Gardening

How to plant potatoes

Solanum tuberosum

The potato, also known as potato, although its origin is in the Andean regions of Peru and Bolivia, is one of the main plant foods grown in the world, being only less cultivated than sugarcane, corn, wheat and rice.

The potato itself is a tuber, that is, a nutrient storage organ developed in the plant’s rhizomes, which in turn are stems that grow below the ground. These tubers are rich in starch, containing in addition to carbohydrates, a reasonable amount of high quality proteins, potassium and some vitamins. Much of the current bad reputation of potatoes as food is due to the way they are prepared. In particular, its use in fried foods, baked goods or bakery products, with a prolonged exposure to high temperatures (> 120 ° C), leads to the appearance of acrylamide, a substance with a carcinogenic potential. Cooked potatoes do not contain acrylamide.

The potato is a plant that can reach from 30 cm to about 1 m in height. Its flowers can be white, pink or violet, its fruits are 1 or 2 cm in diameter and contain a few hundred seeds. All parts of the plant contain toxic alkaloids, mainly solanine and chaconine, but the tubers usually contain a much lower concentration than the branches, leaves and fruits.

Currently there are more than four thousand cultivated varieties of potato, with great variation in the tubers, mainly in size, shape, internal and external color. The amount of solanine and chaconine can also vary widely, with some cultivars containing very little of these alkaloids to cultivars containing enough to be bitter and potentially toxic. Most cultivars have a concentration of alkaloids below 200 mg/ kg, and are therefore considered safe for consumption.

Climate

The potato grows best in mild weather, with the ideal temperature for growing between 15 ° C and 25 ° C. When the soil temperature exceeds 27 ° C, the formation of tubers is inhibited.

Brightness

The potato needs good light to grow well, with at least a few hours of direct sunlight daily. In hot climates, potatoes can be grown in partial shade.

Ground

Plant the potato in well-drained soil, without stones and other debris, fertile, rich in organic matter and rich in nitrogen. Heavy clayey soils are less suitable for cultivation. The ideal pH of the soil is between 5 and 6, but the potato is quite tolerant as to the pH of the soil.

Irrigation

Irrigate to keep the soil slightly moist. Excess water facilitates the emergence of diseases in the plantation. Stop irrigation for the last two weeks before harvest.

Planting

Commercial plantations plant potatoes with so-called certified seed potatoes, which are traditionally grown in disease-free regions that afflict the potato. Generally these regions are subject to harsh winters, where the soil freezes in the winter, killing insect vectors of viruses and disease-causing pathogens. Currently certified seed potatoes can also be obtained from plants grown with modern techniques in a controlled environment.

In home gardens, planting can be done with potatoes that show no signs of disease. The ideal is to leave the potatoes in a well-lit environment until the buds (or shoots) grow (each eye of the tuber produces a bud or shoot). Potatoes can be planted when the sprouts reach approximately 2 cm in length.

It is possible to use both large sliced ​​potatoes and whole potatoes of any size. Large potatoes can be cut to produce more plants, just leaving at least two eyes or sprouts per piece. The pieces should be left in an airy environment for at least one day so that the surfaces of the cuts dry before planting.

Some potato cultivars can also be grown from seeds taken from the fruit of the potato, which are sown and then transplanted when they have at least 4 leaves. Plants originating from seeds take longer to grow and produce, in addition to not having the uniformity obtained by planting tubers, which is why planting by seeds is normally used only to obtain new varieties.

Potatoes can be grown in pots, bags and containers, as long as they are at least 30 cm wide and deep, which is the minimum space recommended for planting a single seed potato.

Cultivation

The main care is not to allow the tubers of the plant (the potatoes to be harvested) to be exposed to sunlight. This leaves the exposed parts of the potato a greenish color due to the production of chlorophyll and induces the production of toxic alkaloids. So, pile up soil near the feet of the potatoes every 30 days, keep the soil with a good layer of mulch or cover the soil with a black opaque plastic from the beginning of planting.

Remove invasive plants that are competing for nutrients and resources.

Harvest

Potatoes can be harvested when the branches are yellow and the tubers are loosening easily. Letting the plant dry before harvesting allows the potatoes to be stored for a longer period, but it is necessary that the soil is not damp. The potato can be ready to be harvested from 75 days to 180 days (in most cases, 100 to 150 days), depending on the cultivar, the climate and other regional factors.

The potato is a toxic plant and its branches, leaves and fruits should not be used in human or animal food. Green potatoes can still be eaten if a good piece of the green part is discarded, but it is preferable to discard the whole potato or use it as a seed potato.

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