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 results of the work of Matthew G. Wallace, Terreglestown, Dumfries, Scotland, in growing potatoes are very remarkable. He is a tenant farmer, and has been growing potatoes on a 300-acre farm for the last twenty years. In January, 1911, he was knghted by King George for his services in the interest of the potato industry. This is the first time in history that a man has received such an honor for such service. It is a sign of the increasing interest in agriculture.
The soil in this section is peculiarly adapted for growing certain varieties of potatoes. It is a very light sandy loam and is naturally well drained. The subsoil is of sand or gravel, and some of the most successful crops are grown where the soil is not more than eight inches deep.
Mr. Wallace's whole work is potato production. His conditions are such that he has grown potatoes every year for twenty years on the same land, and out of a total of 300 acres, 260 are kept in potatoes. The other forty acres are used for pasture and for growing hay and grain for his horses.
On the 260 acres of potatoes he uses annually 5,000 tons of barnyard manure costing $7,500 and eighty tons of commercial fetilizer costing $3,000. He compounds the latter himself. The manure is applied at the rate of twenty tons per acre.
Mr. Wallace grows only two varieties of potatoes: the Sutton's May Queen and Sutton's Ninety-fold. The former is a capricious variety in its habits and nature of growth. In the soils and weather conditions to which it is adapted it gives maximum yields and endures from year to year. This fact is true of every variety of potato of which I have any knowledge, but it is a phase of the subject that is very little studied by potato growers. One of the strong habits of the May Queen, which grows to perfection in the peculiar conditions at Dumfries, is that it grows very rapidly and strong, and has large leaves and stocks. These are necessarily tender and will not withstand strong winds, which would whip it, weaken the plant, make it apt to blight, and check the growth of the tops as well as the tubers. This variety is not a favorite on the coast where there are heavy winds, and it is never grown there. An adaptation of this information can be well applied in districts in western United States, on open plateaus where there are strong winds during the early growing season of June and July.
The May Queen is one of the very best early market sorts for the British markets. On June first I saw one hundred acres that was a beautiful sight because of the healthfulness, vigor and bright green foliage of the plants. Mr. Wallace begins to harvest early in July and the entire crop is harvested during that month.
Potatoes that go over a two and one fourth inch mesh are shipped to market, those between two and one fourth and one and one fourth are sold for seed or kept as seed stocks. When the potatoes are dug they are practically about one half to three fourths grown. They are planted about March 25th and will yield about eight tons when harvested July 8th. When ripe and matured they would make twelve tons over a one and one half inch mesh.
After being cured in long narrow pits, about three feet wide and thatched with straw, they are shipped to the seed houses for which they were grown.
He is very particular to keep seed true. The same variety is grown year after year in the same fields so that any potatoes that might winter over and come up as volunteers the next year would not mix with those planted in the spring following. He is so careful and painstaking that each storage house is labeled with the name of the variety and no other is stored in it.
Potatoes are harvested in July. They are dug with forks and picked up by hand. If no disease which they spray to prevent is found, the vines are spread evenly over the surface, plowed under, and three bushels of Italian rye grass sown to the acre.
Heretofore he has imported the rye grass seed from France. It is stronger than the English or Irish grown seed and has given the best results, but this year Mr. Wallace is growing his own seed. He uses an immense quantity of seed. It costs $1.50 a bushel or $4.50 an acre. The object is to get as large an amount of grass as early as possible, and to get the greatest amount of fibrous roots and turf to plow under later to keep up the humus content and mechanical condition of the soil. Rye grass gives more roots and turf in a shorter season than any other grass they have used. One object of sowing it immediately after the potatoes are harvested is to pick up and hold any or all of the expensive commercial fertilizer that has been used in growing the crop of potatoes. Otherwise it would be leached into the subsoil from the excessive rains. This rye grass is a second crop for the year - following the early potatoes. The grass makes a fairly heavy crop by the end of the growing season.
Manure is piled up and rotted until it is almost like black putty, then it is hauled out and applied to the rye grass crop at the rate of twenty tons per acre and plowed under about nine inches deep in November or December. It has the winter's snow, rain and freezing to decay this green cover crop, to disintegrate the soil and make splendid conditions for growing potatoes the following spring.
His land is thoroughly worked in the spring, and furrowed out in long, straight, deep furrows, six or seven inches deep and twenty-seven inches apart. The potatoes are dropped by hand twelve inches apart and covered with a horse plow. This plow has a special form for splitting the ridge and covering two rows of potatoes at the same time.
I consider his seed work, seed storage, and handling the remarkable part of his system and methods. He is without exception using partially grown or partially matured seed. The potatoes that are lifted in July are kept over until the next March for planting. He claims that he gets less disease than when lifted at maturity, the potato throws out a less number of sprouts when planted, it makes a more vigorous growth, and the sprout is stronger. Consequently the crop ripens earlier:
As soon as cold weather approaches in October the potatoes are taken out of the pits and stored in trays of various sizes. These are from fifteen by twenty-four inches to twenty by thirty inches, and about three inches deep, with corner posts six inches high, so that it makes an air space of about three inches for the circulation of air between the layers of potatoes. These trays are corded up to the ceiling in the seed potato storage buildings. These buildings are enormously large and eighteen and twenty feet high. They are made frostproof, with a large part of the roof of glass, so as to give an abundance of light, to keep the potato from developing sprouts. Then when they want them to develop sprouts, the rooms are darkened. When one or two white, tender, delicate sprouts appear at the seed end, these potatoes are taken out into the sun and weather. This must be done a sufficient time before planting so that the sprouts become green and tough to withstand the handling in planting. The potatoes in the trays are hauled into the field and dropped by hand by women and boys. This method hastens the crop fully two weeks at both ends of the growing season. It makes it possible to delay planting until the soil is warm, and danger of rotting in cold soil is passed. This can be done with no loss in earliness. The seed is never cut, always planted whole.
Mr. Wallace uses 2,400 pounds of seed to the acre. After this year he expects to use larger seed than ever before. I saw on this farm one twenty-acre field on which was planted five thousand pounds per acre. The potatoes used were as large as a man's hand. This large seed was used this year because the market price of commercial potatoes was very low. He thinks it will make more net money than any acre of potatoes on his farm this year. They were planted next to potatoes where the ordinary amount and size of seed was used with the same soil conditions and culture. The result in the growth of the two crops was very striking and in favor of the large sets. The tops averaged fully 40 per cent. better than the potatoes from the ordinary seed size, and the yield should be correspondingly great.
In growing early potatoes they are very particular never to disturb or break the first sprouts off, or, as some say, to disturb the first intention of the potato to reproduce itself. When not disturbed or broken only one or two sprouts develop. When it is desired to propagate a great many plants from high priced seed, the potato is allowed to put forth sprouts about one half inch long from the seed end. Then the sprout is broken off. The result is that all the eyes of the potato develop sprouts of equal vigor and vitality, but none as strong as the first. When only the first develop, the other eyes of the potato remain dormant. When the potato is cut in sections, one eye to a piece, the seed will go much farther and plant a great many more acres, although the crop will be less in yield and fifteen days later in maturing.
On these three hundred acres Mr. Wallace pays about $5,100 rent and about $13,000 for labor. On this farm it costs $110 to grow an acre of potatoes. The annual revenue is $175 making a profit of $65 per acre.
As near as I could determine in going with him over the several lots, he had (1910) an average of 99.5 per cent. of a full stand.
He pays $4 to $5 a week and house rent to men with families. Foreman and men handling teams get $5 to $6 a week.
The potatoes are picked up in small baskets and dumped on a screen, which is placed over the head of a barrel. The dirt and small potatoes go through; the others are put in other barrels. The top is covered with green potato tops and netting. All early potatoes are marketed in barrels, the late or main crop potatoes in sacks.