Smith County Extension Agent
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 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 five or six 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 two 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.
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