OK, many of you might consider potatoes to be a mundane, cheap staple food, russets in a bag from the grocery store – why waste precious garden space growing the humble spud? It’s because a home-grown potato is not only an easy and rewarding crop (like digging buried treasure in the fall!), but it’s also one of those garden vegetables that is transformed into something fundamentally more tasty by eating it fresh out of the earth.
Our potato supplier, varieties and growing methods have evolved substantially over the years, including some fairly spectacular failures. I thought there might be some interest in our learnings for how to succeed with potatoes in the chilly northern latitudes.
1. Leave plenty of space! Potatoes grow quickly to about 4 feet tall and will flop over to take as much space as you give them. Have a plan for how you will contain that abundant vegetative enthusiasm!
Some people put their potatoes in trash cans or stacks of tires, enabling them to just dump the soil and spuds out at the end of the season. We just hump up soil in a bed about 5 feet wide, plant the seed potatoes on 16-inch centers, and contain them with pieces of 4″ tall plastic picket fence staked around the perimeter. Don’t put any other vegetables any closer than 3 feet to the edge of your potato bed if you want space to walk between to weed and harvest.
2. Buy top-quality seed potatoes!! The NUMBER ONE FACTOR in your success! We quadrupled our potato yield when we finally found a supplier we like. Please comment with other tested good-quality suppliers – we have settled on Woods Prairie Farms, http://www.woodprairie.com/category/certified-organic-seed-potatoes. They are timely, and reliably send large and vigorous seed potatoes. Believe me, this can NOT be said for all suppliers!
3. Organize your varieties by date of maturity. Some will mature and senesce early, some later, and you will want to start digging your early potatoes as soon as they’re ready without messing up the middle of your bed.
4. Plant about 6 inches deep in well-tilled soil (to about 2 feet), amended with compost, after the risk of frost has passed. You know from previous posts that we are big fans of remay – but we’ve found that good potato starts don’t actually require remay.
The plants will emerge and grow quickly. When they’ve reached about 2 feet tall, add well-decomposed humus (compost, decomposed leaf mulch, or organic soil) to the surface. Some advocate heaping this up two feet or more, with the idea that more potatoes will form in the humus layer. We have not found this to be true; so we just add about 8 inches of material to ensure that potatoes don’t emerge on the surface.
We begin to dig our potatoes when the tops have yellowed and begun to die (other than the fingerlings which seem to stay green and vigorous through October!) We purchased some mesh bags from Woods Prairie and store our potatoes hanging in mesh bags.
So now for our favorite tried-and-true varieties. We have chosen these for reliable yields, eating quality and a range of color.
1. Yukon Gold. Somewhat less vigorous and lower yielding than others we’ve tried, but still our favorite for beautiful gold flesh and savory, succulent taste. Mid-early maturity, long storage period.
2. Rose Gold. Wood’s Prairie considers these “the best of the red-skinned golden-fleshed potatoes”, and we agree. Excellent reliable yields, great steamed or baked. Mid-season maturity, moderate storage period.
3. King Harry. These early-season, gold-skin/white-flesh potatoes get huge, and are reliable yielders. Mid-early maturity, moderate storage period.
4. Caribe. Gorgeous, purple-skinned potato, medium to large sized with good yields. Very early. Moderate storage period.
5. Elba. White skin, white flesh, good yields late in the season. Mid-late maturity, moderate to long storage period.
6. Swedish Peanut fingerling. “A dry, golden-fleshed heirloom fingerling potato that is perfect baked or roasted. Teardrop shaped.” The fingerlings are very dry, good for baked home-fries and stews but not for mashing. Late maturity, very long storage period.
7. Rose Finn Apple fingerling. “Rare and beautiful rosy-colored fingerling potato with moderately dry yellow flesh. Century Heirloom grown since the 1840s .” A unique, rose-skinned, knobby potato. Mid-season maturity, moderate storage period.
8. Prairie Blush. Lovely gold-rose blush skin with white flesh. This is our first year testing this variety. Mid-season maturity, long storage period.
9. Adirondack Red. Unique pink fleshed potato with pink skin. This is our first year testing this variety. Mid-season maturity, storage ??.
Please come back and share your own favorite varieties! When we start harvesting this year I’ll be out with some pix of our own.