Potato Growing: Planting


Model of Peruvians planting potatoes, (1980's)


Potato planting technique, 19th century, USA


Demonstration of Dutch potato planting bag, early 20th century


Belgian family planting potatoes during WWI


Bronze medal depicting potato planting honoring
Belgian gardeners who contributed to the WWI war effort


Swedish postage stamp depicting a couple planting potatoes


"Potato planting" by J.F. Millet, French artist, 19th century


Potato planting system, USA, 19th century


Advertisement for potato planting tool, USA, 19th ct.


"First Potato Planting on the Homestead", John Neufeld, sculptor


"Potato Planting" (1884), Vincent van Gogh, 1853-1890


Photo showing a woman sitting on an early 20th century
potato planting machine.


Diagram shows how mechanical potato planters work, early 20th ct.


Comic post card, 1930's USA


"What well planted potatoes should look like"....19th century, USA


Modern 6 row potato planting machine


Potato Planting

“It was a hot spring day. The seven planters were sweating already. As the old tinker said, it was far too hot a day for working; they ought to have been fast asleep under some trees where it was shady and cool. A white heat-haze hung on the hills. The sun was like a huge marigolds in the blue sky right above their heads. Away on the far side of the field one of the tractors was droning. The potatoes fell with little thuds into the hot, dry earth where spiders scurried among the grains of the potato manure like cooking salt. The planters move slowly down the field, repeating their mechanical movements below the fiery sun that stung their necks. The old Tinker filled their sack aprons with the big potatoes as quickly as he could.” ---from The Potato Planters and the Old Joiner’s Funeral
by Ian Hamilton Finlay

Planting is an act of faith in the future, one of the more pleasing ones we know. It is a ritual of careful preparation, precise steps taken at the right time, whether the planting is done by hand or machine.

We recall the fancy footwork of a Dutchman we met in the north of Holland where the main potato crop is grown for industrial use. We asked him to demonstrate for us a wraparound seed bag, for want of a better word, worn over the shoulders and around the back at the waist. He wasn't sure he could remember how. The farmer walked down the row, making a hole for the spud with one foot, dropping in the potato, and tamping dirt down over the earth over the potato with the other foot as he moved rhythmically across the field. He took the potatoes with alternating hands. Delighted that his feet and hands had remembered what his mind had almost forgotten, he told us he had not used the planting bag in about 40 years.

Farmers have come up with hundreds of ingenious devices to aid in planting, baskets attached to tubes, cones and funnels. Foot operated planters from the Acme company. Spades called spuds and dibbles which vary from region to region and country to country. And, of course, machines.

At a handsome Water Mill, Long Island New York USA data form we visited one cloudy day years ago, it was one man, machine and faithful hound. The dog trotted along close behind a four row mechanical planter moving up and down the rows as his master monitored the seed potato cylinders at the rear. "Oh yes," said the former, "he's part of the team. And when he gets tired he rides in the cab."

Potato Planting and the Stars

A family prepares a field for potato planting, with two men using a local tool (the foot-plow) and a woman turning over a clod of earth.
(Photo by Ben Orlove)

Science And Folklore Converge In Andean Weather Forecasts Based On The Stars By Kurt Sternlof

Toward the end of every June, indigenous farmers in the high Andes of Bolivia and Peru look to the stars for a hint of what the weather holds six months down the road. If the 11-star constellation known as the Pleiades appears bright and clear in the pre-dawn sky, they anticipate early, abundant rains and a bountiful potato crop. If the stars appear dim, however, they expect a smaller harvest and delay planting in order to reduce the adverse impact of late and meager precipitation.

In a paper published in the Jan. 6 issue of Nature, a team of scientists from the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory examine this centuries-old practice to reveal the science behind the folklore. Not only does the technique work reasonably well, it turns out that the farmers have in effect been forecasting El Niño for at least 400 years, a capability modern science achieved less than 20 years ago.

Read the full article here.

Exhibit photo credits:
The Potato Museum collection, except where noted.