Monday, April 12, 2010

Potatoes: A look at the leaves

This past weekend I spent an hour working on the veranda garden. After several weeks of growth, the potatoes look really healthy and the plants are getting very large.

I'm almost regretting not buying a larger planter because the two plants seem very close to each other. The minimum separation between potato plants should be 30cm, alternatively each plant should have a 15cm radius area just for themselves.

This planter is 45cm across, and each potato is right up against the edge. At most, there is only 20cm separating the two plants. This is probably going to affect how large each harvested potato will be.

Since the plant is in a pot and not out in a field, it's important to make sure that older leaves are removed in a timely manner to provide more nutrients to the newer leaves. I spent a few minutes taking off the bottom branches.

Also, potato plants grow upwards (like any other plant), but the potato spuds are going to grow laterally and close to the surface. This means, that as the bottom leaves are removed, it helps to add some soil to give the spuds more room to grow.

I thought the pattern of leaves was especially interesting. Like many things in Nature, it exhibits a fractal pattern. The particular branch shown in the picture below is approximately 25cm in length.

Another reason to add more soil is to protect any growing spuds from sunlight. When a young potato is exposed to sunlight it turns green and crunchy and potentially poisonous. The green comes from chlorophyll exposed to sunlight. The poison is a chemical called solanine. So to prevent the loss of these growing potatoes, it is important to add soil as the plant grows.

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