It is more difficult to improve the potato, (Solanum tuberosum) by the production of new varieties from seeds, than any other common field or garden vegetable. Although hundreds of promising kinds are produced every year, yet none of the new varieties is better than the old Mercer, Pink Eye, Snow Flake, Early Goodrich or Jersey Peach-blow. No other experiments have been tried oftener, than the planting of big potatoes against little ones or pieces with several eyes or single eyes, yet nothing has been gained by such experiments. Sometimes the little potatoes or the single eyes come out ahead; but generally, about the time that the results appear to be satisfactory, somebody else gets very different results. I have conducted such experiments and many others, without being able to discover why potatoes are inclined to degenerate, or why the single eye pieces come out ahead one year and fall behind the next. In 1888, we planted about 80 varieties of potatoes on our experiment grounds. All of the seed potatoes had been carefully assorted, and they were cut into two and three-eyed pieces as nearly alike in size as possible. The planting of all of the varieties was done on the 21st day of May in the same manner, and they received the same cultivation during the following summer. About the time the early varieties were flowering, I observed that all of the stalks or vines of certain kinds were of the same size and equally vigorous, and that there were great differences between the vines of other varieties. In some of the rows I found the vines of one-third of the hills very vigorous; another third was much less thrifty, and the remaining third were small and appeared to be unhealthy. When we dug the potatoes in the fall, I found as great differences between the products of the hills of the different varieties, as I had found between the vines while they were growing. I was convinced that the discovery of the causes of such differences would show that all of the faults were in the pieces of seed potatoes, and I determined to give the matter special attention during the following summer. About the 1st of May, ’89, I examined our seed potatoes which had been stored in bushel boxes in an out-door cellar, and found that the early varieties had produced sprouts from their seed ends from two to three inches long; but all of the eyes or buds on their stem ends were dormant. I had observed the early sprouting of the seed ends of potatoes often before, and I knew that the terminal buds of trees always started first, and that their stems grew upwards and their roots downwards; but I did not inquire for causes, as I supposed it was their nature to do so. Before leaving the cellar, the question occurred to me: If I should plant the vigorous buds from the seed ends of the potatoes, would they produce a better or a worse crop, than weak and dormant buds from their stem ends? I knew that both ends of the potatoes were well supplied with starch; but I thought that the difference between the starting of the eyes might be caused by a scarcity of albuminoids in their stem ends.
Speer, R. P.
"Experiments with potatoes in 1889-1890,"
Bulletin: Vol. 1
, Article 2.
Available at: https://lib.dr.iastate.edu/bulletin/vol1/iss12/2