February is National Potato Lovers Month. And February is the perfect time to get ready to plant potatoes here in the Old Pueblo.
Say "potato" (or pahtato) and most folks think of Ireland. In fact, potatoes originated halfway around the world from the Emerald Isle. Not from Ireland where the average elevation is 400 feet, but from the Andean mountains, where 4,000 feet is the lowlands.
Several thousand years ago, early Incan tribes learned that wild potatoes are a life-sustaining storehouse of energy and nutrients. They subsequently domesticated over 100 different varieties. Per unit of land, potatoes provide more protein and calories than any other food crop; five times more than soybeans, corn or wheat. The tasty tubers also store a number of important vitamins and minerals found just below the skin (so you should always enjoy potatoes skin and all).
These well-fed mountain people went on to found mighty empires, constructing extensive systems of roads, far reaching irrigation canals, and vast cities. Potatoes got a bum rap for their glycemic index (GI). Eat them skin and all, and that drops considerably. Potatoes fall from a GI of 121 to a glycemic load of 45.
Once the underpinning of the Inca Empire … how did the Inca potato become so Irish? Some believe the tuber came to Ireland from the wrecks of the Spanish Armada. One history holds that Sir John Hawkins introduced them in 1565. Yet another claim is that Sir Walter Raleigh started them in 1585. Which ever it is, the potato was firmly rooted in the Irish soil and culture for centuries before disaster struck.
In 1846-47, an unseasonably cool wet year and an opportunistic fungus caused the rot of millions of tons of potatoes, the deaths of thousands of humans, and the emigration of tens of thousands. This event is known as the Great Potato Famine. It may be the only major human catastrophe named for a plant.
With their origins in mind, you can understand that potatoes are a crop for cool soils. They grow best in early spring and late fall, when the days are warm and the nights are cool. Although the potato is a cool-season crop and the edible part of the plant is underground, the tops of the plant will not withstand frost. Thus you have to time your potato planting just right. You need to get them into the ground as early as possible to get the most crop you can before either summer heat (or winter cold) kills the plants. Here in the Old Pueblo that means right now is an ideal time to plant these tasty tubers.
Soil. Potatoes do best in a loose, well-drained, acid soil. Since Southwestern soils are alkaline, add ample compost to the planting area to help acidify the soil. Poorly drained soils or heavily alkaline soils can cause low yields and undersized, rough tubers.
Fertilizer. Potatoes need fertilizer in their early stage of growth, thus apply most of the fertilizer before planting. Use a complete fertilizer such as 10-20-10. If you miss pre-planting fertilizer, wait until sprouts have leafed out.
Light. Potatoes require at least six hours of full sun each day.
Water. For best yields, keep soil evenly damp, not wet. Allow some drying between waterings.
Start. Cut seed potatoes that are larger than a chicken egg into pieces about one inch across. Each piece should have at least one "eye" (the bud where the stem will grow from), preferably two eyes. Egg-sized and smaller tubers can be planted whole. Once cut, seed potato pieces need to heal or "cure" for a few days before planting, otherwise they may rot in the ground.
Select. Buy certified disease-free seed potatoes from garden centers or through online or mail-order catalogs for best results. Avoid planting potatoes from the supermarket because they are often less vigorous and more prone to disease.
Potatoes fresh from your own garden taste so much better than those from the supermarket. Plant away!
It is easy to add a room or two onto your home by creating outdoor rooms with a planned landscape. It need not cost very much either. Turn your yard into delightful outdoor rooms with lush, desert adapted plants. To find out which plants to use and where, call for a private consultation. Call me, Jacqueline, at 292-0504. Please leave a voice message.