Potatoes are members of the Nightshade family of plants which also include the Tomato and the Eggplant. The potato is native to the Andes mountain regions of Chile and Peru. Archaeologists believe that the potato was being cultivated by pre-Columbian farmers as early as 5000 B.C. Remains of potatoes have been found at Incan burial sites which date to 500 B.C. In 1540, the potato was discovered by Spanish explorers who eventually introduced the plant into Europe around 1560.
The potato was not popular in the United States until the mid-19th century. Many people thought that the tubers were poisonous and others did not like the yellowish color of the flesh. In 1811, Landreth’s introduced a potato with white flesh and this potato gradually gained acceptance. Today, the potato is one of the most popular vegetables known. It has been accepted by most of the cultures on earth as a staple of their diets.
Potatoes are very easy to grow. Plant potatoes when the soil temperature has reached 45 degrees. They prefer a loose, loamy soil that is slightly acidic, but they are not fussy and will grow in almost any soil environment as long as the soil is not constantly wet. Potatoes should be rotated on a three year schedule which means that after three years they can be planted in their original beds. Several weeks before planting till a small amount of compost and dehydrated cow manure into the soil. Potatoes do not like very rich soil. 1-2 days before planting cut the seed potatoes into chunks. Each chunk should contain three 'eyes' or buds. Plant the seed potatoes 6 inches deep, 15 inches apart, in rows, 2 and a half to 3 feet apart. When the stems of the plant are approximately 8 inches tall mound dirt up around the stem burying half the stem. Repeat when the stems have grown another 8 inches. The mounding will prevent the potatoes from growing out of the soil.
Harvest baby potatoes 2-3 weeks after the plant has flowered. Harvest mature potatoes 2-3 weeks after the plant has died back in the fall. Harvest by digging around the plant about 12 inches from the stem. Potatoes can be as much as 12-18 inches deep. Potatoes can be harvested as long as the soil can be worked and, if mulched, can be harvested throughout most winters.