GROWING POTATOES, PAST AND PRESENT
In the two cultures where there is so much interesting potato history, the methods of planting potatoes are remarkably similar. In both Ireland, and the Andes, planting is done with what in Ireland is called the "lazy-bed" method. A four foot wide strip of earth is fertilized (manured) and a trench is dug into the sod on either side. After the seed is put on the manured strip, pieces of the sod are laid on top of the seed. With some variations, this method had prevailed in Ireland for hundreds of years, and in the Andes, for thousands of years.
In Ireland, this method allowed the planting of potatoes in areas with boggy soil when people were forced from the well drained, arable land by the "troubles". (The trenches on either side of the potatoes allowed for drainage.) In the Andes, the digging of the sods and covering the seed pieces is done by all members of the village in a communal fashion.
In Europe and North America, potato fields and gardens are planted in rows, or "drills", making it easy to hoe, or "hill" a complete row or rows at once. Some gardeners prefer planting in a bed: placing the seed 2-3" under the soil and covering the bed with straw or other organic material. Mulching makes it unnecessary to hoe the potatoes. Also, the cover keeps the soil cooler and makes the plants less appealing to the Colorado Potato Beetle. More material has to be added as the season progresses in order to keep the crop protected from the sun. In mid-summer, small new potatoes can be harvested by reaching under the cover.
To prepare seed for planting, warm it up in a room with light. Temperature will encourage sprouting and the light will cause the sprout to be thick, green and strong. "Green-sprouting" is popular in Europe, on a commercial scale, for those farmers who grow for the early market, as new potatoes are a highly prized item.
Small potatoes, 1-1/2" are planted whole, 2" tubers are cut in two, and larger sizes are cut into thirds or quarters so as to have two "eyes" on each seed piece. Plant 2-3" deep and 6-8" apart. (18" for Bintje). Use only a moderate amount of nitrogen so as to not encourage too much vine growth.
Here at 47N. Latitude, most potatoes take from 90 to 100 days to mature. Exceptions are the Bintje (140 days) and the Irish Cobbler (85 days).
To harvest potatoes that will be kept in storage, the plants should be dead for several weeks, to allow the skins to "set" or harden. Most farms use a herbicide to "kill" the tops. At New Penny Farm, I use a mechanical shredder. In the garden, simply cut or pull the tops as soon as the potatoes have reached the size you want. Depending on your climate, you might just wait for a killing frost.
After digging or uncovering from the mulch, let the potatoes dry in the sun for a few minutes. Store in a cool, (38-45 degree) dark and well ventilated place. In the harsh climate of the Andes where potatoes are grown at elevations as high as 14,000 feet, potatoes are stored in the rafters of the houses. In Ireland where the temperatures are much more mild, potatoes are stored in "clamps" in the field. A clamp can consist simply of hay, straw or sods piled on top of a shallow pit containing the potatoes.
TEN FLAVORFUL POTATOES
FOR BAKING, MASHING OR FRYING
Belrus: A dark-skinned russet, Belrus has skin that is thick and crunchy when baked.
High starch varieties
Bintje: Developed in Holland, the Bintje is the most widely grown yellow-fleshed potato in the world. Not
quite as mealy as the other high-starch potatoes, the Bintje has a distinctive flavor.
Green Mountain: While it was named after the mountains of Vermont, this is the potato that made
the state of Maine famous. Replaced on most Maine farms in the 1940's by varieties that were easier to grow, "Mountains" are considered by many to be the most flavorful of all potatoes.
Irish Cobbler: A round white potato, the Cobbler is one of the oldest varieties. Difficult to grow (it bruises easily) and with deep eyes that make it hard to peel, the Cobbler was popular with farmers for years not only because of the favor that it found in the market, but also because it matures earlier than the other varieties.
Shepody: A long white, high starch potato that was developed for the early french fry market, Shepody is seldom found in supermarkets.
Medium-High starch varieties
Carola: This yellow flesh, German potato has a smooth, creamy texture.
Goldrush: A new russet type, Goldrush has a light brown, netted skin.
Kennebec: Widely grown for potato chips, its versatility in the kitchen and ease with which it is grown has made Kennebec the favorite potato for home gardeners in North America.
Yukon Gold: Round, with yellow flesh and pink eyes, the Yukon is somewhat mealy, but does so well
in a wide variety of recipes that it is the most popular of the specialty potatoes.
FOR SOUPS, SALADS, AND BOILING
Katahdin: After the Green Mountain, Katahdin has been the most well-known "Maine" potato, from the
1940's until recently. Moist as a baker, it has a thin skin and "waxy" texture.