How to Grow Better Potatoes than you can Buy at the Grocery Store | PITH + VIGOR by Rochelle Greayer

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How to Grow Better Potatoes than you can Buy at the Grocery Store

11/17/2021

I’m cooking Thanksgiving dinner for the first time in years. And of course, I intend to give ‘ol Martha a run for her money. 🤨

That means I need to be more serious and discerning about the main ingredient of the most popular dishes – the potatoes.

Until a few years ago (when I originally wrote the story Great Northern Potatoes for the P+V newspaper), I was of the mindset that there were two types of potato – sweet and not-sweet.

And they were white or orange.

What else mattered?

How to Grow Better Spuds than you can buy at the grocery store - a guide to the best potatoes for your garden and dinner table

At the time, my grocery store choice was as limited as my knowledge, and I never thought more about it.

That is, until I read about a potato ‘faire’ somewhere in England where gardeners wandered from tent to tent in Barbour jackets and wellies with charming paper-wrapped packages of exotic seed tubers tucked under their arms.

I’m always wondering why we (Americans) can’t have these sorts of nice things. I’m always jealous.

It is many years after that first story and in the month of November as I write this – a week before Thanksgiving. My grocery store tater selection has since grown slightly, but it is still uninspiring.

A quick google search for ‘potato fair in England’ (without the extra e) turned up more than a page full of upcoming events! (I wonder if I’ll find even more it I go all English on the spelling…😉 ) I also just re-realized that it is now (and for many months to come) potato planting season.

I yam spuddenly filled with tots of tubers! So, I thought I’d revisit that original story.

(created in partnership with Samantha Dion Baker who did all the illustrations)

Great Northern Potatoes

There are many more types of potatoes that can be grown nationwide – but these are some of the varieties that can be grown in the Northern USA (and Canada). If you’re in the south you have a much wider variety of sweet potato options and also selections that can tolerate heat. In other countries, you might find a range of similarly distinct flavors and textures that will suit a range of potato cooking.

I am reminded that like apples – potatoes varieties are regionalized and that makes for a great opportunity to play a part in preservation while also growing something unique to your region’s history and local culture.

Here are all the originally featured potatoes – plus a few additions:

There are many more types of potatoes that can be grown nationwide - but these are some of the varieties that can be grown in the Northern USA (and Canada). 
 illustration of adirondack red potato and prairie blush potato

Adirondack Reds

  • Red skin and dark pink flesh
  • High in antioxidants
  • Pretty pink flowers

Prairie Blush 

  • Round yellow tubers with a blush of pink
  • Pest resistance is good for organic growers 
  • Resists sprouting in storage
  • Holds shape when cooked making a great choice for salads
There are many more types of potatoes that can be grown nationwide - but these are some of the varieties that can be grown in the Northern USA (and Canada).illustration of all blue potato and king harry potato features

All Blue 

  • Soft moist flesh is perfect for au gratin recipes and sautéing.
  • The blue pigment shields tubers from ultra violet light at high altitudes. 
  • Blue-fleshed potatoes, like kale and spinach, are high in vitamins and antioxidants. 

King Harry 

  • King Harry is a round white Irish potato
  • Bred at Cornell University
  • Hairs on plant stems deter bugs 

Fun Fact: Irish potatoes are not Irish – they are a type of white potato from the Andes of South America (where potatoes are native) that was brought to Europe in the 1500’s and which are also associated with the infamous potato-disease famine in Ireland.

There are many more types of potatoes that can be grown nationwide - but these are some of the varieties that can be grown in the Northern USA (and Canada).illustration of carol potato features and caribe potato features

Carola

  • Bright yellow fleshed German potato  
  • Reliable and prolific producer
  • Smooth and creamy with good flavor
  • White Flowers

Caribe

  • Purple Skin with snow- white flesh
  • Particularly good for latkes
  • An excellent new potato; harvest early  
There are many more types of potatoes that can be grown nationwide - but these are some of the varieties that can be grown in the Northern USA (and Canada).illustration of swedish peanut potato and butte potato

Swedish Peanut

  • Tear drop shaped fingerling shaped
  • Also known as a Mandel or almond potato
  • Nutty flavor, good for roasting

Butte

  • Russet – dark brown leathery skin 
  • Oblong shaped and good for baking
  • High in Vitamin C and Protein
There are many more types of potatoes that can be grown nationwide - but these are some of the varieties that can be grown in the Northern USA (and Canada).illustration for How to Grow potatoes in the garden and about yukon gold potatoes

Yukon Gold  

  • Yellow Flesh 
  • Waxy and dry texture makes good French fries 
  • Makes the best mashed potatoes

Two other interesting types of potatoes that are good for northern gardeners.

Elba

  • High yield and easy to grow
  • Most resistant the late blight and least favorite of voles

Russian Banana

  • Yellow, small, stubby heritage fingerling potato 
  • Grown by Russian settlers

Notes on growing and preparing homegrown potatoes

  • Store potatoes dirty, they will keep longer
  • Plant plants closer together to resist cracks
  • Mix sweet potatoes (which are better for you) with regular potatoes to increase nutrition. 
  • Potatoes with more straight starches (amylose) will be floury – best for sautéing, mashing or steaming 
  • A potato with more branched starches (amylopectin) will be more firm and waxy – best for salads and boiled. 
  • Dry potatoes are best for frying. 
  • Adirondack Red, All blue, Carola and Butte can also be planted for their pretty flowers

Sweet Potatoes that can Grow in the North

There are many more types of potatoes that can be grown nationwide - but these are some of the varieties that can be grown in the Northern USA (and Canada).illustration of Georgia jet and o'henry sweet potatoes

Sweet potatoes are tropical plants that are intolerant to cooler temps and they require longer period of growth (90-150 days to maturity) which can make them a challenge in the north. But if you want to give it try – these two varieties are your best options.

Georgia Jet  

  • Very sweet, no additional sugar needed
  • High yield and early to mature 
  • Has cracks and desiccations (which can be cut out when preparing)

O’ Henry

  • Nut and honey flavors
  • White skin and creamy colored flesh
  • Resists grubs and soil rot

Potato Texture Chart

Amylose/ AmylopectinSoft and MoistCreamy and Mid-dryCrumbly – Dry
Potatoes in this row have more straight starches (amylose). This makes for a more floury textureAdirondack Red, All BlueCarolaButte
Potatoes in this row have more branched starches (amylopectin) for a more waxy and firm potato that holds togetherCaribe, Elba, Prairie Blush, Russian Banana, King HarryYukon gold

Where to find potato starts to grow in your garden:

A variety of potatoes (not including sweets) are available from  Wood Prairie Farm – www.woodprairie.com

Also find seed potato varieties at

High Mowing Seeds – www.highmowingseeds.com

The Maine Potato Lady – www.mainepotatolady.com

and Hudson Valley Seeds – www.hudsonvalleyseed.com

Sweet Potatoes 

Steele Plant Company LLC – www.sweetpotatoplant.com

Illustrated by: Samantha Dion Baker

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