By Albert Makendenge
For some households, barely a week goes by without having a taste of potatoes and in market places piles of packed or loose potatoes are a familiar sight. This clearly shows that the crop has become increasingly important in the diversification of diets for Zimbabweans and below is an illustration of how it is grown.
Potatoes can be grown in most soil types but prefer loose, well drained sandy soils with good aeration. Avoid heavy clay soils.
Potatoes can be grown in warm or cool climates. However it does not withstand frost well so it is better to plant after the frost danger has passed. Water is very important for potato farming since the crop is shallow rooted and thus needs ample amounts of it. In the case of little or no rain, irrigation equipment should be set up with drip irrigation being the best option.
The main potato growing period in Zimbabwe is in late winter (second winter), that is, from late July to early August after the last frost. Summer crops are planted in Nov and first winter crops in February or April. If one buys unsprouted seed then pre-sprout the potato seed in diffuse light for about 6 weeks until the shoots are about 2.5cm long. The next step is to sow the sprouted seeds on ridges which are about 75cm to 90cm wide. Thre ideal spacing is 20 or 30cm within rows and 75 to 90cm between rows.
A soil test is effective for a good fertilization strategy. Potatoes respond well to organic matter. Manure and compost are very good sources of nitrogen which is needed by the crop in substantial amounts. Compound S or C are also very important basal dressing fertilizers to be applied basing on the soil type and climate condition.
Pests, weeds and diseases
Remove weeds early and often before they flower or set seed. Weeding is easier with potatoes because of hilling but be careful not to damage the shallow roots. Aphids and nematodes as well as early and late blight are some of the most common pests and diseases.
Days to maturity range from 80 to 140 dfays. Correct harvesting and timing are important. One can hand-dig and harvest using garden forks or a mechanical lifter (potato harvester) to unearth the entire plant.