One of the most popular vegetables in the home garden is the "Irish" potato. A native of South America, the potato didn't become an important food crop until it was introduced to Ireland in the sixteenth century.
Potatoes prefer loose, fertile, slightly acid soils. Don't apply large amounts of organic matter, such as manure, to the soil where potatoes are to be grown. The addition of organic matter may increase the occurrence of potato scab.
Since potatoes are susceptible to several serious diseases, buy certified disease-free potatoes from a reliable garden center or nursery. Home-grown potatoes saved from the previous year's crop may carry undetectable diseases. Potatoes purchased at supermarkets may have been treated to prevent sprouting. Best results (excellent quality and high yields) are obtained with certified seed potatoes.
Large potatoes should be cut into sections or pieces, each containing 1 or 2 "eyes" or buds. Small potatoes may be planted whole. Seed piece decay may be a problem in cool, wet soils. This problem may be prevented by treating the cut seed pieces with a fungicide or by storing them at a temperature of 60 to 70 F and 85% relative humidity for several days. These storage conditions allow the cut surfaces of the seed pieces to heal or callus over before they are planted.
Potatoes should be planted as soon as the ground can be worked in the spring. This is usually late March or early April in the central part of the state, a week earlier in southern Iowa and a week later in northern Iowa. Set seed pieces, cut side down, and small whole potatoes about 1 foot apart in a furrow 4 inches deep. Rows should be spaced 2 or 3 feet apart.
Suggested potato varieties for Iowa include:
Norland is an early maturing red variety that produces oblong, smooth potatoes with shallow eyes. They are excellent boiled or mashed, but are only fair when baked.
Irish Cobbler is an early maturing white variety. Potatoes (tubers) are round to blocky with deep eyes. Possesses excellent table quality. It is very susceptible to scab.
Superior is a mid-season white variety with round to oblong tubers and medium deep eyes. The potatoes are very good baked, boiled, or mashed. It is resistant to scab.
Yukon Gold is a mid-season yellow-fleshed variety. They are excellent baked, boiled, or mashed. The potatoes also store well.
Red Pontiac is a late maturing red variety. Potatoes are oblong with deep eyes. It produces high yields with many large tubers. Table quality is only fair, however storage quality is very good.
Kennebec is a late maturing white variety with block-shaped tubers and shallow eyes. Cooking quality is excellent.
Russet Norkotah is a late season russet variety that produces blocky, oblong potatoes. It is an excellent baking potato. (Russet Norkotah has replaced Norgold Russet on the list of suggested potato varieties for Iowa. Russet Norkotah produces larger-sized tubers and higher yields than Norgold Russet. It also is well adapted to Iowa growing conditions.)
This article originally appeared in the March 17, 1995 issue, p. 24.