How to Grow Potatoes

MOTHER'S vegetable garden shares how to grow potatoes, including the history and horticulture of the potato, what, where, when and how to plant, pests, and how to harvest and store potatoes.


| January/February 1987



Growing garden potatoes

There's nothing small potatoes about the potato. It's the most eaten vegetable in the Western world and the fourth largest food crop.


PHOTO: FOTOLIA/REDLADY

MOTHER'S vegetable garden shares the history and horticulture of how to grow potatoes: nutritious, versatile, far from fattening, and easy to grow. 

How to Grow Potatoes

There's nothing small potatoes about the potato. It's the most eaten vegetable in the Western world and the fourth largest food crop—after wheat, rice, and corn—on earth. Nutritionally it yields more sustenance on less land in less time than any major staple. The potato's protein rates higher in quality than the soybean's. Just one medium-sized spud contains about half the daily adult requirement of vitamin C, as well as significant quantities of carbohydrates, calcium, protein, A and B vitamins, potassium, phosphorus, and iron—yet it's 99.9% fat free, and has only about 100 calories.

Horticulturally, the potato is a botanic blueblood, with a lineage longer than any aristocratic Homo sapien's. Nomadic Indians were gathering wild potatoes from the central Andes plateau, where the vegetable originated, before 6000 B.C. Archaeologists have found dried cultivated spuds, and pottery decorated with potato motifs, in Incan burial mounds dating to the second century. The potato was considered a spirit by the Incas. Some tribes even expressed time in units based on the potato's cooking time.

When sixteenth-century Spanish explorers brought the tuber back from their conquests, the spud enjoyed a short life as the most high-falutin' vegetable in Europe. It was even thought to possess exotic powers—not the least as an aphrodisiac. Naturally, word got around. English noblemen paid upwards of 250 pounds (money) for one pound (potatoes).

But the vegetable's uppity status lasted only as long as its novelty. By the 1800s, the spud had lost favor with the rich and was a staple among western Europe's peasants. Because of its nutritional wallop, the potato is credited with turning the tide of nineteenth-century Europe's horrific death rate—and with fostering a population boom that made possible the Industrial Revolution. Deaths from scurvy, rickets, and other malnutrition-related diseases dropped sharply as potatoes supplanted wheat and rye in European diets. By growing the tuber instead of grain (which required at least twice the space to produce the same amount of food), peasants with little land could support larger families. In Ireland alone, where the potato became an economic cornerstone, the population soared to over 8 million by 1845—more than twice the present number—with a density greater than today's China.

Even the spud's shortcomings have influenced human history. When late blight, one of several fungus diseases to which the potato is susceptible, destroyed the crops in three successive years (1845 through 1847), a million Irish died of starvation, and a million more fled the country for America. Tens of thousands in other European countries also perished or joined the emigrating Irish. The potato famine sent a flood of talents and traditions and cultures to this country that helped carve the character of modern America.





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