What Is An Irish Potato – Learn About The History Of Irish Potatoes

What Is An Irish Potato – Learn About The History Of Irish Potatoes

“Variety is the spice of life.” I’ve heard that phrase countless times in my life but never thought about it in the most literal sense until I learned about the history of Irish potatoes. A significant footnote in this history, the Irish Potato famine, conveys the vital importance of planting genetically diverse crops. This is key to preventing widespread crop destruction and, in the case of the Irish Potato Famine, the massive loss of human life.

This is a harrowing time in history and some of you may not want to know more about Irish potato information, but it is important to learn about the history of Irish potatoes so it is not repeated. So, what is an Irish potato anyways? Read on to learn more.

What is an Irish Potato?

This is an interesting bit of Irish potato information, but the potato actually did not originate from Ireland as its name suggests, but rather South America. British explorer Sir Walter Raleigh introduced them to Irish soil at his estate in 1589 upon his return from an expedition.

The Irish potato, however, was not embraced as a large-scale farm crop until the early 1800’s, when its value as an edible food crop was recognized. Potatoes were a crop that could grow with relative ease in poor soil and, in a period of time in which the best land was farmed by the Irish for the sole benefit of British landlords, this was an ideal way to ensure Irish families were fed.

One potato variety, in particular, was grown exclusively – the “lumper” – which became infected in the 1840’s with ‘Phytophthora infestans,’ a deadly pathogen that capitalized on Ireland’s wet and cool weather conditions, turning these potatoes to slime. All the lumpers were genetically identical and, hence, equally susceptible to the pathogen.

The Irish suddenly found themselves potato-less and were catapulted into a deadly famine that lasted 15 years. The population decreased by 30% due to a million deaths and the exodus of 1.5 million more to emigration.

Planting Irish Potatoes

I know the image of slime and death that I just conjured up probably is not encouraging your desire in planting Irish potatoes, but please do not let that discourage you. To this day, modern varieties of Irish potatoes are among the most widely grown worldwide.

So – let’s get down to the business of planting, shall we? Your planting target should be 3 weeks prior to the last spring frost in your region. It is recommended that you buy certified seed potatoes, as they are carefully screened for the presence of disease and are chemical free.

The landscape of a seed potato is quite interesting, as it will have dimples, or “eyes,” on its surface. Buds will develop in these eyes and sprout. Five to six days prior to planting, use a sterilized knife to cut each seed potato into 4-6 pieces, being sure to capture at least one of the eyes in every piece.

Store the cut pieces in a well-ventilated spot in a warm, humid location so that they can heal over and be protected from rotting. In your garden, use a hoe to open a trench about 3 inches (7.6 cm.) deep, plant the potatoes 10-12 inches (25-30 cm.) apart and cover with 3 inches of soil.

Throughout the growing season, hill or mound dirt around the stem of the potato plant as it grows to promote the growth of new potatoes. Water your potato plants regularly to maintain a consistent soil moisture and consider the use of fertilizer to boost development.

Be vigilant for the presence of insects and disease and respond accordingly. Harvest the potatoes when you observe the tops of the potato plants beginning to die.

Potato Planting Still a St. Patrick’s Day Tradition, says Burpee Garden Company

March 2011— Warminster, Pa. — St. Patrick’s Day remains one of the nation’s most celebrated holidays nearly 250 years after the first American celebration took place in Boston in 1762. While a few traditions have changed, the ceremonial planting of potatoes around St. Patty’s Day remains strong, according to Burpee Chairman and CEO George Ball.

“Customer interest in potatoes has remained consistently strong year after year at Burpee,” says Ball, noting the hike in potato sales the company experiences yearly during the weeks leading up to St. Patrick’s Day. “This data proves that planting potatoes on St. Patrick’s Day continues to be a deeply rooted tradition.”

Potatoes have an intriguing history in Ireland that goes back to the 1600s, when Britain introduced the vegetable as an ideal food source for their first colony’s peasant population. By the 1840s, this nutritious vegetable had helped to decrease infant mortality rates in Ireland and helped make the Irish people literally stronger than their British rulers.

Although the Great Potato Famine destroyed potato crops across Ireland in the early to late 1840s, it spurred new plant breeding programs and the introduction of disease-resistant potato varieties. The famine is credited by many historians with stimulating modern agricultural science.

“The potato’s history underpins it as a unique symbol of strength,” says Ball. “Combined with the usual proximity to the first day of spring, St. Patrick’s Day potato planting is a deeply ingrained Irish tradition.”

For more information on growing potatoes, please visit Burpee’s “All About Potatoes” article here, or visit

ABOUT BURPEE: W. Atlee Burpee & Co. was founded in 1876 and is based in Warminster, Pennsylvania. Today, Burpee is the largest, most innovative seed company in the United States, offering seeds, garden plants and gardening supplies through the Burpee website at, direct-mail catalogs, and via its 15,000 retail garden center customers throughout the country. You can visit Burpee at, or call us toll-free at 1 (800) 888-1447. W. Atlee Burpee & Co.

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Growing Potatoes in South Carolina

Hi, I’m Paul Thompson with Clemson Extension Service. I’m a county agent in York, Chester and Lancaster Counties. I’m back here in the Chester Community Garden today and I want to talk a little bit about growing potatoes. If you have raised beds or you have well-draining soils, potatoes are such an easy crop to grow. You plant them in late-February, early-March by purchasing some seed potatoes and plant them deep in the ground, 8-10 inches deep, and they’ll take about 3-4 weeks before you start seeing the top growth come up above the ground. But they’re really trouble-free. There’s an occasional pest, such as Colorado Potato Beetles, I’ve only seen those a few times in my career. They’re growing at the time of the year before insects and diseases become a real problem because it’s cooler out. They’re going to be taking up space for about 3-4 months before they’re ready to harvest. Potatoes will flower – and these have finished flowering – and the flowering gives you the signal that the tuber-production is beginning. And then the flowers fade away, and you really don’t harvest your potatoes until the tops of the potato plants look terrible. They’ll start yellowing, they’ll start browning, and it’s because of the onset of the heat that comes with summer. So normally you’re harvesting the potatoes sometime during the month of June. However, all of us are somewhat impatient and you want to be able to – maybe you’ve got a special Sunday dinner and you want to be able to have a few what we call “new potatoes,” smaller potatoes, and you can just feel around the plant and harvest a few for that meal. So if you go and just kind of use your fingers to feel around and kind of just gently go around and seeing what you can find. And let’s see. Oh! There’s one! Just give it a little twist. Separate it from the stem. And so you end up with some really nice potatoes. Now, these are, what my grandma used to call Irish potatoes. This particular variety is Kennebec, but it is a white-fleshed, very thin-skinned potato. In fact, if you look at my – I can sit here and rub the skin right off with my fingers. So it’s a very thin skin, you don’t have to peel it because it’s not like a Russet potato that’s a common baking potato. These are thin-skinned potatoes. I really like this variety Kennebec because no matter how you cook it, it’s always good. It tolerates boiling, frying, baking, and it’s just a good all-around potato that really performs well in this area. So harvest your new potatoes, but wait until your plants really start looking bad and collapsing before you do the entire harvest of your potato crop.

If this document didn’t answer your questions, please contact HGIC at [email protected] or 1-888-656-9988.


Paul Thompson, Horticulture Extension Agent, York County, Clemson Extension

Step 2: Separate the Eyes

Only small, golf ball-sized potatoes should be planted whole.

Cut large tubers into pieces. I cut mine so that each segment has two or three "eyes" (the little bumps from which sprouts emerge, as shown in the photo). The reason for cutting the potatoes is because the many eyes on a large potato will create a crowded, multi-stemmed plant, with each stem competing for food and moisture, and in the end, bearing only small potatoes.

Photo by: Kevin Lee Jacobs.

Potatoes like a slightly acid soil, pH of around 5.0 but will grow in a range from 5.0 to 6.5. Common potato scab (brown cork like tissue on surface of tubers) can be a problem if the soil pH levels are on the alkaline or "sweet" side.

However while maintaining low-pH soils levels provide good control of common scab there are certain disadvantages in doing so. Plant nutrients are most available at soil pH levels near 6.5. making it necessary to use more fertilizer to achieve the required nutrient levels when down around 5.0 - 5.2. Also there are few vegetable crops that grow well at this low pH level so limiting any crop that can be planted after the potatoes are harvest. Better control of this and other potato problems are achieved by planting tubers of resistant varieties and maintaining good crop rotation.

Animal Manure

If you are lucky enough to have access to animal manures, aged or composted manures are the best. Nutrient quality and quantities can vary a lot, with the age and storage method being two of the most important.

No matter what the quality of the manure, there is still enormous value as far as providing the soil microbes with material they need to build fertility.

Manures are best added to the soil in the fall before planting to allow the soil microbes time to do their magic, breaking it down into usable nutrients. Spread the manure over the garden before folding it into the top 6-8 inches (15-20 cm ) of soil with a plow, rotary tiller-hoe or shovel.

For which manures are best for fertilizing potatoes go to the animal manures section in organic garden fertilizer


Any average soil will grow a reasonable crop of spuds, but as with all vegetables, potatoes respond well to the right nutrients. They are especially fond of rich organic soils so for those gardeners who don’t have access to animal manures the next best thing to add to the potato patch is compost.

Getting the best crop of potatoes starts with good soil preparation. There is no better way to do this than by sheet composting your intended potato patch the summer before your next crop.

This is a simple task of adding a good 6-12 inches (15-30 cm) or more if you have it, of organic material to the garden and leaving it to decompose. Dig it all in two weeks before planting and reap the best crop you have ever harvested.

Solid Organic Fertilizer

Root crops don't require heavy applications of nitrogen because that will only develop a great crop of potato plants with poor tuber growth. Phosphorus and more important potassium, is needed to grow and maintain a good crop of spuds. Using any fertilizer with high phosphorus-potassium to nitrogen content will do them well.

When To Fertilize

Potatoes go through five stages of growth, sprouting, vegetative, tuber initiation, tuber bulking, and maturing. It is during the tuber initiation stage that potatoes will form on the roots and the point when side dressing is going to be most effective.

This stage is marked above ground by heavier leaf growth and more apparent, the forming of flowers.

Watch the video: The Irish Potato Famine 18451852