Today most people across the world are quite familiar with the potato. It is the world’s fourth-largest food crop, after rice, wheat, and maize. Originally cultivated by the Inca Indians in Peru around 8000 BC, the potato did not travel to Europe until 1536, when Spanish conquistadors took the potato’s homeland and brought back the tuber to their families. Still, it would be another forty years before the potato travels to all the way across Europe.
Eventually, agriculturalists in Europe found potatoes easier to grow and cultivate than other staple crops, such as wheat and oats. Even more significantly, people discovered the major nutritional benefits of potatoes. Some of these include the fact that they are high in Potassium, Vitamins C and B6, moderately high in fiber and iron, and low in fat and calories. Moreover, ten people could be fed off of one cultivated acre of potatoes!
Unfortunately, there are downsides to devoting large portions of land to just one crop year after year though. This specifically includes the crop’s increased susceptibility to plant-specific disease. In the 1840s much of Europe experienced this when an epidemic of potato blight swept through the farms, wiping out many potato crops. In Ireland, the working class survived off of the potato supply, and they suffered the most significantly, with almost a million people dying and a million more moving to Canada and America in an attempt to escape famine.
It would still be another couple of decades before potatoes would arrive in the Colonies. Once they did, in roughly 1621, they were not immediately the industry that we are familiar with today. As a matter of fact, the state of Idaho, currently North America’s largest producer of the potato, actually did not begin growing potatoes until missionaries moved West in 1836.
Start Growing Potatoes
Growing potatoes, like all crops, begins with establishing a healthy soil. Potatoes require a light, loose, moist but well-drained soil. Additionally, potatoes are cool-hardy plants. This means they can tolerate a mild frost and like to be planted when the soil is a cool 45 degrees. In the southern regions, this is especially true where the ground will heat up very quickly as the season progresses. Additionally, you can plant a second round of potatoes as late as mid-June if you want to enjoy a long growing season. You’ll harvest these potatoes as late as possible in the fall.
Continue reading to learn more about growing potatoes in your own backyard!