Grow Spectacular Spuds

Choose heirloom potato varieties for fun and flavor.

| January/February 2009

  • Potato bloom
    The blooms of a potato plant mark the start of a new season.
    iStockphoto.com/pidjoe
  • Heirloom potatoes
    Five varieties of potatoes are the sweet, Peruvian purple, white, red and russet potatoes.
    iStockphoto.com/Hudson Bedell
  • Tender care
    Potato hills flourish under a watchful eye.
    iStockphoto.com/Wojtek Kryczka
  • Seed potatoes
    In a Peruvian marketplace, you might find more than 200 varieties of seed potatoes.
    iStockphoto.com/DHuss
  • Potato harvest
    The root of the harvest and delicious heirloom potatoes are worth the labor involved.
    iStockphoto.com/Chris Elwell

  • Potato bloom
  • Heirloom potatoes
  • Tender care
  • Seed potatoes
  • Potato harvest

SIDEBAR
Colorado Potato Beetle  
Potato Seed Sources

Folks offer all kinds of reasons for why they don’t grow potatoes. Some say potatoes are so inexpensive at the store it just isn’t worth the effort. Others say that potatoes take up too much space in the garden. Still others say potatoes aren’t worth growing because they attract pests like the Colorado potato beetle. I, on the other hand, will always grow potatoes because that’s the easiest way to sample the delicious palate of heirloom varieties, and there is nothing like the flavor of a new potato when it’s eaten just hours after harvest.

Picking a potato

At a typical market in Peru, you might find 200 varieties of potatoes. The crop was developed by the Incas, and a great diversity of potatoes wild and cultivated is still found in the Andes. Of more than 5,000 varieties of potatoes, only a small fraction is available as commercial seed stock in North America.

I grow several varieties of potatoes that differ in growing traits and culinary qualities. I consider the following factors when making a choice:



? Length of season. Varieties mature in 65 to 180 days. It’s great to have some short-season varieties for new potatoes, and long-season ones for winter storage.

? Resistance. Varieties exhibit varying levels of resistance to blight, scab, verticillium wilt and other potato afflictions.

Dennis Miller
1/5/2009 11:22:42 AM

Good article. I use raised beds with silver reflective plastic mulch. The mulch eliminates weeds and grasses, keeps all moisture in that was in the soil when it was layed, and most importantly keeps the soil tilth the same as when it was first tilled by not allowing rain to pound the ground into concrete. Being a silver foil color, the mulch relfects the sun and keeps the soil cool. It also acts as somewhat of an pest deterant being that bugs don't enjoy the bright light bouncing back on them. This works great for brassicas and lowering looper damage. We sell new potatoes to restaurants so we hand harvest about 2,000 ft. If harvested when the vines are still intact, you can actually slowly pull the tubers out of the ground with the vines and runners. It's an amazing site. And this is due to the mulch keeping the soil as loose as when the seed tuber was planted. We average well above the state-wide (Illinois) lbs/plant. Had 1 plant yeild 12.1 lbs of tubers with the largest tuber from that plant weigh in at 1 lb 14 oz. Runners have been up to 4ft long. Good luck and good planting, Dennis






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