Irish Potatoes

gradingAg Biz News Column
Chad Gulley
County Extension Agent—Ag/NR
Smith County

 Irish Potatoes

Irish potatoes are one of America’s most popular vegetables.   The average American eats 125 pounds of potatoes or potato products annually.  Potatoes are used to make fries, chips, and numerous other nutritional dishes.  Did you know that the edible part of the potato plant is an underground stem called a tuber, not a root?  Most people look to plant potatoes in East Texas around Valentine’s Day.

Irish potatoes are a cool-season crop.  They grow in early spring and late fall.  Irish potatoes primarily come in red and white varieties.  Irish potatoes grow best in full sun in loose, well-drained soil with a pH of 6.0 to 7.8.   Most potato varieties are ready to dig 95 to 110 days after planting.

A soil test is important with potatoes or any other crop you intend on producing.  A soil test will give you a lot of information about your site including the soil pH and nutrient levels present or lacking in the soil.

Irish potatoes need adequate fertilizer early in the season so most nutrients are applied just before planting.  Irish potatoes are grown from pieces of the potato itself called the ‘eyes.’  The seed pieces provide food for the plant until it can develop a root system.  If the seed is too small, it will produce a weak plant.  Seed potato pieces should weigh 2 ounces and each piece should contain eyes.  These pieces are usually cut 5 or 6 days before planting holding these pieces in a well-ventilated area to help the seed pieces heal over and prevent rotting when planted in cool, wet weather.

Potatoes have a rest period that must be broken before they will sprout.  To break this rest period, the potato can be stored under warm, damp conditions for 2 weeks before planting.  This is done by placing the potatoes in a shady spot and covering them with moist burlap or mulch.  These potatoes may have small sprouts at planting time.

Avoid planting the seed potatoes too deep or too shallow.  If planted too deep or shallow in the soil poor plant development may result.  In most of Texas, seed potatoes are planted in February or early March.  Frost to the tops of the plants can be a problem if planted too early.  Once growing, the potato plant can produce fruit on the top of the plant similar to tiny green tomatoes. These are not edible.  Potato and tomato plants do not cross pollinate.   Potatoes, eggplant, and tomatoes all belong to the same botanical family, Solanaceae , which is the ‘nightshade’ family.

For Irish potatoes, a good harvest size is 2-3 inches in diameter but this will vary according to individual preference.  New potatoes can be harvested at any size but many will wait until the new potato reaches 1.25 to 1.5 inches in diameter.   Once dug, many will leave the potatoes in the garden for several hours to dry in the field.  If possible, avoid prolonged periods of direct sunlight with the potato after harvest.  It is recommended to remove any adhering soil from the potato you wish to store but avoid washing the potatoes until you are ready to use them.  Store the potatoes in a cool, dry place.

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