Potato cultivation is a cornerstone of fruit and vegetable production, as this tuber has been the basis of the peasant diet for centuries, thanks to its high profitability, high-calorie intake and low cost.
Potatoes are fully present in the culinary tradition, as one of the main ingredients of the Mediterranean diet, and are used in many different recipes, from pasta, to pizzas and side dishes, not to mention the inevitable chips, which delight children, and not only.
In Italy, the cultivation of potatoes is practiced throughout the peninsula, because potatoes have a significant adaptation to different climates and grow well both in the plain and in the mountains.
Potatoes are edible tubers originating in South America and arrived in Europe after the discovery of America, finding immediately widespread. They belong to the Solanaceae family, such as tomatoes, aubergines and peppers, and are rich in carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals.
There are different types of potatoes, mainly known as yellow potatoes or white potatoes. The former have a compact consistency and are suitable to be eaten fried or boiled, the latter instead, have a floury pulp and are used for gnocchi, crocché, pouré and gattò. There is also a lesser known variety of purple potatoes, rich in anthocyanins, substances with a high antioxidant power, which combat premature aging and protect against cancer, stroke and heart disease.
Growing potatoes is not very difficult and their harvesting saves on food costs and ensures a healthy and genuine product.
It is not necessary to have a large vegetable garden, because you can start a small production of potatoes even using a bag of jute or a very high pot, as long as they are provided with holes for drainage.
To start growing potatoes you simply need some good quality potatoes.
- Place your potatoes on a white tray in a cool place with natural light, but never directly exposed to the sun. In this way, small shoots will sprout on the potatoes within 4-6 weeks.
- From these shoots, or “eyes”, will develop, then, the jets of your future potatoes, and, therefore, you can get as many plants as there are “eyes” of the potato.
- If the potato is small it can be sown directly into the ground, but larger ones should be cut into pieces, so that each piece has at least one pair of “eyes”.
- Make longitudinal cuts with a well-sharpened and disinfected grafting knife, to avoid heartburn or rottenness. Do this a few days before planting, so that a suberose layer will form on the surface of the cut to protect the tuber from infection.
- If you want larger potatoes, leave on each portion only 3 shoots spaced out and eliminates the secondary shoots, weaker and less developed. If you want smaller potatoes, leave more “eyes” on every single piece of potato to be sown.
When Do You Plant Potatoes?
Now let’s see a very important aspect to keep in mind when starting to grow potatoes on the right foot. In addition to the right time to plant the potatoes, as is the case for all vegetables, the moon factor also comes into play. Here is this beautiful satellite that so many times has made us dream has an influence on our planet, in fact the moon is the tide, and in our case can affect the healthy growth of seedlings and consequently have harmful effects on our cultivation of potatoes.
Seeding Potatoes And The Moon
Intense cold is detrimental to potato cultivation.
For this reason, the sowing of this tuber must be done when the cold season ends and there is no longer the risk of late frost, ie in late winter-early spring.
In addition, like all root vegetables, potatoes should be sown with the moon in a waning phase.
The tubers are to be buried in the well dry soil, in holes 10-15 cm deep, with the buds turned upwards. They must be spaced 30 cm apart and 80 cm between the rows.
The potatoes are to be covered with the soil without compressing it, in order to allow the shoots to breathe during their development.
For the cultivation of potatoes, different types of soil are suitable, as long as they are fairly loose, fertile and with a pH between 5.5 and 7.5. Sandy or clayey soils are less suitable because they favor water stagnation, which is particularly damaging to potatoes.
Before sowing, the soil must be prepared carefully, to drain the soil well and because on a soil with many clods increase the possibility of injury to the tubers during harvesting.
The spacing must go down of at least 40 cm and, afterwards, it is necessary to prepare a good background fertilization, using, around the 6 kg of ripe manure per square metre, or 0,6 kg if we use manure or pelleted manure.
Moreover, about every 15 days, it is necessary to proceed to an operation of weeding and tamping, that is, to stir with a hoe the superficial soil of the small plants, being careful not to damage the roots of the tubers, in order to oxygenate the plant, to eliminate the possible weeds and to mix the nutritional properties of the soil.
Potato crops need a lot of water, especially at certain stages of the biological cycle.
The water must be small immediately after sowing, as the tuber is already equipped with the necessary water reserves, while it must be larger in the phase of vegetative growth, and then cease in the final phase of maturation, when the plant begins to dry up.
However, water stagnations are harmful and, therefore, it is necessary to rely on common sense, considering also rainwater and watering when you see that the soil is dry, avoiding that it remains too long.
The irrigation can be of two types: flow, exploiting the furrow, or rain, better for large areas.
Potatoes are harvested in late summer and early autumn.
The right time is when the plant is completely dried up in the aerial part, but you can also rub the peel of a potato and, if it does not come off, it means that they are ready.
Harvesting potatoes is a delicate operation, to be done with care to avoid damaging the tubers, and should be done when the weather and soil are dry.
Better to avoid hoe and spade and choose a fork, with which to enter gently into the ground, lifting the first tubers, and then, as you enlarge the ditch.
The potatoes are to be left on the ground for drying and then, they are to be kept in a dark place, but well ventilated, in order to avoid the sprouting and to keep the potatoes for a long time.
The smaller ones should be kept for the following year’s potato cultivation.
Subscriptions and Rotation
The best friend of the potato is the bean, which helps to keep away the dorifora, but it is also good cultivated with broad beans, peas, cabbage and sunflowers.
On the contrary, it is to be avoided the association with carrots, turnips and radishes, because they should compete with each other for the nutrients they get from the soil, causing a lesser growth to the plant.
Moreover, the potato is cultivated with a three-year rotation and is not to be planted on the same soil as the previous year, whilst it will be very well after the cereals.
The potato cannot be considered a vegetable, because, despite being rich in potassium, magnesium and vitamins C, B5 and B6, it is a tuber, consisting mainly of complex carbohydrates and as such, from a nutritional point of view, is equivalent to bread or white rice.