“Irish” Potatoes

    • Plant potatoes! St. Patrick’s Day is a traditional day to plant potatoes, so the season is upon us now.
    • Spring vegetables love cool, moist weather and don’t mind a little frost. Set out lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, spinach and Swiss chard starts now.
    • Apple trees are still available as bare-root trees, but only for a short while longer. Start your orchard now!
    • Cut branches of forsythia, pussy willow, quince, spirea, and dogwood and bring them indoors to force them into bloom.
    • For blue hydrangeas, apply aluminum sulfate around the plants this month.

“Irish” Potatoes

The history of the potato has its roots in the windswept Andes Mountains of South America. The Incas were cultivating them for a long time before the Spanish conquistadors arrived in Peru in 1532 in search of gold. Though gold was scarce, potatoes were plentiful and the Spaniards took some with them when they left for home.

From Spain the lowly potato spread through Europe. In many places it was considered weird, poisonous and even evil, but in Ireland it found a home. The Irish were the first to seriously consider potatoes as an important food, and by 1688, they had become a staple of the Irish diet. By 1770 it became known as the Irish Potato.

The Irish became so dependent on the potato, that it displaced many traditional foods. In the 1840’s the potato crop became diseased and the “Great Famine” was the result. At the height of the famine (around 1845), at least one million people died of starvation.

Fortunately, thousands of varieties were still being cultivated in the Andes, where over 100 cultivars might be found in a single valley. Proper genetic diversity is the key to insuring a healthy potato crop.

Today we have a great number of potato varieties available to the home gardener. There are reds, whites, blues, yellows and russets. Reds may have white, yellow or rose-colored flesh, and blues or purples are bluish all the way through. Fingerling potatoes are small, finger-shaped potatoes, often yellow inside.

Potatoes should be planted as soon as the soil has dried out enough to turn it. Potatoes like cool weather, especially when the tubers start forming. The best crops are produced when the daytime temperature is in the 60°-65°F range. When the temperature goes over 84°, tuber production stops.

Potatoes can also be grown in large containers. Fill the container about one third full with potting soil. Put the seed potatoes on top of the soil, spaced about 6 inches apart, and at least 4 inches away from the sides of the container. Then cover them with two inches of potting soil.

When the plants reach 6 inches tall, add two or three inches of potting soil, covering the lower leaves of the plants. Repeat this every time the plants reach a height of 6 inches above the soil, until the soil is 2 inches from the top of the container. Try to keep the soil evenly moist through the growing season.

It is best to plant certified, disease-free potatoes sold at nurseries. About eight to ten pounds of seed potatoes will plant a 100-foot row and yield 50 to 100 pounds of potatoes. Plant your favorite varieties now, and look forward to those delicious, home-grown flavors.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.