Most soils are suitable for potato production, but medium textured loamy soils with good organic matter are best. Deep ploughing (600 mm depth) is recommended, with discing and harrowing done to create a fine tilth. The soils should be fine, loose and without compacted layers that hinder root penetration.
Clods and stones should be avoided as they reduce root contact with soils and cause tuber deformation. Heavy clays and some micaceous soils should be avoided especially when they dry off because they produce misshapen tubers. Soils must be well drained, especially for the summer crop when rainfall is high. Well aerated soils ensure sufficient oxygen for root, stolon and tuber growth. Optimum pH is 5.0 – 5.5. Liming should not be done immediately before planting because the resultant high pH levels can predispose the crop to common scab.
Sprouting is the development of shoots in potatoes. Each tuber has from two to as many as 10 buds (or “eyes”), arranged in a spiral pattern around its surface. The buds generate shoots that grow into new plants when conditions are favourable. Pre-sprouting of tubers helps to increase the number of main stem, and consequently the crop’s final yield. Sprouting also ensures quick, uniform and full germination.
Sprouting is done by storing the tubers in diffuse light. Tubers smaller than 25 mm should not be used for seed. Farmers may sprout the tubers by chitting trays or by force sprouting method.
Potato tubers are exposed to sunlight but protected from strong sun. Apply suitable pesticides to the tubers to protect them from tuber moth, and newly developing sprouts from aphids. If cut tubers are used, cure them for 10-14 days at 7-8 0c and 100 % relative humidity. Dipping of tubers in fungicide drench is recommended.
This can be done when dealing with large potato quantities. The method involves use of heat or acetylene.
· Heat: cover potatoes in tarpaulin in moderate sunshine. Temperature of 30-35 0c will initiate sprouting.
· Acetyline: 0.1 % of acetylene gas in an airtight room between 21-27 degrees celsius will initiate sprouting. 30g of calcium carbide will generate sufficient gas for 2m3.
· Immerse the tubers in an acetylene solution for 4-6 hours. The mixture should be 45 liters of water to 230 g of calcium carbide added slowly.
· Gibberellic acid can also be applied to stimulate sprouting in potatoes. The mixture is 16ml/100litres of water. The seed potatoes should be dipped in the mixture for 3 – 4 minutes and then sun-dried before storing for the sprouting process.
Planting your crop
Newly-sprouted seed between 5 and 15 mm long is suitable for planting. During planting, potato tubers are mechanically or manually placed in the rows, 20 cm to 30 cm apart, with a row to row spacing maintained at between 60 to 120 cm. Spacing is influenced by seed size and soil fertility. Tubers can be planted 7 cm-10cm deep under irrigation farming and can be slightly deeper up to 15 cm when dryland farming is employed. Soon after planting, a ridger is run to cover the potato tubers by throwing the soil from both the sides and ridges pressed. The first irrigation must be applied to a depth of 600mm.
Storing your harvest
The purpose of potato storage is to maintain tuber quality and provide a uniform flow of tubers to fresh market and processing plants throughout the year. Good storage should prevent excessive dehydration, decay and sprouting. It should also prevent high sugar concentrations which result in dark colored fried products. A potato storage structure should have adequate insulation, outside waterproofing, inside vapor proofing, ventilation, air distribution, adequate humidification, and properly designed controls for precisely maintaining the storage atmosphere.
Temperature, humidity, and air movement are the most important environmental factors affecting storability. Temperature requirements are determined by the intended use of the potatoes. Tubers should always be kept in the dark since very small amounts of light will gradually cause greening. Lights should not be used more than absolutely necessary. Surface greening is due to chlorophyll formation and is harmless. However, its presence in potatoes is undesirable because of marketing restrictions and the fact that at times an alkaloid called solanine increases with the chlorophyll. Solanine and other
glycoalkaloids cause potatoes to have a bitter, undesirable flavor. Greening develops slowly in the light at 4 degrees or below but develops rapidly at 20 degrees.
Potatoes are usually held in bulk piles 2.4 m to 6 m deep. Some are stored in pallet boxes for short periods. Pressure bruise and internal black spot are substantially lower with pallet storage but decay is often increased because of poor air circulation within boxes. Long-term pallet storage is not recommended. Because of the large number of cultivars grown, only general storage recommendations can be given here. Growing and harvesting conditions influence the behavior of potatoes in storage.
Early harvested potatoes are usually stored only briefly if at all. Such tubers are quite perishable and damage easily because of immature skins. Early potatoes free from serious bruising and decay can sometimes be held 4 to 5 months at 4 0C for table use if they are cured 4 or 5 days at 12 to 18 degrees to heal wounds before storage. However, early crops should usually be sold immediately because of poor storability and typically high early season prices.