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 information that follows is by Mr. T. E. Martin, Superintendent of Demonstration Farms of the New York Central Lines.
In my personal experience at farming in western New York, thirteen miles south of Rochester, latitude 43 degrees, elevation 550 feet, fifty-seven acres, Dunkirk series of soil, a thorough drainage system of 3,265 rods (over ten miles) was established at a cost of about $2,000. This work was done under adverse and hostile conditions while carrying a heavy mortgage on unfertile soil much against the proffered advice of self-appointed authorities and established doctrines. However, the drainage has paid for itself several times over.
As sweet memories of quality and good work linger long after the cost is forgotten, it is therefore essential that only the best thought, effort, and material be allowed to predominate. There is no work of importance in which this truth is more applicable than in tile drainage, because of its permanency, as everlasting as the hills. Often the first crop increase from potatoes repays the entire expenditure, together with handsome annual returns and a heritage imperishable handed down to posterity more valuable the one hundredth year than the first.
All sewer pipe and round tile were used. No boards under pipe. Mains are two to four inches lower than laterals. Drains are of good length and depth and so placed that the drainage reaches laterally from drain to drain on time. Standing water is fatal to the potato yield. Three-inch lateral drains are placed fifty-five feet apart and four feet deep. Some soils need aeration as much as others require drainage. For such four-inch tile give better efficiency. The drainage usually costs 50 cents per rod, or $25 per acre. Intakes are provided with silt basins. Outlets and intakes are established in cement abutments. Special screen pipe prevents animals or trash from entering. Accurate location maps give all data in detail. Horses and an ordinary three-horse plow were used for the opening and closing of drains. Under average conditions a traction ditcher will lessen the cost one third to one half.
We attribute to drainage largely the gradual increasing potato yields of sixty bushels in 1892 to an average of 417 bushels per acre, or 7,510 bushels on eighteen acres in 1906. No irrigation.
Crop rotation is a three-year one, growing annually eighteen acres each of wheat, clover, and potatoes. The last of September or early October, after potatoes are harvested, the potato vines are raked and burned to destroy lurking disease, the ground twice disked, leveled with spring-tooth harrow and sown to Klondike wheat.
The spring following from April 1st to 10th, when certain conditions are present and favorable and the wheat ground is well checked up, one half bushel of high grade medium red clover and alfalfa seed, previously carefully mixed, is sown per acre with a broadcaster, preferably during afternoons, when the surface is dry. Experience only teaches when these conditions exist. The next forenoon a three-section, lever-sets, spike-tooth harrow, teeth set straight up and down, is run over the field. Teeth should be sharp. Such valuable seed should be covered as much as garden seeds.
From 1907 to 1909 six and three fourths bushels clover and two and one fourth bushels alfalfa were sown - a 75 and 25 per cent. mixture; 1910-1912 four and one half bushels each, equal parts, or 50 per cent. of each has been and will be used; 1913-1915 the mixture will be 25 and 75 respectively, just the reverse of first three-year cycle; 1916 and following, alfalfa only will be grown. No lime or inoculation has been used. The former is dangerous in a short potato rotation. All things being equal alfalfa gives us more hay the following year at first cutting than clover. Second cutting has decidedly more alfalfa, and third cutting is all gain. Besides, the alfalfa is richer both as a feed and soil enricher. Roots are larger and go deeper.
First crop of hay is cut June 15th to 25th, and put up for feeding and sale purposes. Several times the first crop was left on knolls and thin places. If first crop was heavy and hay cheap the second crop was cut August 1st and left on the ground for the following potato crop, and it pays as well as livestock feeding, with little work connected thereto. Third crop is cut middle of September and always left on the land. 'Feed the land and the crop will feed you.' Cutting is preferred, as stray weeds are destroyed. The next crop comes up through this mass of organic matter and it decomposes sooner. Next year as a moisture retainer it has valuable qualities.
Manure from the stock, four horses and two cows, is made in box stalls and drawn direct to the field and spread on the thin places on the clover and alfalfa. No straw is sold. The surplus is spread and plowed under.
Potato ground is fall-plowed ten inches deep. In springtime the field is prepared with a four-horse, double-acting, cutaway harrow, which is run over field four times, lengthwise, diagonally twice, and crosswise lastly, and leveled with the spring-tooth harrow.
For available fertility we rely mainly on drainage, preparation, tillage, clover and alfalfa and the farm manure.
Commercial fertilizers were first used in 1901, increasing from 400 to 1,500 pounds of 4, 8, and 12 per cent, in 1907, costing $32 per ton for home-mixed goods, using nitrate of soda, blood, tankage, bone, 14 per cent, rock, and sulphate of potash. A careful farmer can mix fertilizer constituents as perfectly as the elaborate mixing machinery does in a large fertilizer factory. Home mixing costs about 50 cents per ton, and the saving ranges from $2 to $8 per ton. A better and purer grade of goods is secured with no filler in them, consequently no worthless stuff. The fertilizer is applied with an eleven-hoe grain and fertilizer drill, preferably between the first and second cutaway work. Tests have been made with the various fertilizer ingredients separately and in combination in varying quantities. On our farm potash paid the best. Fertilizers used in connection with a good supply of organic matter in the soil gives better results.