Propagation of potatoes: New Varieties

Some techniques do not change over the years. These notes first appeared in 1847, and are still appropriate now.

New varieties of potato are procured with the greatest of ease. Pluck off the potato apples when the stalk begins to dry. The seeds being fully ripe, break the apple in a sieve, wash off the pulp, and dry them in the sun. Sow the seed in beds in March and take the potatoes up in October. They will reach the size of nutmegs or walnuts. Select the best and keep them in a frost free place. Plant them in the following April, fifteen inches apart, and earth them up when the shoots are two inches high. This may be done several times, constantly taking care to keep them clean from weeds. When the stalk decays, some will be found to decay much earlier than others. These are the early kinds, and those that decay last are the sorts which come late. Take them up in rotation as they ripen, and let the produce of each potato be kept separate till the next year.

Those which come early may be tried as soon as they are taken up; should they be approved the remainder may be preserved. Those which are taken late should not be tried before January or February, because late potatoes, newly raised, are very soft, and cut like soap, until they have been hoarded for some time, when they become mealy. Under each stalk you may expect to find a gallon of potatoes. Those planted the third year may, perhaps, produce two sacks, and their increase afterwards will be considerably greater. Thus it takes three years to form an adequate judgement of potatoes raised from seed. If one in ten succeed as to be worth preserving, it is as much as can be expected. In general, the produce of the seed will resemble the parent stock, but red varieties will give both red and white offspring, and kidneys will give both kidney and round-shaped tubers. One great advantage of raising tubers from seed is the increased vigour of the plants.

Potatoes which do not blossom

Some of the earlier sorts of potato do not blossom, and consequently do not produce seeds. To force them to do so, it is necessary, during the early part of the summer, to remove the earth from the root of the plants, and pick off the tubers as they begin to form. By preventing the strength of the plant from forming tubers, it will flow into the leaves and herbage, and produce blossoms and apples. Knight, the President of the Horticultural Society, did this and produced seed from types of potato that had never before produced blossom. From them he raised excellent varieties, some hearty and less early; others small and very early. By carrying out judicial crosses, he produced early potatoes more hearty and prolific than any he had seen before. These he cultivated, preferring them to other sorts because they could be planted later and removed earlier; highly favourable to the following crop of wheat.

In choosing a potato variety, perhaps the best way is to procure samples and taste them. The shaw is one of the best early potatoes for general field culture, and the kidney and bread-fruit are good sorts to come in succession. The Lancashire pink is also an excellent potato, and we have never tasted a potato equal in mealiness and flavour to this variety, as cultivated around Prescot, in Lancashire. The red apple and tartan are of undoubted preference for keeping potatoes. The yam is the best potato for stock, and will produce from ten to fifteen tons per acre.

(From Loudon's Dictionary of Agriculture, 1847, edited by ND.)

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