All a question of soil and situation. On a warm, sheltered border, especially if the soil be light, February or early March planting is safe; but in exposed places, particularly if the soil be stiff and cold, April is quite soon enough. People exaggerate the advantages of early planting, or fail to see how inevitably they are modified by circumstances. In 1901 my best piece of Potatoes was Up-to-Date planted at the end of May, and not from very grand seed either. If the seed is in a good store, is fresh, and is sprouting well, it is often better than in the ground. Autumn planting crops up now and then, generally as a consequence of some experiment in that direction which has happened to turn out well. It may be tried, but it can never become general.
Fig. 69. A Potato Plough.
1, steel plate 10 by 18 inches, 1/8 inch thick, cut as shown by the dotted line.
2, handle, 4 feet 8 inches long.
3, a piece of iron, 14 by 1 1/4 inches by 3/4 inch. The moulds are riveted to this, and it is then welded to the handle.
The depth to plant is in some degree dependent on the soil, but 4 inches should be the minimum in heavy, and 6 inches in light, soil.
It is, I suppose, needless to say that the man who has a choice between a light and friable soil and a stiff and heavy one should choose the former. To their credit be it spoken, many owners of strong soil turn out excellent Potatoes, but it cannot be gainsaid that a sandy loam is the ideal soil for Potatoes. It occasionally happens, though not often, that the two different classes of soil are found in one parish: such is the case in the one in which I now write. Judging by general work there, the heavy soil men are the best gardeners, but the light soil brigade show the best Potatoes. Unhappily, most of us have no choice in this very important matter, and we must do the best we can with what we have, working on the principles set forth in previous chapters on soil and manuring.
Planting Potatoes closely is bad in two ways: (1) It means crowding, which favours weak growth, (2) it leaves an inadequate supply of soil for earthing. The rule to plant first early sorts 9 inches or 1 foot from set to set and 2 feet apart in the rows, second earlies and small-topped maincrops 1 foot by 2i feet, and coarse-topped varieties 15 inches by 3 feet is good.
What is a good crop of Potatoes? In this connection I am irresistibly reminded of one of the sermon-paper experts, who happened to find himself on a platform extolling the virtues of an artificial manure formula that he had read of somewhere. One of the horny-handed sons of toil present asked how many Potatoes it would grow per rod, and received the startling reply, "About 20 sacks." I have no such dazzling prospect as this to hold out. One sack of a hundredweight and a half per square rod, pole or perch, equal to 12 tons per acre, is a very good crop. Once, and once only, I saw two sacks per rod lifted. The variety was Up-to-Date.
Fig. 70. A Potato Hoe.
This is one of the most useful tools in Potato cultivation. The prongs are flat, about 7 inches long by 3/4 inch wide, and the handle is Ash.
Those who are interested in the question of how many Potatoes can be grown from a given quantity of seed may be reminded of a competition which took place some twenty-seven years ago, the quantity allowed being 1 lb. A Kentish gardener was the victor, and history records (truthfully let us hope) that he produced 647 lb. of Potatoes. I must confess to having nourished "doots" about this, but I once met with a person who claimed to know all about the matter. He informed me that a strong local committee checked all the proceedings of the victorious gardener, and that there is no doubt that the record is perfectly accurate and genuine. My informant certainly astonished me in one respect. He stated that the way in which the grower treated his seed was to remove the eyes with a gouge and establish them. I just remember the variety, Eureka, a hideously coarse Potato, lumbered with eyes; but all the same I was, and am, surprised to hear that enough plants to yield such an enormous crop were secured in this way. I should have thought a great many more plants could have been secured by starting the sprouts in a box on a greenhouse shelf, for several batches can be secured, and subsequently established like so many cuttings, in this way. But perhaps it was against the rules.