By Jackie Bantle
“What is the best potato to grow?” is one of the most common questions that I often hear from eager vegetable gardeners. According to the World Catalogue of Potato Varieties (co-edited by Lukie Pieterse and Uwe Hils), there are at least 4500 cultivated varieties of potatoes in over 100 countries around the world. The best potato for you to grow depends on the end use.
Potato cultivars typically found in Saskatchewan can be organized into one of four categories: white, russet, red or novelty. Red skinned potato varieties are recommended for boiling since their flesh is usually more watery. Russet varieties generally have more solids/tuber and usually become mushy when boiled. Potatoes that are high in solids are preferred for frying as they use less oil. The cooking qualities of white skinned and novelty potatoes are dependent on the variety.
Traditional potato varieties on the Prairies have included mainstays like Russet Burbank (formerly known as ‘Netted Gem’). Russet Burbank has a dry texture and is excellent as a baking potato or French fry but often turns mushy when boiled. Growing Russet Burbank can be challenging in a dry climate like the Prairies as this variety is prone to hollow heart (i.e. holes in the centre of the potato) and knobs when moisture conditions fluctuate during the growing season. Better choices for drier fleshed potatoes that are good for baking or French fries include Goldrush, Gemstar Russet, Umatilla and Ranger Russet.
Pontiac was the traditional ‘red-skinned’ potato variety grown on the Prairies for many years. Pontiac is early maturing, recommended for boiling and usually produces excellent yields of large sized tubers. However, Pontiac is also known for its intense scab problems, hollow heart and deep eyes.
Norland (red skin) was registered as a variety in 1960 and is still one of the most popular red potato varieties for Prairie gardeners. Norland’s skin is a brighter red than Pontiac and does not oversize as quickly as the Pontiac. Norland is early maturing, somewhat resistant to scab and has excellent boiling qualities.
Other red skinned potato cultivars recommended for the Prairie garden include; Viking (early maturing, oversize tubers late in the season), Sangre (mid-season maturing, excellent boiling, medium sized tubers) and AC Peregrine (mid to late season maturity, uniform size and shape, resistant to scab, the best storage variety of the reds).
Two purple skinned cultivars with bright white flesh that perform well in the Prairie garden are Purple Viking (early-maturing, large tubers and excellent flavour) and Caribe (mid-season maturity with good flavour).
Shepody is an excellent flavoured white skinned potato recommended for boiling, French frying and baking. Shepody tends to produce oversize tubers later in the season and is susceptible to scab and hollow heart. Adora, an early-maturing, light yellow fleshed potato is recommended for boiling and baking.
Yukon Gold (good yields, boiling, bake or fried) and Bintje (late maturing with excellent yields of small to medium sized potatoes) are deeper yellow fleshed cultivars recommended for their flavour.
Some unique potato varieties to try include: Banana or French Fingerling (long to banana-shaped, small, yellow-fleshed tubers), Russian Blue (purple skin and purple flesh) or All Red (red skin and red flesh).
Always plant certified potato seed, preferably seed that is grown locally. Purchasing local potato seed grown by experienced Saskatchewan seed potato growers reduces the risk of spreading devastating potato and soil diseases.
Although it is tempting to plant potato tubers early, if the soil is too cold (below 10°C), certain fungal diseases can rot seed tubers in the ground or result in disease issues like rhizoctonia (the black ‘dirt’ that won’t wash off your potatoes at harvest time).
To get an early start on potatoes without risking disease issues, try green sprouting your potato seed tubers. At least 10-14 days before planting out, spread potato tubers out in a single layer in a brightly lit location. Ideally, the air temperature should be near 20°C with high humidity. Warm temperatures will encourage the potatoes to sprout while bright light will prevent the sprouts from elongating. Higher humidity prevents the potato tubers from drying out. Potato tuber sprouts should be less than 2.5cm long, dark green in color and may have small leaves forming. These green sprouted potato seeds will have been growing for two weeks under ideal conditions indoors before being placed outside in the warm soil (15°C+). When planting outdoors, take care not to break off the developing sprouts.
This column is provided courtesy of the Saskatchewan Perennial Society (SPS; email@example.com ). Check our website saskperennial.ca) or Facebook page (facebook.com/saskperennial). All Saskatchewan Perennial Society events are on hold until further notice.