Hot Potatoes

By Sharon Naylor

August 20, 2015 5 min read

"Fall is bulb planting time, and it also can be potato planting time," says Robert Smith, Adams County master gardener. More and more, home gardeners are adding potatoes to their gardens so they can consume them for nutrients and enjoy the excellent taste of fresh-grown potatoes. The experts at Old Farmer's Almanac agree: "The taste and texture of home-grown potatoes are far superior to store bought, especially the early varieties." Fresh-grown potatoes have a creamy, nut-like taste, adding gourmet flavor to your potato dishes this fall and winter.

Potatoes are also a winning choice for a low-effort home garden. They're planted quite easily, don't need a lot of soil depth to thrive and are easily harvested. "They need a cool climate, and also need to be watched to prevent sunburn. Potatoes can be grown as a winter crop in warmer climate zones," reports Farmer's Almanac.

To create a colorful fall potato salad or even grilled potatoes, plant a variety of potato types, to get those smooth, creamy white potatoes, rich red potatoes, golden orange sweet potatoes and the visual pop of blue potatoes.

Helping you design your combination of garden potatoes, the Potato Association of America lists the five main varieties of potatoes:

--White rounds (such as Kennebec, Ontario and Yukon Gold).

--Red rounds (such as Lady Rosetta, Soraya and Cara).

--Russets (such as Goldrush and Russet Nugget).

--Yellows (such as Inca Gold).

--Blues (such as Adirondack Blue).

The experts at Burpee expand upon potato categories, paying mind to the factor of how long it takes for potatoes to mature, important during fall and winter climates:

*Early Varieties

These mature in less than 90 days and are good fits for any garden. Creamy, round Irish Cobblers, purple-skinned caribes and prolific "Red Norland" potatoes fall into this group.

*Midseason Varieties

These mature in 100 days or so, and include Yukon Gold and Red La Soda, which is often the top-producing potato in warm climates.

*Late Varieties

These need 110 days or more of growing time, but "they typically produce a heavy set of tubers that keep well in storage," according to Barbara Pleasant at Mother Earth News. Consider the Butte variety, all-purpose, brown-skinned potatoes performing well in the Midwest, and Kennebec performing well in the Northeast.

*Elongated Fingerling Potatoes

These vary in their maturation times and come in a range of colors and sizes.

The top-reviewed potato plants at Burpee include Yukon Gold, Red Pontiac, Kennebec, Swedish Peanut Fingerling and Beauregard sweet potato.

The nutritional value of potatoes is astounding. They're very high in potassium, for instance. One small potato contains more potassium than a large banana. That's part of their appeal for the home gardener, making it budget-friendly and easy to eat well and organically without having to shop in pricey grocery stores or farmers' markets.

The other reason for the popularity of potatoes as garden crops is the great variety of color in the most popular types. "All Blue" potatoes are winning fans with their purple skin and deep blue flesh, and some potato varieties feature striated purples, blues, reds or oranges inside. These potatoes, sliced, roasted or grilled, add visual appeal to home cooking, and make for unique home-cooked potato chips and fries as well. Potatoes add a world of beauty to your dishes, especially when you want to impress your guests, such as at a family holiday dinner when regular white potatoes aren't impressive enough.

Talk to the vegetable expert at your local nursery to find out which potato plants grow best in your region, and also -- importantly -- which varieties are most resistant to blight and other plant diseases that can limit or ruin your potato crop. For instance, according to the Old Farmer's Almanac, the potato plant Chieftan is resistant to potato scab, and Elba, Rosa and Sebago are all somewhat resistant to blight. Your garden center professional will be able to fine-tune your potato choices for your climate and your garden soil's pH level influence.

Your garden expert can also help you time your plantings so that they're ready for harvest when you'd like to use them, such as Thanksgiving. Many potato varieties mature in 45 to 90 days, so a smart garden calendar or app will further help you plan your potato plantings and harvesting.

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