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.
Mr. Wm. Dennis and his five sons are pioneer growers of large acreages of potatoes. He commenced in 1869 by buying six and one half acres of land at $500 an acre. They now have 3,000 freehold acres and lease 3,000 more. They are operating 6,000 acres as follows: 1,500 acres in potatoes, with extra early, early, second early, medium late, and main crop in about equal proportions; 1,500 acres in grain, and 3,000 acres in pasture for grazing. The grass and grazing land sells for more than plowed or arable land, and it is quite impossible to lease it for the purpose of breaking it up. They run six 1,200-pound bullocks to four acres, always give them a bit of oil cake, and never graze too close.
W. Dennis & Sons - prominent British potato growers.
Potato storage house on farm of W. Dennis & Sons.
The older Mr. Dennis tells me that their success, prosperity, and accumulations are all directly due to potato growing, and corroborates the statement that I have made continuously whenever I talk potatoes, that potato growing when given proper attention returns more revenue for capital and labor invested than any other crop.
The Lincolnshire district has used whole seed potatoes for upward of forty years, and their prosperity is largely due to this using of good, sound whole seed, as against cutting the tubers for seed pieces.
Dennis and Sons are also the pioneers in the most successful methods of storing their seed potatoes. They use glass storehouses, and have five on their farms. They are 160 x 24 feet and the walls are twelve feet high. The lower six feet of wall is of brick, and the upper six of glass. The roof is all glass. They give the appearance of conservatories or greenhouses. They cost $2,250 each and store 200 tons of seed potatoes in crates, giving a total storage capacity of 1,000 tons annually. The balance of their seed stocks is shipped from the north of Scotland. They are large importers of seed.
Mr. Dennis says that no matter how perfect every condition of potato work is made, if seed stock is not perfect, of high germinating power, free from disease, and planted uncut, the grower will lose.
Their home-grown seed is one and three fourths to one and seven eighths inches in diameter, but when they buy Scotch seed, the Scotch seed grower furnishes larger sized seed. Their seed stocks are largely selected from the market crops that run through a one and seven eighths inch mesh. They are selected in the field and are immediately put in crates or storage boxes about three inches deep, and stacked up in the open air as long as safe from frost or freezing weather, which is usually about the middle of October. Then they are stored in their glass storage houses for the winter.
Two days before my arrival at Mr. Dennis's, Monday evening, they had sprayed a forty-acre field of May Queen for leaf blight. These were early potatoes they expected to harvest the following week for market. When late that evening they discovered indication of leaf blight, they knew the spraying had been delayed two days too long. That night arrangements were made for thirty or forty men to commence pulling the tops in the early morning. This keeps the disease from attacking the tubers. The potatoes were not much more than half grown. In two days' time the tops had been pulled from this field and thrown in neat winrows. The rest of the crop would be left in the ground for twenty days, then lifted and put in boxes and kept in the open until danger of frosts, then stored for seed. They were too green for market, but would make good seed. To a potato grower of the sunny irrigated West this fungous blight in its rapidity of development is frightening, as in three or four days 50 per cent. of the tubers will be diseased. They will have great brown spots, looking like brown blisters. These potatoes had been sprayed some two or three times previous, but the weather conditions (continuous cloudy, sunless, rainy weather) made the disease hard to combat. Had the temperatures been high, it would have been a terrible disaster to the British potato industry. The early growing sorts are more susceptible than the more hardy main crops. When the disease strikes a district it spreads with the fierceness of a prairie fire. It is one of the very great problems to contend with where there is such a rank, rapid growth of vegetation. I am inclined to think there is greater danger from their very close planting. The thick, dense foliage completely shades the lower leaves and soil from the little bit of sun that they do have.
As everywhere else in Great Britain, they rely on barnyard manure, with occasional crops of clover, for humus. The idea is to keep as great an acreage in potatoes as possible and yet keep up their yields and freedom from disease. About one third of their arable lands are kept in potatoes, or potatoes two years out of six, with clover and other grasses one year; and for the other three years wheat, oats, barley, white mustard, mangels, and Swedes for their cattle. I saw some good fields that had grown potatoes twelve years out of eighteen, and one farm that had been in potatoes twelve consecutive years. Here the land was fall plowed as deep as their big three-horse Shire teams with present style plows could turn it. They often plow twice between crops. When this is done one of the plowings will be shallow.
For early potatoes they thoroughly harrow and lay out their lands. The rows are twenty-five inches apart, hills twelve inches apart in the row. Late potatoes are planted 27 x 14 inches, and in the fens or peat land, 30 x 12 inches. Their peat soil is so loose and light that it does not hold its form in ridging so well, so they plant wide to give more soil for better ridging. Up to the present time this soil has required no nitrate of soda or nitrogen, but requires phosphates, lime, and potash.