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Milberger's Nursery and Landscaping
3920 North Loop 1604 E.
San Antonio, TX 78247

Three exits east of 281, inside of 1604
Next to the Diamond Shamrock station
Please click map for more detailed map and driving directions.

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Questions for the Week

by Jerry Parsons, Ph.D.
Horticulture Specialist, Texas Agricultural Extension Service in San Antonio

Why are you here in the United States? Any of us who have a Scot or Irish heritage can probably trace our forefathers' wayfaringness to a garden vegetable - - the potato.

The potato, Solanum tuberosum, originated in South America so it is a native of the North American continent. Over 400 years ago the Inca Indians of Peru and Bolivia were growing potatoes high in the Andes of Peru and Bolivia. Then the "white man" came along. The Spanish carried the potato to Europe in 1550. It grew so well in Ireland that the Irish adopted it as their main food. The potato was practically all that they ate. This could have only been possible with the potato. Any other vegetable serving as a sole source of nutrition would have inevitably caused vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Not so with "the vegetable champ" we call potato. Nature has designated only a few foods that are capable of nourishing the great populations of the world.

Unfortunately, the Irish became so economically dependent upon this vegetable wonder that a crop failure in 1845-46 caused mass migrations to the New World. That's why a lot of us are here, folks! Approximately 850,000 migrated; they were luckier than the 750,000 who died. The crop failure was caused by a fungus disease called late blight. Some chlorothalonil (Daconil Fungicide) or Maneb fungicide would have saved the day, but then you and I would still be kissing the Blarney stone! To this day, white potatoes are referred to as "Irish" potatoes. For more about the history of America's most popular vegetable, click here.

Ounce for ounce a boiled, medium-sized potato has no more calories than the "keep-the-doctor-away" apple and fewer than cottage cheese, avocados, rice or bran flakes. Though we spend only two percent of our food dollar on potatoes, we receive from that small amount our most economical, nutritionally balanced, staple food. Complex carbohydrates like potatoes are "brain food - they give you energy." And they help to stabilize blood sugar. Hunger is a state of low blood sugar.

A diet high in complex carbohydrates is in keeping with recommendations from the American Heart Association and U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Food rich in complex carbohydrates include potatoes, dried peas and beans, grain and pasta. Vegetables and fruits are also important sources of all carbohydrates. Athletes have an increased need for vitamins and minerals as well, especially the B vitamins, important in releasing energy from foods. Some complex carbohydrate sources carry more nutrient punch per volume, especially potatoes and whole grain products.

Potatoes fall into both categories -- they are an excellent source of complex carbohydrates and packed with nutrients. In fact the potato is so nutrient dense, it has sufficient food value to sustain human life if small amounts of protein foods are included -- the Irish can attest to this fact. The fiber in potatoes and other vegetables and fruits is a real plus in the diet. Fiber is the Roto-Rooter of your digestive system. If we all ate enough, the laxative industry would go out of business. But this fiber also is beneficial in helping to control high blood pressure, in "washing" cancer-causing substances out of the gastrointestinal tract and in controlling hemorrhoids and colon cancer. Fiber gives us something for nothing. It's not digested, but it fills you up.

Growing potatoes is easy. Whether or not you produce an abundance of large potatoes depends on spring weather conditions. If the weather gets hot, early, or if plants are exposed to wet conditions during tuber (potato) formation, yields will be reduced or, in severe circumstances, eliminated. Otherwise, potato pests such as insects and especially fungus diseases are controlled at the same intervals as the potato's close relative, the ever-popular tomato. The most important pesticide input is a weekly application of chlorathanoil (Daconil Fungicide or Multipurpose Fungicide)for control of defoliating fungus diseases. Loss of foliage results in loss of production.

Potato variety selection is simple because of the limited choices. If you want a red potato, select the Red La Soda or Pontiac varieties; if you want white, Kennebec or Irish Cobbler varieties are the choices. DO NOT plant russet (speckled skin, baking potato-types) varieties because of lower yields in this area.

Once you have purchased seed potatoes (potatoes are not planted from seed but rather by dividing (cutting) tubers (potatoes) and planting the pieces) at the local nursery, simply cut larger potatoes into four equal pieces or smaller potatoes into two or three pieces making sure each piece contains a prominent bud or "eye". Firm the 2-3 ounce potato seed pieces into the prepared soil at 10 to 12 inch spacing. Cover the seed pieces with 4-6 inches of compost or some form of organic matter. Add another 2 to 3 inches of organic matter once the plants are 6 to 8 inches tall. Potatoes should be ready to harvest in 80-90 days. Simply reach into the organic matter and remove the larger tubers (potatoes), allowing the plant to continue to grow and produce. "New" potatoes are simply potatoes harvested when they are small (golf-ball size). For further information and diagrams of what has been described, see:

Now there's a way to bake up a batch of potatoes, hold them overnight in your refrigerator, and serve a hot, fluffy potato on order in a matter of minutes the next day.

Wash the potatoes so that the skins may be eaten if desired. Then lightly coat the skins with vegetable oil and place on a sheet pan in a 400 degree F. oven.

Par-bake the potatoes for about 1 hour until 75 per cent done, or still slightly hard. Then cool them to room temperature, and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, you're ready to serve up hot, fluffy baked potatoes on order. Just micro-cook each potato in a 2500-watt microwave oven at high for about 3 and ½ minutes, which makes up the remaining 25 per cent of the cooking time. Allow the potatoes to "rest" for 2 minutes, then slit lengthwise and press gently from bottom to open.

Presto! You've prepared a perfect baked potato, with a lightly browned and tender skin, and a light, fluffy interior. Now where's the topping?

Try these tasty, nutrition packed toppers. Each recipe follows the high carbohydrate, low-fat requirements.

YOGURT WITH CHIVES -- Mix low-fat plain yogurt with chives.

CHICKEN TERIYAKI -- Chunks of chicken, green pepper and onion in teriyaki sauce.

TOMATO RANCH -- Reduced calorie ranch dressing with chopped tomatoes.

BROCCOLI AND CHEESE -- Part-skim mozzarella cheese shredded with broccoli.

STEAMED VEGETABLES AU JUS -- Steamed seasonal vegetables with au jus gravy.

VEGETABLE STIR-FRY -- Stir-fry vegetables with oriental sauce.

So now you know how to grow the most nutritious of all vegetables as well as how to properly prepare these precious delicacies.