Potatoes – Gardening Tips from the Culinary View
as recommended by Michael Vidrine
Did You Know…
Potatoes (Solanum tuberosum) are native to the Andean region of South America and have been in cultivation for over 10,000 years. Wild varieties of potato can be found from far southern South America to Texas. The Spanish brought the potato to Europe in the 16thcentury and now potatoes are grown worldwide and are the 4th largest food crop. China and India are the largest producers. All members of the Solanaceae (nightshade) family including potatoes, tomatoes and eggplant contain alkaloids in parts of their plants which at high levels can be harmful to humans.
Types of Potatoes
There are over 5000 different types of potatoes. The potato tuber can be rough – like russet potatoes – or smooth skinned and the skin color ranges through brown, red, white, gold, and blue. Flesh color can be white, gold, red or blue. In our area, we generally grow smooth skinned varieties – russet types tend to not do as well. Specific varieties suggested include White Irish Cobbler, Red LaSoda , Yukon Gold, and All Blue.
When to Plant
Potatoes are an herbaceous perennial, but we generally grow them as an annual. Potatoes can be grown from seed but are most often grown from “seed potatoes” – pieces of potato that are directly planted resulting in a clone of the original plant. The main crop is planted in February for harvest in late April through May. A second crop can be grown in the Fall – planted in August for harvest in November. Seed potatoes are planted 3 to 5 inches deep in well drained garden soil. Soil can also be “hilled up” on the stems of the plants as they grow to potentially encourage more tuber growth. Potatoes are also easy to grow in containers.
Harvest and Storage
A sample of small potatoes can be “tickled out” from under the full-grown plants at any time for an early taste of the crop to come. The main harvest occurs after the plants fully mature and begin to die back. A large garden fork can be used to gently lift the soil and expose the tubers. At this point the skin of the potato is very tender and must be handled gently. Potatoes can be cured for a few days in the dark at warm temperatures to toughen the skin and help heal over any damaged areas. Potatoes should be stored in cool, dry, dark conditions with good air circulation – cardboard boxes and mesh sacks work well.
Brazos Valley Gardener, Orchardist, Apiarist and Instructor