16-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today:
Friday, May 19, 1911: I had to drop potatoes this afternoon. I’m so glad it only comes once in a year. I got so fatigued, but that isn’t rare.
Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:
A hundred years ago potatoes were a winter staple, so the family probably planted lots of potatoes. Also, many families raised more potatoes than they needed so they could sell the excess to people living in nearby towns. No wonder Grandma was tired after dropping (planting) seed potato pieces in the furrows.
A 1911 book by Allen French called How to Grow Vegetables explains how potatoes were planted when Grandma was young:
The seed piece—It has been proven that the size of the piece rather than the number of eyes on it, is of importance in giving good results. . . . All pieces should be chunky and not thin; pieces the size of hens’ eggs are proper, weighing about three ounces. If they have to be stored after cutting, keep them in a cool place with wet clothes laid over the box to keep them from wilting.
Distances—Rows apart, for hand culture, twenty-four to thirty inches; for horse culture, three feet or more. Plant in the row, twelve to eighteen inches apart; the richer the soil and the better prepared the closer they may stand. . . Distances are also a matter of variety: plant strong-growing or large-yielding kinds farther apart.
Depth—In heavy clayey soils three inches may be allowed. But generally speaking, it is not wise to plant less than four inches deep; if planted shallower the tubers may be sunburnt.
Culture–Cultivate once or twice before the potatoes break ground, to kill the weeds and preserve the mulch. . . The early cultivations may be deep, but once the plants are growing well, cultivation should be shallow on account of the surface-feeding roots.
Fertilizer—The soil should be rich. Humus, if supplied in the year the potatoes are grown, may come from good compost or very well-rotted manure. If fresh, the manure may cause scab. For safety, the manure is best supplied in the fall, and ploughed in; or it could be heavily fed to the previous crop. Or in farm operations green manure (leguminous crops), ploughed in, will both give humus and help to open up the subsoil. Chemical fertilizers may previously be applied at the rate of about fifteen hundred pounds per acre.