I planted the first row of potatoes back in March… I was taking a bit of a chance, hoping that a) the Yukon Gold were hardy enough to survive any sudden freezes (they were) and b) there wouldn’t be too much in the way of sudden deep freezes (there weren’t, knock on wood). Since then, I’ve planted:

Midnight Beauty: medium/large, round-oval tubers, purple skin with light purple flesh, good yields.
Red Dale: Early to midseason red potato with high yields of blocky-round smooth tubers. Resistant to VW, scab, late blight, and should be crowded (oops, didn’t do that).
Granola: Excellent yield of large flat-oval yellow-fleshed tubers, should not be planted too late, excellent flavor & texture, our main crop for home use, modern German variety bred from Grata x Nola
Blue Victor: Medium large heirloom variety, round-flat, dark blue tubers, white flesh, few insects or disease problems, tolerates cool nights, keeps well, fine eating, one of the first blue varieties grown in the USA, tuber set is quite deep, shows some drought resistance
Ratte: Super flavor, nutty with buttery texture. Large yield of small to medium kidney shaped fingerlings.

Variety notes are courtesy of the Seed Saver’s Exchange growers sharing the seed potatoes, although I don’t want to spotlight non-commercial individuals without their permission, so no credit. I’m sure you’ve heard of the Yukon Golds, as they are pretty common.

Potatoes are a particularly interesting crop… theoretically, you could survive on nothing other than potatoes for a surprisingly long time. If you upgraded to potatoes and milk, you could survive on them indefinitely. Obviously, a more varied diet is better, but they remain an important aspect of many cultures diets and are found in peasant food around the world. Historically, potatoes are a New World crop, originating as wild plants through the Americas. Our modern potatoes have been bred from potatoes grown in Peru and Bolivia, and there are now over 4,000 domesticated varieties identified. That makes my short list seem inadequate, doesn’t it?

Modern nutrition gives the potato a bad rap for a couple of reasons. First, they are most commonly consumed as potato chips and french fries. Big surprise– add lots of refined fat and salt to yield an unhealthy food. Whole potatoes do still contain a lot of easily (quickly) digested carbohydrates. For someone about to participate in a 50 mile bike ride, that can be wonderful. For someone with diabetes, that can be a problem. If you’re concerned about the carbohydrates, there are a few things you can do to moderate their impact (other than taking a 50 mile bike ride). First, always be sure to eat them in small portions. Second, make sure they are part of a balanced meal with protein, non-starchy vegetables, and healthy fats. Third, eat them cold. Potatoes that have been cooked and then chilled develop a type of fiber called resistant starch. Finally, eat the skin! Your mother was right. It’s good for you. Oh yes, and you can always walk the dog to help your muscles use up stray molecules of glucose.

Growing potatoes is fairly easy, if you are lucky enough to escape disease and pests. Basically, fork out a section or row. Make a shallow trench (4″ is usually about what I do), and place your seed potatoes 8-15″ apart. Bury them in a light layer of soil and top that off with mulch, like leaves or straw. Once the potatoes are 8-12″ high, pile soil or mulch halfway up their stems. (The photo above was after the first hilling up of straw was added.) Each week for the next few weeks, add another inch or two of mulch. Once the potatoes have bloomed, you can harvest them to eat immediately. Otherwise, allow the plants to die back a bit, dig them out, and allow undamaged potatoes to cure. Curing generally takes 1-2 weeks, and should be done in a dark, slightly cool, humid room. It is important to avoid bruising potatoes during harvest, and to use any that were sliced open as soon as possible.

Some serious potatoes growers use TPS (true potato seed). The advantage to TPS is you can breed your own varieties by crossing different potato plants or simply mix up the DNA within a current variety. With seed potatoes, your genetic pool is limited to simply replicating their DNA. Many commercial varieties produce little viable potato seed, but some heirloom varieties do still produce usable seed. I haven’t ever used it myself, but it seems like an interesting option to explore if you are planning to plant potatoes. Using TPS may also cut the risk of transmitting diseases, a problem in many potato-growing areas. If you’re interesting in learning more, here’s one group working on potato breeding for the home gardener.