Potato harvest

Harvesting a crop of Elba Potatoes.

Potatoes give me more garden satisfaction per square foot and time invested than any other vegetable I grow. A few years ago I planted six different potato varieties and kept records on how many pounds I harvested from each. The project made a good County Fair exhibit and won a blue ribbon, which paid for my much of my investment in seed potatoes. The crop also kept my family in potatoes for most of the winter. Every pound of seed potatoes I planted yielded about 12 pounds of harvest. In other words, we dug up nearly four bushels or 200 pounds of spuds from just 18 pounds of “seed”.

Flowering potatoes

As these Flowering Potatoes show, the plant is especially beautiful when in bloom.

The term “seed potato” is a bit of a misnomer. Although you can grow potatoes from actual seeds, that’s best left to the plant breeders. All commercial and home garden potato crops are grown from eyes or sprouts on the edible tubers. I plant either whole, small tubers or cut up larger potatoes into two-eye pieces.

Compared to the limited selection in the grocery store, the variety of gourmet, heirloom, and specialty potatoes available to home gardeners is huge. Some are best for boiled new potatoes in summer; others are good keepers for winter storage. Skins and flesh colors include red, yellow, white, pink and blue. Those with moist or waxy flesh hold together in soups and salads. Dry-fleshed russet potatoes are suited to baking, mashing and frying.

Our all-around favorite varieties were Carola and Rose Gold. Carola has yellow skin and flesh with a smooth, creamy texture for potato salads and stews. Rose Gold is a beautiful pink-skinned variety with drier gold flesh for home fries, creamy soups and fluffy mashed and baked spuds. Both stored well into winter.

My kids were intrigued with the size and shapes of the fingerling potatoes. Instead of big round or oblong potatoes, Russian Banana, Rose Finn, and Ruby Crescent fingerlings grow long, narrow and even curved. Digging these heirloom “small potatoes” was the highlight of our gardening season.

Potato Bag

The Potato Bag offers a new way to grow potatoes.

Although I grew my prize-winning potatoes in rows in a traditional garden, I’ve since learned how to grow them in less space and with less work. Raised beds and Potato Bags are now the way to grow! Potato plants are actually attractive in the landscape, especially when they’re blooming, so I put the planted bags where we can appreciate them.

For more information, read this PDF on growing and planting potatoes. For a list of links to seed potato catalogs and other information sources, visit visit this page at Washington State University.

-Ann Whitman, Staff Horticulturist