According to USU Professor McNeil in a lecture to her folklore 2210 class in 2013, a key to a identifying urban legend is the “friend of a friend (FOAF),” origin (McNeil, 2013). One of my favorite farming urban legends is about how to grow big potatoes. I learned this from a neighbor, who heard it from his dad’s friend-the friend of a friend. My neighbor was continually growing small potatoes. These potatoes wouldn’t impress a grape, they were that small. After trying different additives to the soil he kept getting the same puny potato results. One year he took a picture of his potatoes plants, the greenery that was visible above the soil, and commented “this year has to be the year they grow well, look how good those plants look.” Well this neighbor’s dad’s friend saw the picture and started laughing. Apparently the FOAF grew up on a potato farm. He shared how you have to beat up, bully, and generally mistreat the greenery to grow big potatoes. So my neighbor started abusing his potato greenery, and as sure as the sun rises in the east, when he went to harvest he had giant potatoes. I can’t investigate the validity of this belief because I don’t remember what neighbor shared this tale; it was someone at church- increasing the folklore of the tale.
Small rural farming communities have a rich history of oral traditions; the stories and tips of how to produce more food kept the communities from starving. It is easier to remember a story about bulling potato greenery, instead of a long drawn out scientific explanation of if a plant thinks that it is dying it will put all of its energy and growth into the seeds so that the next generation can survive. Had they given the scientific explanation it is less likely to have become folklore.
This tale does have some basis in truth. When the stem reaches 8 inches in height you need to add 2 to 3 inches of soil around the stem to keep the potato from being exposed to light and becoming toxic. There are also very important watering instructions: when the potato is flowering you need to water a lot, as soon as the flowers begin to die you need to have a few weeks of draught to ensure the best, and biggest, potatoes (the Garden Helper, 2014). Clearly you could attribute covering the stem in dirt, or giving the plant a period of drought, to the origins of the “beating up, bullying, and generally miss treating potatoes” tale.
image taken from
How to Plant and Grow Potatoes in your Home Vegetable Garden. (n.d.). Potatoes, How to Plant and Grow Potatoes in Your Home Vegetable Garden. Retrieved February 10, 2014, from http://www.thegardenhelper.com/potato.html
MycNeill, L. (Director) (2013, February 24). Urban Legends. Folklore 2210. Lecture conducted from Utah State University, Folklore 2210, Spring 2013 Online Class, Logan, UT.