How To: Plant Potatoes (By hand)

            Planting potatoes is a tradition dating back to the first settlers here-whether Irish or Scotch because it was a staple of their diet and could be stored all winter in a cool cellar. It’s amazing when the census in 1861 would record a family harvesting 250 bushels of potatoes but it happened.

            Today unless you have a large garden 5-10 pound of seed potatoes would be plenty to buy. The ACE store on Highway 29 has a good selection of half a dozen varieties that you can buy by the pound(or kg). If you plant ones from the grocery store, they may have not have been stored properly to allow good germination.

            Cut the potatoes into pieces, leaving at least 2 eyes (or sprouts) on each piece. Plant in rows wide enough for a rototiller or only a foot apart if you are hand weeding. Dig a hole 6” deep and 12”-18” apart . Drop a piece in. Here comes the debate- my husband’s family swore the eyes had to face up – mine said it didn’t matter. It was the first big argument in our marriage. However if a machine is dropping them in, I doubt the eyes are all up.

            Fill in the hole and heap up extra earth. It takes 2-3 weeks for the leaves to peek up, so be patient. Mulch can be used to keep down the weeds.

            It’s important to inspect under the leaves for the orange clusters of eggs laid by the Potato Bug so you can destroy them before they hatch. Of course you never get them all so as a child my job was to take a can filled with coal oil and pick them off and drown them. However now I just squash them -gives you short live satisfaction! You may be lucky and have no bugs. Never plant potatoes in the same place next year or after tomatoes either since the same diseases attack both.

             You should pull more earth around the hill as it grows because if the sun hits the young potatoes, they burn and the green flesh is not good to eat.

             Shortly after the flowers appear, there will be tiny potatoes underneath but it takes 2-3 months for the leaves to dry off and be mature, ready to dig up.  Pull the plant and check with your hands for more tubers. It’s a sinking feeling when you hear the “Scrunch” if your fork spears one.

             Let them dry on top for a few hours and bag them up. They should be stored in a cool dry place like a wooden bin in a cellar, if you have one.

            It sounds like a lot of work but they do taste good right out of the garden!

PHOTO: George,Marilyn & Rosalyn Robertson planting potatoes. This photo appeared on the cover of the Farmer’s Advocate in the late 1940’s