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 are easy to grow and are available in a variety of types, colors and shapes. They are highly nutritious and can be baked, boiled, fried and prepared in other ways.
Potatoes prefer loose, fertile and slightly acidic soils. Don’t apply large amounts of organic matter, such as barnyard manure, to the soil where potatoes are to be grown. The addition of organic matter may increase the occurrence of potato scab. If a soil test has not been conducted, an application of 1 to 2 pounds of an all-purpose garden fertilizer, such as 10-10-10, per 100 square feet should be adequate for most home gardens. Broadcast and incorporate the fertilizer into the soil shortly before planting.
Potatoes are susceptible to several serious diseases. To reduce the risk of disease, purchase certified, disease-free potatoes at garden centers or mail-order nurseries. Potatoes that remain from last year’s crop may carry undetectable diseases. Potatoes purchased at supermarkets (for table use) may have been treated to prevent sprouting. Best results (excellent quality and high yields) are obtained with certified seed potatoes.
Gardeners can purchase seed pieces (tubers that have been cut into sections) and whole potatoes. Small potato tubers may be planted whole. Large potatoes should be cut into sections or pieces. Each seed piece should contain 1 or 2 “eyes” or buds and weigh approximately 1.5 to 2.0 ounces. After cutting the tubers into sections, place the freshly cut seed pieces in a humid, 60 to 70̊F location for 2 to 3 days. A short “healing” period allows the cut surfaces to callus or heal over. Callused seed pieces are less likely to rot in cool, wet soils.
Potatoes should be planted in early spring. The appropriate planting time varies from early to mid-April in southern Iowa to mid-to-late April for northern portions of the state. Plant seed pieces (cut side down) and small whole potatoes 3 to 4 inches deep and 1 foot apart within the row. Rows should be spaced 2½ to 3 feet apart.
Suggested potato varieties (cultivars) for Iowa include:
- ‘Red Norland’ is an early maturing red cultivar that produces oblong, smooth potatoes with shallow eyes. They are excellent boiled or mashed, but are only fair when baked. Possesses good resistance to potato scab.
- ‘Russet Norkotah’ is an early season russet cultivar that produces blocky, oblong potatoes. Excellent baking potato. Possesses good resistance to scab.
- ‘Superior’ is an early season cultivar with round to oval tubers with buff skin and white flesh. The potatoes are very good boiled. Possesses good resistance to scab.
- ‘Yukon Gold’ is an early season yellow-fleshed cultivar. They are excellent baked or boiled. Excellent storage potato.
- ‘Goldrush’ is a mid-season cultivar that produces oblong to oval tubers with a russet skin and white flesh. Baking quality is very good.
- ‘Katahdin’ is a late maturing white-fleshed cultivar that produces round, shallow-eyed, buff colored tubers. They are excellent for baking and boiling. Excellent storage potato.
- ‘Kennebec’ is a late maturing white cultivar with oval tubers and shallow eyes. Good for baking and boiling. Excellent storage potato.
- ‘Red Pontiac’ is a late maturing red cultivar. Potatoes are oblong with deep eyes. Produces high yields with many large tubers. Table quality is only fair. Storage quality is very good.
While the standard potato cultivars listed above perform well in Iowa, there are other cultivars with unusual colors and shapes. For example, ‘Mountain Rose’ is an early season cultivar that produces medium-sized tubers with a red skin and rosy red flesh. ‘Russian Banana’ produces small, banana-shaped tubers which are excellent in salads. The oblong tubers of ‘Purple Majesty’ have purple skins and flesh. Heirloom and novelty cultivars are tasty and fun additions to the vegetable garden.
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