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.
Growers will be found to recommend the use of seed varying in size from cut pieces having one small eye to whole seed weighing six to eight ounces.
A simple fundamental is the reason for it: the furnishing of more nutriment to supply the needs of the young plant.
The rate of seeding is dependent entirely on the size of the seed piece and the distance of planting. Growers use from 300 to 5,000 pounds per acre. The practice of successful growers indicates the best policy to be:
High fertility of soil.
Whole seed or large seed pieces.
Heavy rate of seeding per acre.
At Mt. Sopris Farm it has been found that it is cheaper to grow medium sized seed in large quantities per acre (by planting in rows thirty-two inches apart and hills six inches apart), store it separately and plant whole, than to cut seed. It costs $5 to $6 per acre to cut seed, and there is greater danger from dry rot with cut than with whole seed.
In "The Potato Crop" Mr. David Young, editor of the North British Agriculturist, of Edinburgh, Scotland, and one of the foremost agricultural authorities in Great Britain, gives the following very interesting information about potato varieties:
If in the first two centuries (from the time of its introduction) the progress of potato culture was very slow in the United Kingdom, a different state of matters prevailed in the early part of the nineteenth century. By that time the valuable, or rather we should say invaluable, properties of the potato crop had been fully realized, and its culture on a large scale was the order of the day throughout the country. The plan of producing new varieties from the seeds in the 'plums' or 'apples' was well understood also, and early in that century there were numerous different varieties in general cultivation. The famous wholesale seed firm of Messrs. Peter Lawson & Son, Edinburgh, which still retains its pristine eminence in the Scottish seed trade, was then devoting great attention to potato culture, and in the agricultural museum, which was located in the chambers owned and occupied by the Highland and Agricultural Society, it had specimens of over 100 different varieties on exhibition.
It is also interesting to note that the National Agricultural Society of Scotland was a pioneer of progress in potato culture. In 1827 the society awarded a medal to Mr. Richard Lowthian Ross of Staffold Hall, Cumberland, for bringing out a new variety of potato called Staffold Hall, which that gentleman had grown successively on a deep rich soil, approaching clay, for a long period and had never found it to present the least symptom of curl or disease of any kind, either on its foliage or tubers, and its produce per acre he has found in several instances to exceed thirty tons.
In the premium article by Mr. Peter Lawson on 'The Comparative Value of Different Varieties of the Potato,' published in Vol. IX. of the society's Transactions, it is recorded that the 'Staffold Hall,' or' Late Wellington,' as it is sometimes termed, was found superior in specific gravity and quantity of starch contained in a given weight of tubers to any of the others there enumerated, amounting to seventy-three. It would rather seem that if a potato answering the description of the Staffold Hall were to be brought out nowadays it would be hailed with universal acclamation as the very kind that potato raisers and potato growers had for many long years been looking for and striving to obtain.
In the 'Agriculturist's Manual,' published in 1836 by Messrs. Peter Lawson & Son, 'Seedsmen and Nurserymen to the Highland and Agricultural Society,' there is given a list of 146 different varieties in ordinary cultivation, and full particulars are given respecting each variety under the different heads of ' Habit of growth," Foliage," Flower,' 'Shape of tubers,' 'Color and other peculiarities of skin," Fold of increase," General remarks' and 'Weight of starch in one pound of tubers.' From these 'General remarks' we learn that some varieties were then marked as 'healthy,' 'pretty healthy, or 'very healthy,' while others were marked as 'unhealthy' or 'very unhealthy,' and quite a number were marked as ' subject to curl,' or 'very subject to curl.' The 'weight of starch in one pound of tubers' was found to vary immensely in the different varieties, the range of variation being from 408 to 903 'grains troy.' Two varieties - namely, the Sawyer's Red and the Late Jersey - were found to show 903 grains troy of starch for one pound of tubers, but both these varieties were branded as 'rather waxy and indifferent in flavor.'
It is worthy of note also that in those early days the intelligent growers of potatoes were possessed of a good deal of knowledge which is frequently supposed to be the product of modern experiment and experience. Thus we find in the first edition of Johnson's 'Dictionary of Modern Gardening' that the plan of sprouting seed tubers in trays or boxes for the growing of early potatoes was well known and widely practised, particularly in Cheshire, 'where they are celebrated for the early production of potatoes.' The same authority was also very emphatic in regard to the importance of using fairly full-sized uncut tubers for seed, and of conserving the first sprout of the seed by way of preventing the loss of stamina inevitably caused by the breaking of the first sprouts; and he was equally emphatic in regard of using potatoes that had been brought from a district that was higher and cooler than that in which it was to be planted. It was also known in those early days that tubers which had been harvested before being fully matured were better adapted for seeding purposes than those which had been fully matured before being harvested. When it is added that in those early days the average yield of the crop was eight tons per acre, or quite two tons more than the official estimate of the crop nowadays, it will be seen that these potato growers of seventy years ago were not so very far behind.