Potato Growing at the Macphail Farm in Orwell, 1911

Among the printed documents in the Library at the Macphail Homestead is a copy of a 4-page article from The Patriot newspaper, Charlottetown, dated 24 August 1911. There’s a typed note at the beginning saying that it’s a copy of a photocopy, but “the spacing and punctuation are duplicated as much as possible.” The given title is “POTATO GROWING by the Messrs. Macphail at Orwell.” The article is written in the third person by a reporter

Using draft horses to demonstrate historical farming practices.

but includes extensive quotes from Dr. Macphail – referring to Andrew. His brother is referred to as “Professor Alexander Macphail of Queen’s University.”

The article states that five years earlier the brothers “took up potato growing according to scientific principles, on the farm in Orwell.” In that summer, 1911, they had some 30 acres “under potatoes”. It was their intention “to supply any farmer with sets,” provided they agreed to store the seed potatoes properly.

Three of the 30 acres were devoted to a variety they had developed themselves, the “Orwell Square.” This potato represented a type which could be obtained by selection of several different varieties. Its chief characteristics were: freedom from rot, uniformity of size, regularity of shape, the toughness of skin, and fine quality and flavour. It matured in 105 days.

Fifteen different varieties of white potatoes had been tried on the farm. They were procured from various places, including New York State, Maine, Bermuda, Scotland, England, and the Ottawa Experimental Farm.

The summer of 1911 was very dry – the worst that part of the Island had experienced in 60 years, and the crop was affected. Undaunted, the Macphail brothers resorted to irrigation, pumping water from the river – 500 yards away — by means of a gasoline engine. Also that summer, they erected a frost-proof warehouse, so that the potatoes could be stored all winter in hopes of receiving a better price in the spring. 

The potato planting was also done in an efficient manner, “by a machine operated by a man and a boy.” It could plant seven acres in a day. The fertilizer was added at the same time: the machine “opens a furrow in front into which the fertilizer is dropped.”O there has been a great advance in scientific agriculture.’”

(Harry Baglole, Sept. 17, 2011)

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