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.
If wheat lodges, that is an indication of a lack of potash. Dwarfish growth signifies lack of nitrogen, shrunken grain shows lack of phosphoric acid. However, the only sure way to determine such questions is to test out the fertilizer in plats and let the behavior of the plants and results determine which form of plant food will pay best to invest in. Excessive growth of potato vines with few potatoes represents a shortage of potash.
The past spring (1911) the fertilizer was cut down to 800 pounds per acre, using the minerals only, 10 1/2 per cent, phosphoric acid and l2 1/2 percent. potash, costing $20 per ton.
Good, healthy, vigorous potato seed is one of the most important factors in the growing of the crop; and the simple fact about it is that every farmer can have such first-class seed stock by a little extra study and work; by land digging, for a start, say 500 to 1,000 hills of potatoes, where they are the best in the field, and selecting individual high yielding hills for next year's seed and breeding. By hand digging and rejecting the low yielding hills next year and years following, a good variety of potato is found to gain both in quality and quantity from 10 to 50 per cent. This is worth looking into. Up-to-date authorities and livestock breeders do not perpetuate the scrubs. If there is an abiding law in the animal kingdom, there certainly is a similar one in the vegetable. Violation of this and similar laws invariably brings disaster.
Do potatoes run out? They surely do. There is no question about it, but it is man's standard of seed selection and culture that 'runs down and out.' The following are some of the causes of potatoes deteriorating: (1) Wet, infertile soil, (2) half preparation and fertilization, (3) late planting, (4) first sprouts destroyed, (5) diseased stock, (6) low vitality, (7) poor storage.
Another way is to maintain an annual seed or breeding plat large enough for the requirements. When seed plat potatoes are in full foliage, ten days before they die down, go over them and remove every diseased hill, that such stock will not be a menace to future yields. At harvest time the seed plat product should be carefully handled and put into cold storage. Assort these into two grades - specials and selects - enough of the former (ideal shaped typical tubers) to maintain the annual seed plat and of the latter enough to plant the annual crop. Treat the specials with formaldehyde, one pint diluted with thirty gallons of water, and potatoes immersed two hours.
Potato ground is rolled ahead of potato planter to insure uniform planting depth. Especially important is this if soil varies. At digging time, if season is wet and potatoes are in deep, the digging is a sort of horse-killing job even for four strong horses.
Potatoes are planted 4 inches deep, 11 inches apart in the row, and rows 36 inches apart, 15,840 hills per acre. One pound per hill would yield 264 bushels per acre; two pounds per hill, 528 bushels; twenty bushels of large potatoes are used per acre, cutting to about two eyes per seed piece. Planting is usually completed about May 12th.
For the cultivation of the crop a riding, pivot-wheel, double-row cultivator is used exclusively. Cultivator is started same day or week the planting is finished, endeavoring to get three times over field before potatoes are up. Potato row ridges are fallowed. The row middles should be thorough and deeply broken up. It is safe to cultivate deep at this stage, but not after potatoes are four inches high, as roots extend over halfway from row to row. By deep cultivation at this time roots are torn off, and the potato root system is interfered with, with a corresponding lower yield.
Next, the walking seven-foot weeder is run twice over field, first crosswise the rows and the last time straight with row, which leaves plants in a narrower row, and aids in closer cultivator work. If storms follow and weeder went crosswise last, the potato row would be wider from being pounded down and elbowing up. For weeder work, dry, hot weather is chosen, if there is a choice, and not starting same until after nine o'clock, as potatoes will stand more abuse when warmed up.
The cultivator is now adjusted with narrow teeth, one and one fourth inch on the two central ones, and set as close to the row as it is possible to run it; in fact, so close, the operator says, that every time he sneezes out goes a hill of potatoes.
Go twice over field with cultivator so adjusted. Then cultivator is arranged with a pair of seven-inch side steels on the two central teeth, and a small ridge of soil, about three inches high, is thrown on to the potato rows, and twice over field. Up to this time the cultivations number seven. Balance of cultivation, usually twelve to fifteen all told, is done with cultivator, gradually widening apart the side steels as the vines develop. Every cultivation is equal to a light dressing of nitrate of soda - forty pounds per acre. Earth mulch is provided, evaporation prevented, aeration and ventilation of soil is established, and lastly weeds are destroyed. Level culture is the plan, but these frequent cultivations ridge up the field considerably, which ranges around four inches out of level. The more surface the more evaporation. Cultivation is discontinued the last of July. Care is taken to go astride alternate rows at each cultivation. With this construction of cultivator the gang bars are each side of wheels. After vines commence to lop, four teeth are placed forward on gang bars. These teeth raise vines up and prevent damage from wheels and teeth. For stray weeds two hand weedings are given during the middle of July and August.
Bordeaux mixture is used freely and vigorously. Stock solutions of copper and lime are kept in readiness; 1,000 to 1,500 gallons Bordeaux applied per acre annually, 125 to 150 pound pressure. Arsenate of lead is added to Bordeaux for the potato bugs and larvae. Nozzle angle should be changed from straight to right and left and go reverse directions at each application. Flank an enemy and he is in a dangerous condition. Bordeaux is a protection insurance only. Only a film of it is required. On time and thoroughness are virtues. First application should be made about the last of June, when potatoes are about one foot high. Spraying should be discontinued from September 1st to 15th, depending on the season.
The results of spraying for 1906 to 1911 follow: This is the net profit, not gain: 1906, $42.07; 1907, $32.42; 1908, $48.80; 1909, $20.08; 1910, $24.00. The total cost of thorough spraying ranges from $8 to $15 per acre.
Inside measurements of potato crates are 12 x 14 x 15 1/4 inches. Outside 12| inches high, 14f inches wide, and 17 inches long. They nest up and fit endwise a three-foot wagon box. They contain 2,562 cubic inches, and hold sixty pounds potatoes level full. Ends are 7/8-inch pine or white-wood boards, 12 inches wide, cut to length; sides and bottoms are 3/8-inch basswood. We have 500 crates.
For harvesting the crop the Hoover digger is used, digging every other row, beginning on lower side of field and digging in divisions of four rows. Four rows of potatoes are picked into two rows of crates. The truck wagon passes to farther end of field, distributing the empty crates. The wagon is loaded on return by driving between the two rows of full crates. One or two men on each side set on to the wagon the crates of potatoes without stopping. The truck wagon platform is 6 x 19 feet and only 30 inches above the ground. It holds sixty crates, one crate high. Often 100 to 110 bushels are drawn. In 1906, 1,501 bushels were dug and picked up in one day and over 1,000 bushels drawn one mile and loaded on to cars. Selling direct from field to car is highly satisfactory. During 1901 $2,013 worth of potatoes were sold direct from field to car with only the initial handling. Potato crop for 1907 totaled $2,807.89."
The cost of growing potatoes in these districts will be found in Chapter XIII (Cost Of Growing Potatoes - Yield - Prices - Profits).