|White Potato (Solanum tuberosum)|
Potatoes are native to the Americas (both north & south) and were introduced to Europe by the Spanish Conquistadors. It took Europeans awhile to accept this new food as it came from the nightshade family (Solanaceae), a family known to be poisonous, even deadly, if consumed. Eventually the safety of the potato tuber (NOT the fruit, a berry) was proven and the potato became a staple to the European diet, especially the peasants. This abundant and inexpensive food allowed families to grow and set the stage for the potato famine of the mid 1800's that hit Ireland especially hard.
Potatoes are typically planted from a 'seed potato' and not a traditional seed. A seed potato is a portion of a tuber with 'eyes' or buds that sprout and produce the plant. (Who hasn't had a potato or two sprout in their fridge or cupboard?!?!) Before planting, cut tubers into sections with 2-3 eyes on each section. Plant them in a sunny location about 6 inches deep and 3 feet apart in well drained soil. Plants will emerge two to three weeks later. Hill soil around the plant after the first leaves emerge and again a couple of weeks later. Hilling the soil will keep the tubers from being exposed to the sun as they grow. Potato tubers and roots are susceptible to rot so water slow and deep only when needed.
Harvest potatoes after the plant has died but before fall frost. Potatoes skins get tough and cannot be rubbed off when they are ready to be harvested. After digging them up, let them dry for a couple of days before moving them into a cool, dry location. For long term storage, keep them below 45F but above 39F.
Happy Gardening! :)