Potatoes do not always get their due. Unlike their family member, tomatoes, that need assistance through a trellis and managing diseases/insects in the growing season, potatoes are not too needy. Yes, they might get diseases. Yes, they might get Colorado Potato beetle damage. Yes, you do need to hill them. Yes, they need good drainage in the soil. However, you're probably growing potatoes without thinking much about them. Perhaps it's time then to grow a different cultivar.
If you’ve visited certain grocery stores or farmers markets, you’ve most likely seen these blue and purple potatoes. They can be different sizes like fingerling, baby, and standard. You might have tasted them at a restaurant. Some of them are being turned into potato chips too. None of these cultivars are necessarily new but some have been bred with other potato varieties for different features.
Purple and blue potatoes originate from South America. This color comes from the anthocyanin pigments in both the skin and flesh. Anthocyanins are the same compounds that give color to eggplant, red cabbage, blackberry, concord grapes, and other fruits and vegetables.
Blue/Purple Cultivars include:
Purple Flesh, Purple Skin: ‘Magic Molly’, ‘All Blue’, ‘Blue Tomcat’, ‘Purple Majesty’, ‘Purple Pelisse’, ‘Adirondack Blue’
Yellow Flesh, Purple Skin: ‘Brigus’, ‘Peter Wilcox’
White Flesh, Purple Skin: ‘Michigan Purple’, ‘Purple Viking’,
Another cultivar to mention is ‘Huckleberry Gold’. Developed at Montana State University, this potato has purple skin and yellow flesh with a higher anthocyanin concentration and lower sucrose concentration to ‘Yukon Gold’. One of the great features with this cultivar is that it has a lower glycemic index.
Purchasing Seed Potatoes
To grow these cultivars, you’ll purchase them as seed potatoes. These seed potatoes can be found at home and garden centers or online seed companies. I have found some of these cultivars locally but I have had to order many of them online. You should be aware that shipping for potatoes can be expensive.
Each tuber of seed potato will have eyes. These eyes will sprout leaves which will give way to your potato plants. You typically want two eyes per seed piece. Larger potatoes will have multiple eyes in which from a single seed potato you may get 6 to 8 eyes which would be 3 to 4 “seed pieces”. You’ll find seed potatoes to purchase as lbs or number of eyes. For example, I might be able to purchase 25 ‘Huckleberry Gold’ eyes which would potentially be 12-13 “seeds”/plants.
If you are growing fingerling potatoes, you do not have to worry about cutting the seed potatoes into parts. A typical fingerling seed potato is the right size and with enough eye pieces to be planted individually.
Now to growing!
In Northern Illinois, most growers plant mid-April to May 1st. You want fertile and well-drained soil for your potatoes to grow. This may mean adding compost or other organic matters before planting to help with the soil.
Potatoes can do well in containers though you’ll want to make sure you’ve addressed drainage. This may mean choosing a soil mixture for raised beds/soilless potting mix. When you use a container to grow, you do not want to immediately fill it with the soil. Start off with 3-4 inches of growing mix at the bottom, place your seed pieces, cover with 2 inches of soil, and then add soil as the plants grow. Your choice of container will dictate how many seed pieces you can plant. For instance, a 10-15 gallon container may mean 4-5 seed pieces.
Some growers will dig a trench to plant their potatoes. An advantage with this is that you may not have to bring in additional soil to hill your potatoes as they grow. The disadvantage then is that it could be more labor up front. This trench may be 12 to 18 inches deep for standard potatoes though you could probably do fine with 8 to 10 inches for fingerling/baby.
Space your potatoes 12 inches apart if growing standard potatoes with smaller potatoes spaced at 8-12 inches. Between rows, it should be 2-3 feet. Once potatoes reach 6-8 inches in height, start to hill them up. This action will further allow the tubers to develop.
Harvest potatoes after the vines have died. You’ll most likely need a shovel to remove these as they’ll develop 4 to 6 inches below the soil surface. “New potatoes” are those that are harvested in early summer before the vines have died. This is around July.
Enjoy your crop! I have both ‘Huckleberry Gold’ and ‘Magic Molly’ arriving in the next couple of weeks to grow.