A staple ingredient in the human diet, Potatoes (Solanum tuberosum) are cool-season vegetables used in countless dishes worldwide. Grown for their nutritious, starchy tubers, Potatoes are frequently served boiled, mashed, fried, or baked.
- Potatoes belong to the nightshade family (Solanaceae), which includes tomato, eggplant, and pepper.
- Potatoes are native to the Peruvian-Bolivian Andes. Cultivated by the Incas as early as 1,800 years ago, they were introduced into Europe by the Spanish conquerors during the second half of the 16th century. They became a major crop in continental Europe and Ireland. The Irish economy became dependent upon the Potato in the 19th century. However, its potato crops, which had become the primary food source, were devastated by late blight (Phytophthora infestans), resulting in the Irish Potato Famine.
- Sometimes called White Potato or Irish Potato, Potatoes grow well in cool climates.
- The edible part of a potato plant is the tuber, the swollen ends of its underground stems.
- The tubers bear buds (eyes) that grow into new plants when the conditions are right.
- Sweet Potato is botanically unrelated to the Potato.
Types of Potatoes
There are over two hundred varieties of potatoes. They are available in many shapes, sizes and colors.
- Russet Potatoes: medium to large, oblong Potatoes with russet, netted skin, and white to pale yellow flesh. Their texture is floury, and their flavor is mild and earthy. They can be baked, roasted, pan-fried, sauteed, mashed, or fried. Russet Potatoes are ideal for light and fluffy mashed potatoes and are the Potato of choice for baking.
- Red Potatoes: small to medium, round or slightly oblong Potatoes with thin red skin and white flesh. Their texture is smooth and creamy, and their flavor is subtly sweet. They stay firm throughout the cooking process and are frequently used to make potato salad or added to soups and stews. They can also be baked or mashed.
- White Potatoes: small to medium, round to long Potatoes with thin, white or tan skin and white flesh. Their texture is medium starch, slightly creamy, and their flavor is mild and subtly sweet. They hold their shape throughout the cooking process. Their delicate skin requires no peeling. They can be mashed, pan-fried, sauteed, or tossed into salads.
- Yellow Potatoes: marble to large size, round or oblong Potatoes with light tan to golden skin and yellow to golden flesh. Their texture is slightly waxy, velvety, and moist. Their flavor is rich, buttery, and subtly sweet. They can be grilled, baked, roasted, mashed, or tossed into salads.
- Purple Potatoes: small to medium-sized, oblong to fingerling Potatoes with deep purple, blue, or slightly red skin. The flesh can be blue, purple, pink, or white flesh. Their texture is firm and moist, and their flavor is earthy and nutty. These varieties can be grilled, baked, roasted, or tossed into salads.
- Fingerling Potatoes: 2-4 inches long (5-10 cm), finger-shaped or oblong Potatoes with red, orange, purple, or white skin and red-orange, purple, yellow, or white flesh. Their texture is firm and waxy. Their flavor is buttery, earthy, and nutty. These varieties can be pan-fried, sauteed, baked, roasted, or tossed into salads.
- Petite Potatoes: small, bite-sized Potatoes. They have skin and flesh color similar to their larger cousins and a more concentrated flavor. These varieties can be pan-fried, sauteed, baked, roasted, or tossed into salads.
Early, Mid-Season, and Late Potatoes
Potatoes are classified as either early varieties (new potatoes), mid-season varieties, or late varieties.
- Early Potatoes
- They reach maturity within 75-90 days from planting. Among them are:
- Irish Cobbler, irregularly shaped with pale brown skin.
- Norland, a red-skinned potato that is scab resistant.
- Yukon Gold is a popular variety with a yellow flesh and a moist, almost buttery flavor and texture.
- Mid-season Potatoes
- They reach maturity within 95 and 110 days from planting. Among them are:
- Catalina Chieftain
- French Fingerling
- Gold Rush
- Ida Rose Kerrs Pink
- Purple Viking
- Red Pontiac
- Red Sangre
- Rose Finn Apple
- Yukon Gem
- Late season Potatoes
- They reach maturity within 120 to 135 days from planting. Among them are:
- Katahdin is resistant to verticillium potato wilt and bacterial wilt.
- All Blue
- Canela Russet
- Desiree is tolerant of drought and shows good resistance to Potato blight and some resistance to Potato scab.
- Fingerling Salad
- German Butterball
- King Harry
- Purple Peruvian
- Russet Norkotah
Potato Health Benefits
- While Potatoes make a flavorful addition to many dishes, they can also provide some health benefits.
- Potatoes are fat and cholesterol free and low in sodium (French fries, potato chips, tater tots, and hash browns, which are usually deep-fried in oil, are not).
- Potatoes contain vitamins, minerals (calcium, potassium, phosphorus, and magnesium), and fiber. They are rich in vitamin C, an antioxidant that fights free radicals.
- Potassium helps your heart, nervous system, and muscles.
- Potato skin contains fiber, which is important for digestive health. Fiber can also help prevent heart disease by reducing cholesterol and blood sugar levels.
- Potatoes also have a high nutritional value. A potato tuber is about 78 percent water and 18 percent starch (carbohydrates).
- Potato skin can have up to 12 times more antioxidants than the flesh. So, do not be afraid to eat your potato skins.
- The level of nutrients provided by Potatoes varies with their types. Usually, the darker the Potato, the more antioxidants it contains. Purple potatoes are a good source of antioxidants (including anthocyanins), which may lower the risk of heart disease, cancer, and boost brain health.
- To maximize the nutritional benefits, try to include different types of potatoes in your diet.
- Potatoes grow up to 12-18 in. tall and wide (30-45 cm), depending on the variety.
- Potatoes perform best in full sun in deeply worked, fertile, slightly acidic (pH 5.8 to 6.5), moist, well-drained soils. Acidic soil is best and reduces the likelihood of scab.
- Keep soil moist but not soggy, and do not allow it to dry out. Alternating dry and wet soil can cause cracked or knobby tubers.
- Before planting, add well-rotted manure or organic matter in the fall.
- Depending on the variety, Potatoes take 50-135 days to harvest from planting.
- Do not plant Potatoes where tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, peppers, strawberries, or brambles have been planted within the past 4 to 5 years.
- Plant Potatoes a couple of weeks before the last frost has passed, when the soil temperature is at least 45-55ºF (7-13°C).
- Plant Potatoes 7-8 inches deep (18-20 cm) and about 12 in. apart (30 cm). For easier harvesting, plant Potatoes in a trench and cover them with several inches of soil.
- Mulch to retain moisture, cool the soil, and control weeds.
- When the stems are 6 to 8 inches tall, draw soil up around the plant to exclude light and prevent the potatoes from becoming green. As the plant grows, hill more soil around it, leaving just the foliage showing.
- Once tops begin to yellow near harvest, you can let the soil dry out without damaging tubers.
- Early potatoes: wait until the flowers open or the buds drop, then harvest when the tubers are the size of eggs.
- Maincrop potatoes: wait until the foliage becomes yellow. Cut it down and remove it. Wait 10 days before harvesting the tubers, and leave them to dry for a few hours before storing them.
- Potatoes are susceptible to various pests. Keep an eye out for cutworms, slugs, wireworms, leaf and bud eelworm, Potato cyst nematodes, Colorado potato beetles, flea beetles, and leafhoppers.
- Potatoes are susceptible to various diseases, including Potato scab, Potato blight, Potato rot, Potato blackleg, and stem canker.
- Prevent problems by planting only certified disease-free tubers.
- Propagate by chitting tubers (allowing them to start sprouting shoots): stand the tubers ‘rose-end’ up (the end with the most eyes) in a cool, light place. After two to three weeks, the shoots will begin to sprout. Plant out after the danger of frost has passed.
Potato Companion Planting
Excellent companion plants for Potatoes are amaranth, basil, beans, broccoli, carrot, catnip, celery, cilantro, corn, dill, feverfew, flax, garlic, horseradish, kale, marigold, onions, peas, petunia, sweet alyssum, tansy, watermelon.
- Alyssum makes a perfect living mulch for Potatoes.
- Amaranth loosens the soil and helps potatoes yield more abundantly.
- Bush beans, garlic, and horseradish deter the Colorado potato beetle.
- Flax is an excellent companion to Potatoes, improving their growth and flavor. Flax will also protect against the Colorado potato beetle.
- Horseradish, planted at the corners of the potato patch, provides general protection.
- Petunia and Marigold deter beetles.
- Do not plant Potatoes near asparagus, cucumber, kohlrabi, melon, parsnip, pumpkin, raspberries, rutabaga, squash family, sunflower, turnip, and fennel.
- Keep potatoes and tomatoes away from each other as they both can get blight contaminating each other.
While every effort has been made to describe these plants accurately, please keep in mind that height, bloom time, and color may differ in various climates. The description of these plants has been written based on numerous outside resources.