Even just ten years ago, most people didn’t think all that much about how the food on our plates got there. Most of us just grabbed a fork and went to town. Times sure have changed, and we think for the better. If you’re reading this blog, you probably want to know more about how a potato is grown. And, although we’ve been working in the fields for many many summers, this is our moment in the sun. Here’s a quick low-down:
1. We use certified seed
Potatoes grow from other potatoes. That is, the part you eat is also the seed. So farmers use potatoes to grow more potatoes. Because potato plants are pretty susceptible, they’re grown from potatoes called certified seed—potatoes guaranteed to be disease-free. Usually, each “seed potato” is cut into smaller pieces and planted. But before we plant, we work on our soil a bit.
2. Preparing the fields
To get the best yield, we spend a lot of time in the early spring plowing the fields, amending the soil, and keeping eye on the temperature. We don’t want to plant if there is danger of a hard frost, which could kill all our seed. But, because potatoes take about 80-100 days to mature, we don’t want to wait too too long because the date of the first fall freeze is a bit of a gamble, too. So it’s kind of like Vegas, baby.
3. Growth Stages
Potatoes grow in 5 phases: (1) sprouts and roots emerge (2) leaves grow and begin photosynthesis (3) the plant flowers and makes new tubers (potatoes) (4) after the soil reaches about 80° F, the plant stops making new potatoes and concentrates on growing each potatoes bigger (at this critical stage, we monitor the temperature, moisture level and nutrient balance of the soil in our fields, all the time). (5) Finally, the green part of the plant dies back, the skin on the potatoes begins to thicken and it’s time to start digging.
Most commercial potatoes are harvested by a special tractor called—you guessed it—a potato harvester. It has special prongs that scoop up the potatoes and some soil, too. Potatoes are moved along an apron chain conveyer belt up into the harvester, where workers separate out dirt, dried stocks, rocks and other debris. The potatoes move along the harvester, are collected in another big truck, and then driven to a storage facility. To get a better idea, watch this video.
5. Sort and Store
At the storage facility, workers again inspect and sort the crop as it is unloaded. Usually, we’ll store potatoes for a bit to help the skin on the outside to further thicken and better protect the potato. Potatoes should be stored in a dark, well-ventilated area at about 40° F.
After the potatoes have cured a bit, it’s time to ship them out. They’re pulled from storage and taken to a packing facility—sometimes this is done with water, sometimes it’s a job for a truck. Potato processing areas are like big “potato factories” with potatoes being conveyed up, down and all around where workers look over each potato, sort them by size and pack ‘em up. Once they’re boxed, bagged or wrapped, they’re shipped off to grocery stores where savvy buyers everywhere scoop them up and bring them home for dinner.
Growing potatoes is a full-time, year-round job. These are just the nuts and bolts. We hope you enjoyed learning about how we grow potatoes on our farms. If you have more questions, let us know.