Potatoes are wrongly maligned as a high-carbohydrate starch with little or no nutritional value. Not so. The “problem” with potatoes is how they are often prepared (deep fried in oil) and/or what people put on them (high-fat dairy products and/or bacon bits). Potatoes have many different vitamins and phytonutrients. A crucial one is Vitamin B6, which helps build new cells and assists proper signaling in the brain. B6 also helps give us energy by breaking down carbohydrates during exercise. It also has fiber that helps lower cholesterol and supports digestion.
Vitamin and Mineral Content
Vitamins – B6 (Pyridoxine) and C
Minerals – Potassium, Copper and Manganese
Vitamin B6 helps control homocysteine, which helps prevent heart attacks or strokes by keeping vessel walls flexible and free of plaque. It also fights cancer development by attaching signals to molecules that turn on tumor suppressor genes. This type of signaling is called methylation and also serves as a signal to destroy toxic chemicals. The fiber in potatoes helps prevent indigestion and colon cancer.
How to Grow
One of the cheapest, easiest foods to find at your local market. But most places offer only a few choices. Grow them yourself and choose among many different kinds. You can also enjoy a fresher, more flavorful ‘tater.’ With so many varieties, choose a few different types to find those that grow and taste best to you. If you buy seeds, get those certified disease-free. You can also create them yourself by saving the strongest, healthiest ones from a shop or your garden. When making potato seeds, place potatoes with the eye face-up adjacent to each other in a container in a cool room with plenty of air and light. After 4-5 weeks, they will be bright green and sprout. Discard the thinner, smaller sprouts (risk of disease) and keep the bigger, bushier ones. If they have more than one sprout, cut them into a few pieces before planting. Choose a sunny, warm, sheltered area. Amend the soil well with nitrogen-rich planting mix and/or compost. The soil needs to drain well or the tubers will rot. Cover the dedicated area with polypropylene to protect youngsters from weeds and frost. Cut slits in plastic and plant them a couple weeks before the last frost with sprouts facing up about 8 to 10 inches deep, a foot apart. Rows should be 2-3 feet apart. If shoots come up before frosting ends, work a bit of soil over them. When shoots grow about 10 inches above soil, work a fistful of high nitrogen plant mix like bone meal or seaweed meal along each meter of each row. Then pull soil almost to the tips of each shoot. Do this again later if the above ground growth is not very close to each other within the rows. For smaller, sweeter tubers, harvest only as they flower by cutting foliage and digging them up from the side with a garden fork. Store clean, blemish-free ones and use others right away. If you want larger mature potatoes, wait until the stems of the vines start to die back before harvest. Potatoes are also great for growing in large pots. Use the same method except start with the pot half full and add amended soil as the stem grows.
Potatoes are affected by slugs, wireworms, cyst nematodes, leaf hoppers and many other diseases. Remove slugs by hand on moist evenings or mornings. Beer traps work as well. Start the growing season as early as possible to get the tubers well developed before pests arrive. As a general method, apply organic insecticide/fungicidal soap to prevent many pests and the development of common diseases like early blight, late blight, scab, dry rot and silver scurf. Powdering the roots with sulfur before planting also helps prevent bacterial rots.
Eat the skin! Most of the vitamins and minerals are in the tissue just below the surface. To prevent rot, dig a slightly deeper trench and line it with a little mulch first. Do not let tubers see sunlight or they will develop a toxic alkaloid. Monitor the foliage closely for signs of pests or diseases, and apply proper treatment right away.