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VEGETABLE HEROESPotatoes, Solanum tuberosum
It’s always interesting to find out where our vegetables started and how they became popular. And this is true of the humble potato.
Farmers in the Andes Mountains of South America first discovered the potato 7,000 years ago.
They had it to themselves until the mid-1500’s when the Spanish Conquistadors invaded Peru.
In Spain, when it did arrive, it was thought of food for the underclasses, or feeding hospital inmates.
Around 1780 the people of Ireland adopted the potato as a food crop because potatoes contain most of the vitamins you need to survive.
The potato is a member of the nightshade or Solanaceae family and its leaves are poisonous.
NOTE:A potato left too long in the light will begin to turn green.
The green skin contains a substance called solanine which can cause the potato to taste bitter and green potatoes can upset the stomach, so don’t try them.
TIP:Always grow potatoes from Certified Seed Potatoes from reputable suppliers.
Yes it is possible to simply buy some from a specialist green grocer and keep them for seed, or use leftover potato peelings.
What’s wrong with that? You run the risk of introducing diseases such as Potato Virus Y, Potato Blight or Potato cyst Nematode. If you use leftovers or buy from supermarkets or green grocers. You might think it’s only a small risk, but once you get potato blight into your soil, it’s their forever. No chemical will shift it.
When to Plant
Potatoes can be planted now all over Australia'
In temperate and sub-tropical districts, August to October is the best time.
Arid areas, August until December is your best time.
In cool temperate zones, you have from September through to January.
Cooler areas have a bit of extra time to order some of the more unusual varieties before they grow in the ground.
Choose a Variety?
How about Cranberry Red.
Cranberry Red has red skin and red flesh, great in salads, for boiling and baking.
These stay red, even after cooking.
Or what Potato Sapphire that has purple skin and purple flesh
Purple Sapphire I’m sure is sold also as Purple Congo, is perfect for mashing, boiling and roasting, and yes, it stays purple after cooking.
- Put seedling potatoes into a trench in as deep and rich a soil as you can get.
- Plenty of compost and manures please.
- And as they grow pile the earth up around them.
- You will need to hill the rows or potato container several times until the potatoes have flowered .
- You need to do this to stop the greening of tubers and also protect them from potato moth.
- Also, hilling up the soil and mulch will give you more potatoes as they tend to form on roots near the surface.
- That means, as you pile up the soil, you get new roots, and more potatoes....
- Chicken manure or blood and bone should be dug through the bed as potatoes need a lot of phosphorus but not too much nitrogen. Too much nitrogen will mean lots of leaves rather than potatoes.
- Keep the water up and but only water moderately as potatoes will rot in soil that is too wet.
When you cut them open, they’ll have grey patches inside which actually do taste mouldy. Ewwww!
- You can add fish emulsion and seaweed extract when you’re watering too.
- Potatoes can also be grown in your black compost bin if you’re not using it for compost. Plant the seed potatoes at the bottom, let them grow to about 50cm,( so with your ruler that’s almost 2 x ruler heights) then, over the top and add 8cm of soil, let them grow a little more, add some more soil, and so on, in the end a stack of potatoes.
- Pick your potatoes when the vine has died down to the ground, that’s if you want the most potatoes, but they can be harvested from when the first baby potatoes are formed. The lower leaves should be turning yellow – this happens about 3 to 4 weeks after flowering.
- If you plan to store your potatoes, cut off the foliage and let the potatoes rest in the ground for 3-4 weeks to allow the skin to 'set', they keep longer this way. Store in a dark, cool, well ventilated spot.