Friday, 03 January 2014 14:54

How do Potatoes grow?

Did you know potatoes were once thought to cause leprosy?

  • Latin Name:

    Solanum tuberosum

  • Growth:

    How do potatoes grow?

    USDA Hardiness Zones 1 to 7. Click here to view USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map.

    Potatoes are a biennials that are planted as soon as the soil can be worked, grow into low bushy plants and produce tubers (the potatoes) that remain dormant one winter, flower the following spring and are harvested that fall. Potatoes that are picked the same year they are planted need to be grown from seed potatoes that have already been through the dormant phase of their growth. Potatoes require cool temperatures of 60 to 70F, but some varieties have been modified to grow as winter crops for warmer climates. Potatoes are ready to be picked 4 to 5 months after planting.

    Spring: Planting and growth in temperatures less than 90 degrees F.

    Summer: Flowering, then harvest begins in late summer.

    Fall: Complete harvest.

    Winter: Plant in late winter as soon as soil temperatures reach 40 degrees F

  • Propagation:

    How are potatoes propagated?

    Potatoes are best planted immediately after the last frost.

    Many commercially grown potatoes are sprayed with a chemical to stop or discourage eyes from forming, so store-bought potatoes are not good for seeding. Special seed potatoes must be used.

    Seed potatoes are also used because they have already been stored through their dormant period, so growth and harvest will occur at predictable times. A store-bought potato might be at the beginning of its dormancy and may not begin to sprout months after planting.

    Each eye in the skin of a potato is the seed of a new potato plant. Seed potatoes are cut into pieces with at least two eyes on each, fertilized and planted in rows of small hills of loose, well-drained soil.

    How to Plant Potatoes in a Home Garden

    How Potatoes are Commercially Grown

  • Harvest:

    When are potatoes harvested?

    Potatoes are best harvested after the flowers (that range in color from white to pink, lavender and purple) fall off and the vine begins to wilt. Varieties bloom and are harvested at different times, so pay attention to the needs of your particular cultivar..

    Small growers sometimes “cheat” and harvest some potatoes in order to use them before the main harvest. These potatoes are called “grablers.”

    “New potatoes” are those that are harvested before they are mature for their thin skin and tender flesh. They are difficult to transport for the same reasons, so are usually grown and sold locally.

    Potatoes can be left in the ground until the first frost or will be damaged by the first freeze.

    Before pulling potatoes out of the ground, carefully loosen the soil by probing around the base of the plant with a pitchfork so as not to bruise the tuber.

    Potato Harvest

  • Storage:

    How are potatoes stored?

    Potatoes should not be stored in direct light or they turn green. The greening contains toxins and mutagens that taste bitter and can cause illness.

    Potatoes are best stored dry and unwashed, in a brown bag (protection from light), in temperatures that range from 35 to 40 F. They can be stored like this at the bottom of the refrigerator for six months or more. Residual moisture after washing may cause molding.

  • History:

    Where do potatoes come from?

    Potatoes are the presently world’s 4th largest food crop after rice, wheat, and corn.

    They were first cultivated by the Inca Indians in Peru and the Andes regions around 8,000 BC to 5,000 BC.

    In 1588 Pizarro brought the potato from the Americas to Spain. The Spanish monarchs gave some as a gift to the Pope in Italy and from there the potato spread throughout Europe. The first published reference to potatoes comes in 1600 in France.

    Before the potato, the two main food staples in Europe were bread and porridge made from chestnuts. Potatoes did not immediately take off in popularity because they were first eaten unpeeled and raw. As a member of the nightshade family, Solanaceae, which includes a number of poisonous plants, consumption of the peel sometimes causes severe indigestion. Potatoes also don’t contain gluten so could not be made into bread which was an important factor at the time.

    In France, eating potatoes was thought to cause leprosy and was outlawed until a scientist named Parmentier convinced authorities that they were safe to eat. In the 1780’s, during the time of the French Revolution, hunger was an enormous problem for the French government and resistance to eating potatoes was replaced by the practicality of feeding the masses. The French government even ordered the Tuileries gardens to be turned from rose gardens to potato fields.

    The first book on growing and cooking potatoes was published in 1789. Their popularity increased exponentially once the addition of oil and butter was recommended.

    Potatoes became the main staple food of many European countries. This caused huge problems with the potato blight from 1845 to 1852, particularly in Ireland, where one third of the people were entirely reliant on potatoes for their dietary needs. The blight decimated the crops and the population: one million Irish died and another million emigrated, mostly to the United States. The population of Ireland fell by 20% to 25%. During World War II, potato chips and potato crisps were developed, so troops could carry them into the battlefield as a nutritious food that was easily carried and did not spoil. By 1977, half of the U.S. crop of potatoes went to factories to be made into either chips or dehydrated into flakes for instant mashed potatoes.
  • Top Producers:

    Which countries produce the most potatoes?

    China, India, Russia, Ukraine, and the U.S are the top potato producing countries.

  • Varieties:

    How many potato variety are there?

    There are approximately 5,000 potato varieties in the world with an additional 200 wild species and subspecies. Cultivated varieties are cross-bred with wild species to create resistance to certain pests and diseases.

    There are early and late varieties of potatoes, and also potatoes whose flesh remains firm after cooking that are good for potato salads and french fries, and those with soft flesh good for mashing and soups.

  • Products:

    How are potatoes used?

    Fresh potatoes are commonly boiled, grilled, steamed, fried, baked, or frozen (to preserve).

    Potato chips and instant mashed potatoes are also popular potato products.

    The starch found in potatoes is a common ingredient in many retail snack products. A tasteless powder is also developed from potato starch and used as a binding agent for dough, cakes, breads, and ice-cream, as well as a thickener for stews and sauces.

    Potatoes can be crushed and heated to convert the starch into fermentable sugars that are used in the distillation of alcoholic beverages such as vodka.

  • Top Health Benefits:

    Potatoes are rich in carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and a variety of phytochemicals, such as carotenoids.

    Potatoes are rich in potassium, vitamin C and B6, which help prevent the risk of high blood pressure and growth of cancer cells.

    Potatoes contain lysine, an essential amino acid found in protein that is absent in grains.