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.
The first early open field grown potatoes of the season for the London markets are from the Canary Islands, southwest of Spain. The next are from the Jersey Islands and arrive in London in April and May. Early potatoes that are marketed previous to that time are grown under glass in the Jersey and Guernsey Islands.
There are so many factors and features of potato work in Jersey that it is really hard to comprehend the magnitude of the industry. In round figures there are 19,000 acres of this fertile little island, of which about one half is cropped continuously in potatoes and has been for a long time, some of it for fifty consecutive years. By the most scientific methods and study they have not only maintained but gradually increased their high yields. All of the potato growers are breeders and growers of Jersey cattle.
A tenant who farms about sixty acres is the largest operator. He is a breeder of cattle, grows twenty-five acres of potatoes annually, and is the most up-to-date, money-making farmer on the island. He pays a rental of $60 an acre annually. He values his low grazing land, too low for potato growing, at $35 an acre a year for pasture.
The main portion of the crop is planted early in February and harvested in May and June. The price received is from $20 to $100 per ton. The market is very changeable, often varying as much as $20 a ton in a day, according to the supplies in the London market. They get an average yield on the island of 425 bushels to the acre, but many of these potatoes are sold when only partly grown. A maximum yield of 750 bushels to the acre is considered about the limit for matured potatoes per acre.
They plant very closely. The rows are sixteen inches apart, the hills twelve inches apart in the row. The potatoes are ridged with hand plows. It is necessary to use hand power in cultivation because the potatoes are planted so close together. They can grow a large number of hills per acre, on account of the great amount of concentrated fertilizer applied to the land.
Only one variety of potato is grown. This is known as the Royal Jersey. It is kidney-shaped and is the smoothest potato I have ever seen. No one seems to know the origin of it, but it is thought that it comes from seed stocks shipped in years ago. It surely would be an acquisition to have a shipment of these potatoes come to the United States, to have them experimented with in the early potato districts. The variety does not seem to be grown any place except on this island.
This calls to mind the wart, or black scab, disease of potatoes. These shrewd islanders are a very careful, exacting class of people in all of their affairs. For a great many years they have not allowed the importation of any livestock, not even for slaughtering on the day of arrival. For this reason infectious or contagious diseases of cattle have never been known on the island. On first information of the dread wart disease of potatoes the parliament of the island (which has home rule) quarantined Great Britain against sending any potatoes into the island. They are not even allowed to be brought in for table use. This shows how they protect their most important money-making industry. Our national Congress could well pattern after this in the protection of the American farmer and potato grower.
Harvesting early potatoes on the Island of Jersey.
Oats on the Island of Jersey. The senior author is standing in the field and holding up his hand.
Plow for very deep plowing. Used on Island of Jersey.
The above illustration of Sutton's Ninety-fold potato shows the method of sprouting the tubers for growing early potatoes. Illustration used by permission of Sutton & Sons, Reading, England.
The revenue derived from potatoes per acre is sometimes quite fabulous when they get an early crop. They are subject to spring frosts in March, which checks the growth as much as three weeks. One farmer told me he lost $8,000 by frost in one morning. The crop often brings as much as $400 and $500 an acre. One grower received $2,090 on one and three fourths acres of the land. This is a remarkable little block of warm, sandy soil, encircled by a stone wall to shelter it from the winds, and sloping to the south at an angle of almost forty degrees. I think it is the finest piece of land that I have ever seen cropped. He took the chances of planting them very early, used an excessive amount of fertilizer, and well-sprouted seed, planted whole. He harvested and shipped them in one day, when the London market was bare of potatoes. This land will readily rent for $250 an acre, as it is the earliest piece of land on the island. I saw one twelve-acre farm that rents for $140 an acre. In recent years this land, which produces the early crop, has appreciated very much in market value. It is now valued at from $1,000 to $2,500 an acre. I heard of many small tracts that are being rented at from $75 to $175 an acre. No wonder that this 19,000 acres of arable land supports a population of 55,000 and over, 20,000 domestic farm animals, or three people and one domestic farm animal per acre.
I saw meadow grass - a combination of nearly all of the legumes and other grasses - being harvested. It gave a yield at one cutting of five tons to the acre (2,240 pounds to the ton).