Seed potatoes are now available in many farm and garden stores. Basic varieties are familiar to most folks. Russet, a smooth oval-shaped potato, is great for baking and French-frying. Kennebec, large, bumpy, and disease-resistant, is a later-maturing variety. It is good for boiling and mashing. Pontiac, a wonderful early potato, has red skin and is very tender. Yukon gold has yellow flesh and looks like it has already been buttered. More recently, blue and red flesh potatoes have become available.
As I was selecting potatoes to plant in my garden, I started to wonder about the origins of this crop. Have you ever noticed there are always a variety of potato dishes on the menus of Peruvian restaurants? As it turns out, potatoes originated in that part of the world. According to the website “Potato Goodness,” Spanish Conquistadors brought the potato back to Europe sometime after 1536.
That’s a lot of spuds!
At CFC Farm & Home Center we sell roughly 45,000 pounds of certified seed potatoes through our five locations, to gardeners and farmers in Culpeper, Rappahannock, Fauquier, Orange and other adjoining counties in central Virginia. I did a little research on potato yields and found that a good rule of thumb is for each pound of spuds planted, you will yield about 10 pounds of produce. Based on that estimate, this crop represents 450,000 pounds of potatoes harvested by local farmers & gardeners.
Why plant Certified Seed Potatoes?
Certified Seed Potatoes you say? Why do I need to plant Certified Seed Potatoes? After all, potatoes are readily available in any grocery store. In order for a seed potato to become certified, it is inspected at least twice in the field during the growing season. Once the potatoes pass these field inspections for signs of disease, they are harvested and put into storage. Samples are taken from the various lots of the harvested crop, then shipped to a warmer climate where they are grown December through January. These test batches must be verified through onsite inspection not to exceed acceptable tolerances for various diseases such as blights, mosaic viruses, wilts, and others. Once they pass these inspections, the lots can be certified and the bags are given a Blue Certification tag. This is your assurance that you are buying a healthy spud for your field or garden.
How to grow them
If you haven’t harvested new potatoes in the spring, you may not know what a treat you are missing! To get started, about 1 pound of seed potatoes will provide roughly enough eyes to plant about 10 feet of garden row. You should plant 1.5 to 2-oz pieces of potato. Each piece should have at least one good eye. The spuds should be spaced 10 to 12 inches apart along the row, and allow 24 to 36 inches between rows. Fertilizer requirements are 2.5 lbs of 5-10-10 per 50-ft row. Plan on side-dressing 1 or 2 times through the season with 1-lb 10-10-10 per 50-ft row. Virginia Cooperative Extension Publication 426-413 offers complete detailed information about planting your potatoes.
When should I plant?
Traditionally, folks plant potatoes around Saint Patrick’s Day in our area. Actually, you can plant anytime from mid-March through April in this region. If you want to plant by the phases of the moon, you should plant a root crop like potatoes when the moon is waning. This idea caused me to head to the internet for more insight. The lunar planting theory goes something like this: The gravitational pull of the moon that causes higher tides during a full moon would also affect where the moisture is located in your garden. A waxing moon pulls water nearer the surface. A waning moon allows water to concentrate lower in the soil. Did you know there is an easy way to determine if the moon is waxing or waning? As you observe a crescent moon in the sky, draw an imaginary line across the open end. If this forms the lower case “d” then the moon is waning or dying. If that line across the open end of the crescent forms a lower case “b” then the moon is waxing or birthing!
Ed Dunphy is Director of Retail Marketing at CFC Farm & Home Center. You may reach him at 540-727-8326.
Fun facts about potatoes
- Potatoes are vegetables but they contain a lot of starch (carbohydrates) that make them more like rice, pasta and bread in terms of nutrition.
- Much like rice, wheat and maize (corn), potato crops are an important part the world’s diet.
- The word potato comes from the Spanish word patata.
- Potato plants are usually pollinated by insects such as bumblebees.
- Potatoes contain a variety of vitamins and minerals.
- There are thousands of different potato varieties but not all are commercially available, popular ones include Russet, Yukon Gold, Kennebec, Desiree and Fingerling.
- While the role of genetic modification is up for debate, research has led to genetically modified potato varieties that have potential benefits such as increased protein and resistance to viruses.
- Based on 2010 statistics, China is the leading producer of potatoes.
- Potatoes don’t store very well after purchase but they are relatively easy to grow.
- Potato storage facilities are kept at temperatures above 4 °C (39 °F) as potato starch turns into sugar and alters the taste below this temperature.
- Potatoes are prepared and served in many different ways, including boiled potatoes, mashed potatoes, baked potatoes, French fries and hash browns.
- French fries contain a lot of fat so don’t eat too many!
- Potatoes are usually served hot, but sometimes cold in the form of potato chips or potato salad.
- Despite health concerns, potato chips are one of the most common snack foods in the world with billions of packets being consumed every year.
- One of the main causes of the Great Famine in Ireland between 1845 and 1852 was a potato disease known as potato blight. The shortage of potatoes led to the death of around 1 million people who were dependent on them as a food source.
- Although it shares the same name, the sweet potato is a root vegetable and only loosely related to the potato.
- Potatoes are sometimes called spuds.