Lecture by Alan Chadwick in Saratoga, May 23, 1972
Lecture 4, Part 4.5
An Introduction to Alan Chadwick's Lectures and a Glossary of Terms
The full text of this lecture segment
Contents of this Segment:
More on division and planting of Dahlias; Potato propagation and storage; Toxic qualities of green potatoes left in the sun; Chitting seed potatoes; Fear of death as impetus toward fruiting.
Villa Montalvo Lecture Series
Saratoga, California, 1972, Lecture 4,
The Totality of the Garden, Part 5
…because this is where the shoots all come from, the base at the old stalk. And it requires great skill and cutting maneuver. And when you have divided each bunch of dahlia tubers up into anything from five to twelve different members, they are now ready to plant. And they will have a small amount of root attached to them. And they should go very deep. And when you plant them, they should be at least that depth in the soil.
And you should dig out the pit. And it should have been dressed with manure, bone meal and compost. And that the tuber should be let into this mixture at the base. And that the hole should not be filled-in any more than up to the level of the top of the shoot. In other words, you leave quite a big pit. And all the soil has been dug out and placed around, so that it mounds all around this pit. And that will gradually go in with watering until the whole ground is duly level. But like the potato, that has to be earthed up on a mound, the dahlia is opposite, which is sunk in and gradually becomes filled-in as it grows. Don’t smother the whole thing and fill in the entire pit because the dahlia is liable to rot immediately because of its sudden depth, and not being under propulsion.
Now, the huge importance of this matter, and the key of why you do it, is this: The dahlia, when it develops this number of tubers each year, if you leave it in the ground, the next year it will have to build its tubers from the roots on top of the old bunch, right on top of them. And since the dahlia shoots from the old stalk, you will realize that the previous year’s dahlia tubers have no stalk left. They are now covered by a huge hat of new tubers, from which the stalks rise. And that whole thing underneath has become an impervious matter of nothingness, and is over-engulfing and eating out of the soil more than it’s possibly able to put into the plant.
You will find this: That if you leave your tubers in, you may get more bloom, but they will be vastly inferior for the first year. And after that a vast and hopeless deterioration sets in. That you will find an extraordinary matter: That if you plant one of those bunches of tubers without dividing them, you will not get anything like the perfection of blooms, or the degree of growth that you would get from one tuber with one shoot. And this is a total fact and a very technical matter and must not, should not, ever be overlooked.
These are all notes for the garden. The correct way… How are we running for time, please? Nine? Mrs. Gilbert, do you wish to stop now, or in ten minutes or quarter of an hour? Right.
The Propagation of the Potato
A delightful vegetable. Has the three periods, just the same as the fruit: early, middle, and late. The cropping of the early potato should be: The moment after it has bloomed you will get a slight yellowing of the foliage. You may lift. Tiny little potatoes, but this is the early and they are delicious and a great treat. The middle will keep, like the fruit, for a period of six weeks to two months. And in this case, they should have blossomed and completely yellowed before used or lifted. The late, again, is a whole vision of nature in compliance with the requirement. And that is that the whole of the late crop should be allowed to bloom, to yellow, and to become absolutely brown-decadent.
The potato is then now ripe in the soil for storing. And that potato can, in a clamp, keep for four month, fully. The early potato will not keep. The middle will keep a little while. And the late will keep ad lib, and should be kept. You realize that practically all the early potatoes are what are called Kidney. And they are of a delicious flavor, rather flat and oval. Whereas practically all the keeping, the late, are of the White City or King Edward variety, the red, which are, more or less, of the round.
You do realize that the potato is a Solanum. And that if you lift it and leave it in the sun for more than a day, you will have a green skin. And as with all Solanums, a green skin on a potato is extremely poisonous, will actually kill some people. And that a green potato is, of course, not marketable. However, do not forget that, if you are going to take your own seed—and the seed reference to potato is the potato itself and not the seed from the flower, of course. If you want to take your own seed, you should indeed leave it in the sun and air for two or three days to fully ripen and become skin-strengthened before you store them.
And they should be stored in a cool, dry place throughout the winter, frost free. And before planting the next year—I am now leading into the procedure of potatoes—you should what is known as “chit.” When you want to plant your earlies, you say, five weeks before you want to plant, that is five weeks before your change of weather has gone into nice spring weather, or you’re out of frost, you go to your store and you take your early potato and you chit. That is, you place them all standing up on end, that end which had the root attached to the potato. And you will find that the other end has the shoots coming from it. And that that end with the shoots stands up, and the end that had the stalk sits down in a seed tray. And they all stand up in rows against each other. And they now go into a warm place to start chitting. A glasshouse is best. A cold frame with sun is good. Or even a room by a window is satisfactory.
When those shoots are three-quarters-of-an-inch, to an-inch-and-a-half, the potato is ready to plant. And there is no better vegetable for the maneuverment of virgin soil. For one thing, the potato demands excellent cultivation, and this, of course, demands good cultivation of virgin soil. And so always new lands are put down to potatoes, partly for that reason. But the potato also has the habit of cleaning soil.
Now, a trick of planting which is very important, and it’s an interesting matter, and it’s this: That when you take your seed potato, which is now chitted, it’s got three or four, or two or three, or four or five shoots upon it. You have with you a little bucket of live lime with some soot mixed in with it. And you have a sharp knife. And remember that your potato is planted in such a way that it is going to be hoed up, living on a raised bed, a bank, in other words, a landslide. And the potato answers more to the raised bed than any other vegetable. So, you don’t plant the potato deep in the soil. You plant it quite near the surface, and rather than letting it in, you earth-up all the time. And then the little potatoes like the warm sun to them to make them grow.
Now, when you plant this potato, as you lift each potato to put it into the ground, you take your sharp knife, and you take a nick out of the potato at the base where the stalk was, not removing a shoot, and you then dip that wound into the lime and soot. And then the potato is plantable and should be buried about three inches in the soil.
The reason for this performance is a very interesting and very simple one. And it’s this: That all parents are greedy and want to hang onto life, so to speak. And the potato is much the same. In other words, the potato grows, sends up a shoot of foliage and stalk, and is going to bloom, and breathes out of the air into the potato, and makes roots. And in time, in a long time, from those roots will grow little tubers, known as potatoes. But in the meantime, the potato itself, the parent that you’ve planted, is living upon all the growth that it sent up, and out to its roots. If it is aware that it can go on doing this, it will go on being greedy and living out of the air and saying, “Oh it’s a wonderful life. This is absolutely heaven.” And breathing out of the air and into the roots, and on and on, not in the least bit thinking about a family of little potatoes.
However, if you have caused this wound in the vegetable and have put some live lime on it, that live lime is a protector against decadence for a certain period, but after that, has eaten into the fruit and has caused it to suddenly rot. In other words, that potato within two months will definitely rot for certain. And the parent would not. It would go on living for some months before it would think of having a family. But the moment the parent realizes it’s rotting, it sends out signals to the roots. “Oh help. Help. I’m dying. Do something quick.” And all the little potatoes will start very much earlier. And of course, this is the whole law of nature, as you know. The moment it is aware of death or end, it will proliferate. And therefore you will get potatoes very much quicker and far more voluminous if you do this little old-fashioned trick which I’m sure you all know of anyway.
Don’t forget to earth-up your potatoes as many times as you can. The more you earth-up on either side—and always work from the opposite side with your hoe—but work up a bank. And the more you work up the bank, covering up again the shoot like with the dahlia. As the shoot grows, you draw the soil up from each side, making a bank right up to the very tip of the shoot, even just covering it. And in no time the shoot will come out again. And all this means a lovely warm air bank in which all the little tubers are going to delight in the warm air. And this earthing-up always means that you are just covering so that these little children don’t become exposed to the sun. Because the moment that they become exposed to the sun and the air on the edge of the bank, they will go green and they will become slightly poisonous.
Should we have coffee?