potato skin 2 inches wide with a maximum thickness of ½ inch and an eye at the thickest point. This patch of skin would be planted with the eye up; the point being, food potatoes can be used as seed potatoes.

Any of these three systems will produce potatoes. The disadvantage is that the “seed” has only one eye and will develop only one sprout. Another “perceived” disadvantage, as I saw it, was that the sprout and peeling techniques had less available starch food to supply the pre-emerging sprout, so I would plant them about half of my current planting depths. Combined, there was less vertical

column for tubers to fill and only one sprout to produce tubers. If

I were to use any of these techniques today I would plant at least three per hole. The hen’s-egg-sized whole seed potatoes that I use normally produce 5-8 sprouts per hole.

Part III on potatoes will appear in next week’s Outlook.

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