Potato, patato! However you say it, potatoes are in many of our favorite snacks. So, how do potatoes grow?
French fries, chips, and potato salad all start with the root vegetable potato. Potatoes grow underground, so you may think they are roots. Instead, they are actually tubers. Tubers are the thickened part of a plant's underground stem. New plants grow from a potato's buds, known as the eye. While potatoes can grow from seed, most potatoes are grown from other potatoes called seed potatoes, which are cut into smaller pieces and planted. See potato planting in action here!
Most farmers plant potatoes in the spring to protect potatoes from heavy frost. Seed potatoes are planted in rows raised into hills. As potato plants grow, new tubers grow from the original seed potato piece. These new potatoes grow on underground stems called stolons. Above ground are leaves and white, blue, pink, red, or purple flowers; these are not edible! The part we eat is still underground.
Depending on the weather and location, potato plants usually start emerging around two to six weeks after planting. In the U.S., most potatoes are ready for harvest between 70 and 100 days; you will know the plants are ready for harvest when the flower begins to droop and fall off. Farmers use a special piece of equipment called a harvester machine to lift potatoes out of the ground. See potato harvest in action in this video.
Want more? Check out the "How Do Potatoes Grow?" video from True Food TV.
Fun potato facts:
- There are more than 100 varieties of potatoes grown in the U.S. Russet potatoes are the most common variety.
- In October 1995, the potato was the first vegetable grown in space! Learn more from NASA.
- The average American eats more than 100 pounds of potatoes a year.
- Companies have created disposable utensils and plates from potatoes to replace the use of plastic. These are biodegradable and break down over time.
Also, make sure to pre-order the next book coming from Feeding Minds Press— Potatoes for Pirate Pearl. Join Pirate Pearl and her parrot Petunia as they learn how potatoes are planted, grown, and harvested in this hilarious debut picture book about food and friendship.