(NaturalNews) Those building a seed collection may have wondered: where are the potato seeds? It turns out that potatoes are not usually grown from tiny seeds because the spuds themselves are seeds. As you have likely noticed, potatoes sprout eyes over time, and will go on to grow a whole plant under the right conditions. This article will explore the history and health benefits of potatoes along with outlining simple steps for growing potatoes at home. ____________________
* Potato - Solanum tuberosum (Solanaceae)
This perennial member of the nightshade family grows about 3 feet high and has branching stems, compound leaves, white or purple flowers, green berries and swollen tubers (potatoes). A good source of protein and potassium, potato also contains vitamin A, B1, B2, C and K. Potato contains alkaloids that aid in the reduction of stomach acid. Potatoes are used to treat peptic ulcer, joint pain, headaches, back pain and skin disorders such as burns or infections. Potato contains the phytonutrient kukoamine that helps lower blood pressure. All parts of the potato plant are poisonous except the tuber. Large amounts of potato juice (more than the juice of one large potato per day) are toxic. Potato has anti-inflammatory and diuretic properties. ____________________
History of the Potato
Potatoes have only recently been used as food by humans. Originally cultivated in the central Andes by the Quechua and Aymara people, the potato wasn't introduced to Europe until Spanish voyagers brought them back from the New World in the 16th century.
Sir Walter Raleigh brought them to Ireland and gave a potato plant to Queen Elizabeth I as a present. However the cooks at the royal banquet, unfamiliar with the plant, threw out the edible tubers and cooked the (poisonous) stems and leaves. Everyone fell deathly ill, prompting potatoes to be banned from the court. It would be two centuries before Frederick the Great, King of Prussia, gave potatoes to the poor who (with the help of Prussian soldiers) agreed to eat them.
Presbyterian missionary Henry Harmon Spalding first brought potatoes to Idaho in Lapwai in 1836. While his second crop was a success at demonstrating independent agriculture, a nearby massacre by Indians prompted him to leave the area.
In 1845 the "Great Famine" in Ireland was due to the potato crop becoming diseased. At least a million people died of starvation, prompting many to immigrate to the United States, where at the time potatoes were considered animal feed. It wasn't until after the Civil War, in 1872, that American horticulturist Luther Burbank developed the disease resistant Burbank potato which was reintroduced to Ireland. The Russet Burbank appeared in Idaho around 1900.
Despite their short history as a human staple food, potatoes today are taken for granted and considered to be among the most important vegetables. The fact that potatoes are a relatively new food however explains why many people are sensitive to the nightshade family (which includes tomatoes and peppers).
When growing potatoes it is very important to purchase special seed potatoes to avoid contamination. Ideally small, whole seed potatoes are planted, but larger ones can be cut into pieces that are about 2 ounces in weight and/or about one inch in diameter. There should be at least one eye per piece. To prevent rot, the cut side of the potato can be dipped in sulfur or wood ash. Some pieces will still rot but others will produce plants.
The pieces are then placed in a paper bag with some holes for ventilation and put in a warm, dark location for about 7-10 days. Eyes will sprout and the pieces are planted before the eyes get more than 1/4 inch long.
One should always purchase heirloom varieties in order to achieve predictable results year after year. It is also important to buy organic potatoes as the potato farmers themselves avoid conventional potatoes and must wear special protective-wear when applying dangerous fungicides. Seed potatoes should not themselves be eaten as they are often dusted with nitrogen or other substances to delay sprouting. Seed potatoes can be stored for a few months if kept cold.
Row covers are useful to protect against potato beetles. Yellow potato beetle eggs on the underside of the leaves should be removed. The best protection against disease is fertile soil and irrigation. If you get too much rain during the season, add dry organic soil from bags to keep rot from forming. Meanwhile if plants are too dry add (ideally rain or spring) water or they will form scabby patches.
Plant in spring after the last frost (though a frost or two will not necessarily kill them). After being planted, leaves emerge in about a week and quickly grow into dark green, shiny plants. Potato plants eventually get tall enough to fall over but don't be alarmed as they will simply grow on their side and the leaves will adjust so they will eventually look natural in that position. It is important to rake or add dirt around the base of the plants to create mounds of light and airy soil. The dirt should come up to the last set of leaves. This way the potatoes will have plenty of room to grow while the roots can survive in any type of soil such as clay.
Later in the fall (even if the plants have not flowered) the vines will turn yellow and start to die back. At that point, slowly pull the vine along to where it meets the ground and then gently dig away the earth until you find the bottom. This will (hopefully) be a bunch of potatoes that resemble a bunch of large grapes underground. Occasionally a potato will emerge on its own. Harvest time is generally between 8 and 16 weeks after planting. In the fall, after foliage is dry, one should dig up the entire crop. Potatoes should be allowed to dry for several days before putting into storage (where they are ideally kept at about 40 degrees in a dark environment).
With organic, heirloom seed potatoes, potato plants can be easily grown in the home garden. Potatoes will grow in a variety of climates and soil types. ____________________
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