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Are Potatoes A Root Vegetable? Potatoes are arguably one of the most important vegetables grown worldwide. It was so important in the middle ages in Europe that it influenced population growth significantly in a number of countries, particularly Ireland. The reason for this is that it produces more calories per hectare than any other vegetable and is one of the few foods that you can live off almost exclusively.
Potatoes are not considered root vegetables. While the tuber that we eat is grown below ground it is not part of the root system. It is instead a storage vessel that is considered a modified stem rather than a root. As such it is not classified as a root vegetable.
Root cells of a plant have the sole purpose of extracting nutrients from the soil whereas tubers serve to store energy which can later be used by the plant to produce new growth. This characteristic is most notably used in potatoes to produce the subsequent years’ crop.
The potato is a member of the Solanaceae family which includes eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, and deadly nightshade. As mentioned at the start of the article, it is one of the easiest vegetables to grow and is capable of producing large volumes of food.
The potato orginated in South America and was first domesticated in a small area located in southern Peru and north-western corner of Bolivia between 8,000 and 5,000 BC. It was taken back to Europe in the latter half of 16th century and was first introduced to Ireland in 1589.
The use widespread inclusion of potatoes within the European diet took a further 40 to 50 years to occur. However, this introduction of the potato coincided with population booms due to the increased supply of food. This was most evident in Ireland, where the potato had become a staple by the 1800’s, this resulted in the population reaching 8.2 million in 1841, a level that Ireland has not reached since.
A large portion of the rural population in Ireland at the time was particularly dependent upon the potato with 80% of their daily calories coming from the one vegetable in some cases. This dependency on potatoes was to have devastating consequences when potato blight, a fungal disease that causes the tubers to rot, struck in 1845. This resulted in famine in Ireland and the emigration of over a million people to England, Australia, and America.
What Are The Different Type Of Potatoes?
Potatoes are generally characterized by the timing of planting by gardeners, as first earlies, second earlies, and main-crop potatoes. As the name suggests first early potatoes are the first type of potato that is planted at the start of the season.
These potatoes are generally planted at the start of the growing season in pots or growing bags. These varieties are generally harvested after 10 to 12 weeks and will produce a modest harvest which is typically around 1 lb per seed potato. To maximise the harvest it is highly beneficial to chit the potatoes. To read more about the best varieties to grow according to the RHS click here.
Second early potatoes are usually planted around the same time as first early potatoes, however they are generally harvested a few weeks later. They produce, a larger yield and will store slightly better than first earlies.
The maincrop potatoes as the name suggests is the type of potato that produces the bulk of the years harvest. Maincrop potatoes take approximately 14 to 16 weeks to reach maturity and will typically yield around 4 lbs per seed potato. There potatoes are general most suited to longer term storage.
How To Grow Potatoes
Potatoes are extremely easy to grow, requiring little in the way of care throughout the growing season. Potatoes are a frost-sensitive vegetable that is normally planted 2 to 4 weeks prior to the last frost.
To start the plants off some gardeners chit the potatoes which is a process whereby the seed potato is exposed to light. This exposure encourages the formation of sprouts on the seed potato prior to planting. This is not absolutely essential to get a reasonable crop, however it is beneficial in some circumstances. To read more about this click here.
When planting seed potatoes most gardeners dig a trench and place the seed potatoes approximately 12 inches apart at the base of it. The potatoes are then covered with soil. Sprouts typically appear 4 weeks later and will progressively get larger.
As the plants get larger it is advisable to mound the soil around the plant, which is sometimes referred to as earthing up. The process has two important functions. The first is it also prevents potatoes from begin exposed to light which causes the tubers to turn green and become poisonous.
The second benefit is that this process will increase the yield by increasing both the size and the quantity of the potatoes produced. To read more about this click here.
The potatoes will begin to flower in late spring or early summer. The flowering of the plant is an indicator that the plant is approaching the point where you can begin harvesting. It is generally recommended that only one plant is harvested initially about 4 weeks after the flowers first appear.
Once you reach the point where each plant is yielding a reasonably sized crop they can be harvested as needed throughout the summer. However, once the top growth dies back it is best to harvest all the potatoes as they will not get any larger.
How To Store Potatoes
Potatoes are relatively easy to store and will last for several months in the right conditions. Potatoes are best stored in a cool dark location that is well ventilated. They can be placed in cardboard boxes or hessian sacks, however, plastic containers should be avoided as potatoes have a tendency to sweat which can increase the chances of mold formation.