Article and photo by Donna Iverson
The months-long quarantine we are experiencing has had unexpected effects on my life and even my garden choices. Out of the blue, I suddenly developed a strong urge to grow potatoes. I've never grown potatoes, but was seized by a compulsion to store away food underground..... like a squirrel. Potatoes as human acorn stash.
Not having a clue how to grow potatoes, I serendipitously found myself one spring morning in the company of a fellow community gardener who was doing just that. So I pelted him with questions which he cheerfully and expertly answered. (If you want down-to-earth gardening advice, join a community garden) This is what I learned:
First you need seed potatoes which are basically potatoes that have started producing tiny sprouts. You can buy them at gardening centers or maybe even find a few in your own potato bin. Cut them I half if they are small and into quarters if they are large. Prepare your garden bed and plant them about three to four inches deep. The sprouts need to be pointed up. Potato plants need a lot of room, about three square foot of space each.
Seed potatoes will sprout in a couple of weeks and when they are about a foot tall, build a small hill around the base of the plant. This protects the potatoes growing near the surface. If you don't have garden space, you could plant seed potatoes in a large pot or barrel, making sure there are sufficient holes for water drainage. The potatoes will be pollinated by bumble bees. So growing a few flowers nearby would be helpful to attract them,
Come harvest time, you will be able to dig up about 10 potatoes for each spud you planted..an abundant yield for very small effort.
Looking into its history, potatoes are not native to North America but originated in South America, probably southern Peru. Evidence indicated that indigenous people were growing potatoes there as far back as 8000 BC.
Today, China grows the most potatoes in the world followed by India, Russia, Ukraine and then the United States. It is our fourth largest crop after corn, wheat and soybeans. White potatoes are members of the nightshade family along with tomatoes and eggplant. Nightshades cause joint pain in some people.
Childhood memories: remember the counting rhyme: One potato, two potatoes, three potatoes, four? It dates back to 1950s England where it was popular with children as seen in this video from the British library: https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/one-potato