This section is from the book "The Potato: A Compilation of Information from Every Available Source", by Eugene H. Grubb, W. S. Guilford. Also available from Amazon: The Potato: A Compilation Of Information From Every Available Source.
Next to bread and meat, the most important article of food to the Anglo-Saxon race is the potato. Notwithstanding its importance as a food product, comparatively little attention has been paid to the development and improvement of the potato until recent years. The writer, having spent a number of years in trying to grow varieties of potatoes that would be of such quality and perfect-ness in economical conformation as to command the highest market prices, and having met with a fair degree of success, is constantly appealed to by growers for information as to methods and by consumers for a history of the operation in producing the three varieties that I am now growing and which are rapidly attracting the attention of the trade all over the country because of their merit. In order to answer these questions intelligently, I have in this manner explained, as briefly as possible, something of the methods now being successfully used in the Carbondale potato district and on Mt. Sopris Farm, and a history of the principal varieties grown. •
Mt. Sopris and a part of the Carbondale district, Colorado.
Lord Ogilvy, agricultural editor Denver Post, Denver, Colo.
In order to produce a perfect specimen of any article one must first have in mind an ideal. We must therefore understand what constitutes a perfect potato, both from the standpoint of the consumer and the trade. The consumer desires a potato that when cooked will be dry, mealy, or, when crushed, like flour. The trade wants a potato that is clean and dry, with a rough skin, not easily bruised or broken, as a broken skin provides the nucleus for rot.
One of the most important specifications in the production of an ideal potato is uniformity in size. It is, of course, impossible to grow potatoes all the same size, but I make it a point to grade the potatoes before marketing into nearly uniform sizes. In cooking the tuber this is important, as when a small potato is cooked with a large one, either the small one becomes overdone or the large one underdone. With nearly equal sizes, they all cook alike.
Potatoes are like fruit in one respect: they are best when fully ripe. A well-ripened potato, matured in proper soil, is a luxury for an epicure when properly cooked. The unripe potato when cooked is wet, soggy and clammy. The starch molecules have not been transformed as they should be and the potato is not as digestible. The well-ripened potato cooks dry even in water and crushes into a flaky, powdery mass, with the starch in fine, granulated form.
It is only within recent years that potato breeders have paid much attention to the formation of the potato. The ideal potato must be regular in shape, round or oval, with eyes nearly flush with the surface. Large hotels and restaurants are compelled to use machines for paring. With the old-fashioned, irregular shaped potato, the loss in paring was often equal to a third of the weight of the tuber. The Mt. Sopris potatoes can be handled very economically in a paring machine, the loss being practically nothing but the tough skin. In the matter of economy, therefore, the regular conformation of the potato is highly important.
The original potatoes were found growing wild in the mountain districts of North and South America. In looking for ideal climatic and soil conditions, therefore, we have but to study the environment of the wild potato.
An important effect of the climate is the uniformity in the quality of the product from year to year. Climatic conditions in the mountain sections of Colorado do not apparently vary enough to materially affect the quality of the crop from one year to another, and the crop this year is as good in quality as last year, and will be the same next year. This is highly important in establishing a commercial demand.
My experiments in improving and developing the varieties of potatoes grown on Mt. Sopris Farm cover a period of about fifteen years. My first work was with the Perfect Peachblow. This is an improved type of the old Peachblow, a variety grown in this country for over fifty years, and is one of the oldest varieties in existence. Originally it was yellow fleshed, often hollow and bitter of taste. Peter Henderson, a well-known New York seedsman, developed this variety, and in 1883 some of his Perfect Peachblows were brought to Colorado and planted in the Roaring Fork Valley. The perfected variety was of white flesh, never hollow nor bitter, and proved an ideal potato. It was round and slightly flattened on one side, with few eyes and a tough skin. It became a great favorite and is still the leading variety on the western slope of Colorado.
My first efforts were in the direction of increasing the tonnage yield of this variety. The trouble most found was that the hills produced one or two potatoes of great size and many small ones. The large potatoes often cracked open and the crop as a whole lacked uniformity. My method was first to plant the size of potato I desired to produce and later to select my seed from hills producing not less than twelve potatoes of uniform type and size. By this method I have been able to secure a crop of uniform and fixed type characteristics. This plan resulted in greatly increased production, but subsequently I found it advisble to sacrifice some of this increased yield to quality. I have succeeded in producing a uniform type of Perfect Peachblow, of fine quality, fixed type characteristic and fairly uniform size.
Several years ago I had an opportunity to see the work being done in type breeding of potatoes on the Earl of Rosebery's Dalmeny Farm in Scotland. Since then I have imported twelve different varieties of these fine Scotch bred potatoes, but have found only two varieties that proved adaptable to the Roaring Fork district. Of these the Dalmeny Beauty has proved very promising. It is a white fleshed, medium to large potato, oval to oblong, shallow eyed, with a clean and attractive skin. The vines grow from three to five feet high, and it is one of the heaviest yielders known. One stalk in the Carbondale district produced twenty-five tubers weighing eleven and one half pounds. Four acres in the same section produced 307 sacks per acre, 116 pounds to the sack. It is a strong feeder and needs rich soil.
This is another Scotch variety imported from Dalmeny Farm. It is a medium late variety of high quality. It is white fleshed and mealy. The skin is smooth and white. The tubers are oblong, medium to large, with square-shoulders. A good cropper. This year one plat of ten acres at Carbondale yielded 277 sacks per acre, 116 pounds to the sack. It is a very high quality potato, and those grown in Carbondale have been used for the past four years on the Vanderbilt system dining cars.
In my opinion the Perfect Peachblow, as developed in the Carbondale district of Colorado, is about as near the ideal potato as has yet been grown. One difficulty most potato growers have had to contend with in other sections is the fact that the various varieties "run out" in two or three years, or, in other words, deteriorate in quality. The Perfect Peachblow is an exception. Notwithstanding the years of injudicious methods in seed selection and cultivation, the variety is as vigorous and healthy as ever and is steadily improving.
It has an astonishingly strong constitution, and seems to easily resist the many diseases that afflict potatoes elsewhere. Much of this is due to the ideal conditions that exist here. It is impossible to grow a firm texture, high quality potato in a hot soil. The soil here is always cool and the tuber has plenty of time to mature.
The consuming public has not yet learned to discriminate in the quality of potatoes. Gradually the demand for the high quality potato is increasing, however, and the time will come when the people of the East will insist upon having the fine tubers grown in the mountain valleys of Colorado. When that time comes Colorado will produce twenty million bushels annually instead of six million, as at present, and the fame of the Carbondale potato will be equal to that of the Rocky Ford cantaloupe.
The important requisite in securing the best results in potato growing is to plant in an open, porous, well-prepared soil. The soil must be well supplied with humus, or vegetable mould, so that it is open and easily accessible to air, as the best potatoes must have air, especially when maturing. Excessive irrigation contracts and solidifies the soil. I practise frequent cultivation, and with special machinery ridge the hills high and wide, with a deep trench for the irrigation. For at least two months previous to maturing I do not irrigate, allowing the tubers to mature in a soil almost dry, the tap and feeder roots providing all the moisture needed for the tubers. By this method the tubers when ripe come from the soil in a clean, bright condition; the skin is tough and the potato keeps better.
The Perfect Peachblow is the best keeping potato known when grown in this manner, often keeping until the middle of August. It is an ideal potato for the early spring and summer market, being in prime condition.
That a cool, porous soil is largely responsible for the best quality in potato growing was evidenced at the Aspen Fair this year, when the first prize potatoes in a most wonderful exhibition were found to come from an altitude of 8,100 feet above the sea.
Probably the most important item in securing a high quality potato is seed selection. Carbon-dale growers are now exercising the greatest care. We are trying to secure fixed characteristics, and the seed potatoes from this district will do well in most any potato section where proper conditions can be had, and the crop will be found to possess the uniformity as to size and quality that is so necessary to success.
The proof of the pudding is in the eating. So is the proof of a high quality potato to be found at the table. It must be properly cooked and served, and thus the Carbondale potato will be found one of the delicacies of the world.
Few people know that a potato has a season of best eating quality, the same as an apple or peach. The Perfect Peachblow is best after the first of January. The Dalmeny Beauty is best from the first of November until April. The Challenge is best from September to January.
No part of the world is better fitted by nature for growing potatoes than the mountain districts of Colorado. Those sections where the soil is largely composed of ground granite and sandstone are of course best adapted. The Roaring Fork and Crystal River Valley section of Colorado is as nearly perfect in soil conditions as can be found, and the potatoes grown there are not excelled anywhere in the world, and are equalled in but few places. With the requisite climatic and soil conditions, and the use of careful and intelligent methods in seed selection and the maintenance of a uniform type, few crops can be grown that will return better profits for the producer.