In preparing potato sets, some cultivators prefer them large, some small potatoes entire, and some large potatoes entire. Others are equally vocal in support of small cuttings, sprouts, shoots, or even only the eyes or buds. Good crops are said to have been raised by supporters of all these methods. But tolerable-sized cuttings of pretty large potatoes with two or three eyes or buds in each, are probably to be preferred.
Even if seed is cheap, it is never good practice to make use of whole potatoes as sets. The best cultivators in Ireland and Scotland invariably cut the largest and best potatoes into sets. In the case of kidney potatoes they discard the root or mealy end as having no bud, and the top or watery end as having too many.
No objection is made to two or three buds on each set, though one is enough. A very slight exercise of common sense might have saved the advocates for shoots, scooped out eyes, etc., it being obvious that the strength of the stem depends on vigour and power of the set. The set ought to be large; at least a quarter of the potato, or if small, perhaps one half of it. It is better to use sets too large than too small, or a late and feeble crop may result.
It is known in Lancashire, Cheshire, and other northern and western counties of England that sets taken from the top of a potato, planted at the same time as sets from the root end, will ripen their tubers a fortnight sooner. It is also known that the plants raised from unripe tubers are more vigorous and earlier than those raised from tubers perfectly ripe.
Sets should always be cut several days before planting, so that the wounds may dry up. There is no harm in preparing them weeks or even months before use, as long as they are not allowed to dehydrate.
The planting of early potatoes is carried to a high degree of perfection in Lancashire. Early seed potatoes, after harvest, are in some places immediately planted; the second crop is got up in November and are immediately cut into sets. They are preserved in oat husks or sawdust until March, when they are planted, after having one sprout taken off, which is also planted.
In gardens in the south of England potatoes are planted in a warm border from the first week or October, till the latter end of November. They are placed nine or ten inches under the surface, and well covered with dung. About the Latter end of March they begin to appear above the surface, when the ground is deeply hacked with a mattock, and made loose about the plants; then in a fortnight or so they move the surface again. The plants need not be earthed up unless they need steadying from the wind. By this method, fine ash-leaved kidney potatoes may be obtaed by the 12th or 15th of May, even in situations not very favourable for early crops.
Paraphrased from Loudon's Encyclopedia of Agriculture, 1857.
ND Feb 02
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