Potatoes can grow in zones: 2-11. It is suited to fertile, sandy soil that is well-drained. Acidic soil is best because it prevents the potatoes from developing scab. The pH level of the soil should be between 4.2 to 8.2. Plant the seeds 2-3 inches deep and 1 foot apart in rows that are 2.5 to 3 feet apart. Potatoes do best in cool soil that is between 15–20°C. When the plants grow to be about 1 foot, they should be hilled with a mound of straw, soil, or compost that is 6-8 inches high. Once blossoms form, hilling should be stopped and a layer of thick mulch should be applied to control growth of weeds and conserve moisture. They should be watered regularly. After the potatoes have matured and haulms (stems) have died, they can be harvested by hand (1). After harvesting, cure for two weeks at a temperature between 45-60ºF with a high humidity. Potatoes also must be stored in the dark, as they gradually turn green when exposed to the light. Companion plants to potatoes include bush beans, alyssum, cabbage, carrot, celery, corn, flax, marigold, peas, petunias, and onions. Because of the versatility in the potato crop, potatoes are grown in many different countries around the world and serves as a staple crop for many communities.
Culinary and Medicinal Uses
Potatoes can be boiled, roasted, baked, fried or steamed. It is a popular ingredient in soups, stews and pies. It is also used in vodka and schnapps (4). Potatoes can be boiled and made into a poultice to treat rheumatism. Skin from potatoes has been used to treat burns or ulcers on the skin. They are a rich source of vitamin C, vitamin B6, potassium, maganese, and fiber (3).
Significance to Cultural Communities
Potatoes are native to the Andes region of South America. Potatoes have been traditionally frozen, soaked and dried to produce chuño, which has been used in desserts or cuisines of the Andes region. It has also been used to make a flour used in Peruvian cuisines. In Bolivia, it is used in chairo, a popular soup. The biggest producers of potatoes today are China, Russia, Poland, USA, Ukraine, Germany and India (4). Potatoes have always been central to Irish culture. This is evidenced from The Great Famine in between 1845 and 1852, which resulted in starvation of one-third of the population. Irish communities were solely relying on potatoes until the "potato blight" disease ruined the crop. This potato famine ended up changing the island's demographics as well as the political relations between the Irish and British, and in some ways, led to Ireland's independence.
From the Community Voice
"John Wagner is a passionate gardener whose interest was ignited by his grandfather, who also tended to a mostly vegetable garden. At a young age, Mr. Wagner knew he wanted to either work with agriculture or sell shoes because both of these lines of work provide people with something that they will always need: footwear and food. Since then, John has taken it upon himself to learn good gardening techniques. He reads Jerry Baker’s work, a master gardener and writer, to learn more tips to employ when growing plants. It is obvious that John knows a lot about gardening and he is kind to share the good information with the UIC Heritage Garden. One of his creative and sustainable tips and techniques include recycling wooden crates as a way to grow potatoes: in this way you can continually fill the crate with manure and potting soil – each new set of leaves will develop roots and eventually grow into a potato."
John Wagner's gardening story and tips, collected by Karl Novak
1. “Solanum tuberosum.” Missouri Botanical Garden. http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/PlantFinder/PlantFinderDetails.aspx?kempercode=a692
2. “Solanum tuberosum: Potato.” Encyclopedia of Life. http://eol.org/pages/482935/details#comprehensive_description
3. “Plant Profile: Potato (Solanum tuberosum).” Sacred Earth: Ethnobotany & Ecotravel. http://www.sacredearth.com/ethnobotany/plantprofiles/potato.php
4. “Solanum tuberosum (potato).” Kew Royal Botanical Gardens. http://www.kew.org/plants-fungi/Solanum-tuberosum.htm