Potatoes may seem humble, but if you’ve tasted new ones fresh
from the garden, you know they can be sublime.
Thin-skinned red and white kinds are favorites of gardeners,
especially when harvested while small (no more than 3 inches in
diameter) and eaten soon afterward. Their flavor is superior to that of
market potatoes. Some enthusiasts liken the difference to that between
home-grown and bought tomatoes.
If you want to grow potatoes for storage, russets for baking are a
good choice. But many gardeners have trouble duplicating the hefty size
of market bakers, and storage tends to reduce the flavor advantage after
two or three months.
Plant potatoes as soon as they are available at nurseries, garden
supply stores, or feed and seed centers in late winter or spring.
Don’t plant market potatoes–they’re often treated with growth
retardant. Red-skinned seed potatoes may be in short supply in some
areas this season due to a partial crop failure.
Seed potatoes, shown in step 1, are widely sold. You’ll
sometimes find handy precut chunks–1-inch-diameter pieces that are
callused and ready to plant.
Cut seed potatoes as shown above, then let them cure for one to
three days in a humid spot away from direct sun.
Where to plant, how to plant. In full sun, prepare soil with
plenty of organic matter so that it will be rich, fluffy, and well
drained. Raised beds can provide an ideal environment. The 4- by
8-foot raised beds shown here, made from redwood 2-by-12s, contain a
light, porous mix of equal parts of topsoil and redwood compost. If you
don’t have wood-framed raised beds, make mounded beds about a foot
Before planting, mix in a complete fertilizer. If you use
slow-release pellets, you won’t have to feed again; with other
kinds, apply one or two light doses of nitrogen fertilizer once the
plants are growing well.
Keep up with watering, since closely spaced plants dry out quickly.
It’s important to keep the soil evenly moist: periodic drying will
result in misshapen potatoes.
When to harvest. Thin-skinned potatoes are ready to dig when the
plants start to decline; stems will start toppling and leaves wilt and
eventually yellow. This usually occurs a week or so after flowering.
You can dig up the whole plant or raid a few potatoes by digging into
the soft soil with your hands. The raised bed shown here provides
potatoes for four people over a six-week harvest period.
When washing harvested potatoes, slosh them in a container of water
(brushing can damage skin).
To enjoy their delicate flavor, simply boil or steam unpeeled potatoes until tender and serve with butter and parsley. They also are
excellent in salads.