Potatoes, as an article of human food, are, next to wheat, of the greatest importance in the eye of a political economist. From no other crop that can be cultivated will the public derive so much food as from this valuable esculent; and it admits of demonstration that an acre of potatoes will feed double the number of people that can be fed from an acre of wheat. Very good varieties are the Gleason, Calico, and Early Goodrich.
To reduce the ground till it is completely free from root-weeds, may be considered as a desiderutum in potato husbandry; though in many seasons these operations cannot be perfectly executed, without losing the proper time for planting, which never ought to be beyond the first of May, if circumstances do not absolutely interdict it. Three ploughings, with frequent harrowings and rollings, are necessary in most cases before the land is in suitable condition. When this is accomplished form the drills as if they were for turnips; cart the manure, which ought not to be sparingly applied, plant the seed above the manure, reverse the drills for covering it and the seed, then harrow the drills in length, which completes the preparation and seed process.
It is not advantageous to cut the seed into small slips, for the strength of the stem at the outset depends in direct proportion upon the vigor and power of the seed-plant. The seed plant, therefore, ought to be large, rarely smaller than the fourth-part of the potato; and if the seed is of small size, one-half of the potato may be profitably used. At all events, rather err in giving over large seed than in making it too small because, by the first error, no great loss can ever be sustained; whereas, by the other, feeble and late crop may be the consequence. When the seed is properly cut, it requires from ten to twelve hundredweight of potatoes to plant an acre of ground, where the rows are twenty seven inches apart; but this quantity depends greatly upon the size of the potatoes used; if they are large, a greater weight may be required, but the extra quantity will be abundantly repaid by the superiority of crop which large seed usually produces.
The earth should be dug twelve inches deep, if the soil will allow it; after this, a hole should be opened about six inches deep, and horse-dung or long litter should be put therein, about three inches thick; this hole should not be more than twelve inches in diameter. Upon this dung or litter a potato should be planted whole, upon which a little more dung should be shaken, and then the earth should be put thereon. In like manner the whole plot of ground must be planted, taking care that the potatoes be at least sixteen inches apart. When the young shoots make their appearance they should have fresh mould drawn around them with a hoe; and if the tender shoots are covered, it will prevent the frost from injuring them; they should again be earthed when the shoots make a second appearance, but not covered, as in all probability the season will be less severe.
A plentiful supply of mould should be given them, and the person who performs this business should never tread upon the plant, or the hillock that is raised round it, as the lighter the earth is the more room the potato will have to expand.
A gentleman obtained from a single root, thus planted, very nearly forty pounds weight of large potatoes, and from almost every other root upon the same plot of ground from fifteen to twenty pounds weight; and, except the soil be stony or gravelly, ten pounds or half a peck of potatoes may generally be obtained from each root by pursuing the foregoing method.
But note--cuttings or small sets will not do for this purpose.
Potatoes are generally dug up with a three-prong grape or fork, but at other times, when the weather is dry, the plough is used, which is the most expeditious implement. After gathering the interval, the furrow taken by the plough is broken and separated, in which way the crop may be more completely gathered than when taken up by the grape. The potatoes are then stored up for winter and spring use; and as it is of importance to keep them as long through summer as possible, every endeavor ought to be made to preserve them from frost, and from sprouting in the spring months. The former is accomplished by covering them well with straw when lodged in a house, and by a thick coat of earth when deposited in a pit, and the latter, by picking them carefully at different times, when they begin to sprout, drying them sufficiently by exposure to the sun, or by a gentle toast of a kiln.
The drill system, in the cultivation of potatoes in Ireland, is particularly recommended by Lord Farnham, in a letter to Sir John Sinclair. The small farmers and laborers plant them in lazy-beds, eight feet wide. This mode is practised on account of the want of necessary implements for practicing the drill system, together with a want of horses for the same purpose.
They are cut into sets, three from a large potato; and each set to contain at least one eye. The sets are planted at the distance of seven inches asunder, six and a quarter cwt. are considered sufficient seed for an English acre. Lord Farnham recommends rotten dung in preference to any fresh dung. If not to be procured, horse-dung, hot from the dunghill. In any soil he would recommend the dung below the seed.
When the potatoes are vegetated ten inches above the surface, the scuffler must be introduced, and cast the mold from the potato. If any weeds are found in the drills they must be hand-hoed; in three days afterwards they must be moulded up by the double-breasted plough, as high as the neck of the potato. This mode must be practiced twice, or in some cases three times, particularly if the land is foul. I do not (says Lord Farnham) consider any mode so good as the drill system.
To prepare for the drill system either oat or wheat stubble, it should be ploughed in October or the beginning of November; to be ploughed deep and laid up for winter dry. In March let it be harrowed, and give it three clean earths. Be very particular to eradicate the couch grass. The drills to be three feet asunder; drill deep the first time that there is room in the bottom of the furrow to contain the dung. The best time to begin planting the potatoes is about the latter end of April by this system. It is as good a preparation for wheat as the best fallows.
Three feet and a half for drills are preferable to four feet. Mr. Curwen prefers four feet and a half. He says the produce is immense. Potatoes ought to be cut at least from two to three weeks before being planted; and if planted very early whole potatoes are preferable to cut ones, and dung under and over. Some agriculturists lately pay much attention to raising seedling potatoes, with the hope of renewing the vigor of the plant.
Early potatoes may be produced in great quantity by resetting the plants, after taking off the ripe and large ones. A gentleman at Dumfries has replanted them six different times in one season, without any additional manure; and, instead of falling off in quantity, he gets a larger crop of ripe ones at every raising than the former ones. His plants have still on them three distinct crops, and he supposes they may still continue to vegetate and germinate until they are stopped by the frost. By this means he has a new crop every eight days, and has had so for a length of time.
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