Edible Landscaping

Edible of the Month: Potato


'Cranberry Red' ('All Red') is an early, red-skinned variety. It has a moist, white flesh with a red blush. The red color holds well during cooking.

The common, white-fleshed, "Irish" potato has a reputation for being inexpensive, plain, and boring, so why bother growing potatoes? Well, there's more to potatoes than meets the eye. This worldwide staple food is easy to grow, productive, and can excite you with vivid colors. Potatoes aren't just white any more. New and reintroduced heirloom varieties allow you to grow spuds in a rainbow of colors, including red, yellow, blue, and purple. Imagine making a red, white, and blue potato salad for the 4th of July? How about purple mashed potatoes to thrill your kids? Not only are the colors interesting, the shape, flavor, and texture varies depending on the variety. Some tubers are small and succulent and great for roasting. Other varieties are large and oval, perfect for baking. Whichever variety you grow, you'll marvel at their ease of cultivation and the fresh flavor of your newly harvested spuds.

Nutritionally, this South American native has gotten a bad rap. It's not because of the nutrient and health qualities of the basic tuber, but because of the things that we put on them, such as butter, sour cream, and bacon bits. Potatoes are nutrient-dense and loaded with vitamin C, vitamin B6, and potassium. They are good sources of iron and recent research shows they contain phytochemicals, such as kukoamine, that reportedly help lower blood pressure.

Plus, they're fun to grow with kids. One of the few garden tasks my daughter helped me with when she was younger was harvesting potatoes. It was like a treasure hunt looking for the buried spuds. So grow some potatoes next year and enjoy the satisfying harvest.


Enjoy a wide selection of tasty spuds by choosing potatoes in a variety of colors.

Planning

Potatoes are in the same family as tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants, but, unlike their Solanaceous cousins, potatoes grow best in cool conditions. While most other vegetables are started from seed, potatoes are usually grown from small tubers ("seed potatoes"). Buy certified disease-free tubers from your local garden center or through the mail. Don't plant store-bought potatoes because they're sprayed with a sprouting inhibitor.

Select varieties based on their usage. Red-skinned potatoes or yellow-fleshed spuds tend to have moist flesh and are good for mashing and boiling. Russet potatoes have scaly skin and a dry flesh. They are good for baking. Fingerling potatoes are small and great for roasting. Plant a row of different types to add color and variety to your potato crop.

Here are some varieties to grow in your garden. Potato varieties are classified by their maturity dates as early (65 days), mid-season (70-80 days) or late season (90+ days). Plant a selection to extend your harvest.

  • 'All Blue' — This late-maturing, purple-skinned heirloom variety has small tubers with moist, purple flesh. It's great for mashing.
  • 'Butte' — 'Butte' is a late-maturing, russet variety with yellow skin and dry, white flesh — a classic baking variety. It features 20% more protein and 58% more vitamin C than other varieties.
  • 'Caribe' — This early-maturing, purple-skinned tuber has moist, white flesh and is good harvested young as a new potato.
  • 'Cranberry Red' — This early, red-skinned and red-fleshed variety holds its color during cooking.
  • 'Dark Red Norland' — This early, red-skinned variety has moist, white flesh and is resistant to potato scab disease.
  • 'Gold Rush' — This mid-season, russet-skinned variety has dry, white flesh and boasts good disease resistance.
  • 'Kennebec' — This standard, late-season variety has buff-colored skin and dry, white flesh. Tubers can be planted closer together than other varieties, making this a good choice for small-space gardeners.
  • 'King Harry' — This new, early variety features yellow skin and dry, white flesh. The plant has hairy leaves that naturally repel Colorado potato beetles and flea beetles.
  • 'Rose Finn Apple' — This late-maturing fingerling potato features pink skin and creamy yellow flesh. It's great for roasting and pan frying.
  • 'Russian Banana' — This late-maturing fingerling features small tubers with a banana shape, yellow skin, and moist yellow flesh.
  • 'Superior' — This early, large, brown-skinned, white-fleshed variety resists potato scab and has a good storage life.
  • 'Viking Purple' — This mid-season, purple-skinned, white-fleshed variety is drought tolerant.
  • 'Yukon Gold' — This early-maturing, yellow-skinned variety has yellow flesh. The plants are very productive and drought tolerant.


Pre-sprout your potato tubers for a few days before planting to make them grow faster. The faster they grow, the less likely they are to get tuber rot from wet soil conditions.

Preparation

Choose a sunny, well-drained site with slightly acidic soil. Avoid adding any high-nitrogen fertilizers before planting because these can inhibit tuber formation and lead to diseases.

Planting

Pre-sprouted tubers grow faster than unsprouted ones. To pre-sprout your tubers, place them in a sunny window for two or three days before planting. Plant outdoors two to four weeks before the last spring frost date in your area. In warm regions you can also plant a fall crop in late summer. Plant small tubers (those less than 2 inches in diameter) whole. Cut larger tubers into pieces so that each section has at least two "eyes," or sprouts. Cut pieces the night before planting so they form a callus on the cut end to prevent the tuber from rotting. Place the tubers in 4- to 6-inch-deep trenches, spacing the tubers 12 to 15 inches apart in rows 2 feet apart. Cover with 2 to 4 inches of soil.

If you don't have room to grow potatoes in the ground, try growing potatoes in a container. It's a fun activity for kids.

Care


Potato plants have beautiful flowers, making them a nice addition to the ornamental garden. The first new potatoes are ready for harvest when plants start to bloom.

Keep the soil evenly moist until tubers sprout — usually within 1 week. When the plants are 6 to 8 inches tall, "hill" them by hoeing soil right up to the plants, burying the stems so just the top leaves show. Hill again 2 to 3 weeks later. Hilling provides extra space for tubers to form and removes weeds at the same time. After the final hilling, mulch the plants with a 2- to 4-inch-thick layer of hay or straw. This will keep the soil evenly moist and minimize problems with hollow heart in the tubers. Also, the mulch will shade any exposed tubers from the sun. Prolonged sun exposure causes green patches to develop on the tuber's skin. (The tuber is still edible after you peel the green part away.) Fertilize only if the soil is low in potassium and phosphorous. Avoid adding nitrogen fertilizer.

Potatoes are attacked by a number of insects and diseases. Check plants for signs of the Colorado potato beetle by looking for orange eggs on the undersides of leaves. Crush the eggs, handpick potato beetle adults, and spray Bacillus thuringiensis 'San Diego' on the young red larvae. Control leafhoppers with sprays of insecticidal soap. Harvest early to avoid damage from burrowing pests, such as mice and voles.

Rotating crops can help control diseases; avoid planting potato-family crops in the same location more than once every three years. Clean up and destroy old tubers and plants. Select disease-resistant varieties and to minimize problems potato scab, keep the soil pH around 6. Scab disease doesn't like acidic soil.


When plants start to die back, gently dig around the roots to discover the buried treasure that lies in waiting.

Harvest

Harvest 1- to 2-inch-diameter spuds as "new" potatoes six to eight weeks after the plants begin growing. Excavate lightly next to the plants and gently dig out a few tubers from each plant. Cover the hole and let the rest of the tubers mature.

Harvest mature tubers once the plants start dying back. Use a garden fork to carefully dig around the plants to find the potatoes. Place the tubers in a dark, humid, 70- to 80-degree F room to cure for two weeks. Gently remove any soil and store them in a dark shed, garage, or basement at 40 degrees F for up to 9 months. Cull out any diseased, damaged, or cut tubers; they will not store well.

Other great potato stories:

Compost Reduces Potato Diseases

Secret Life of Spuds

Perfect Potatoes

Red, White and Blue, Plus Yellow and Purple, Too

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