Plentiful Potatoes: Selecting the Right Varieties for Your Needs
Potatoes are versatile for a wide variety of culinary uses, make a great storage crop and are generally simple to grow. That being said, you'll have by far the best success when you think carefully about your needs and select varieties for your climate and situation, because each variety has unique qualities that make it well-suited to a certain place or purpose. Here are some tips and suggestions for each situation.
Varieties for Specific Conditions
Cool, Wet or Clay Soil. Some regions, such as the Northeast, Midwest, Mid-Atlantic and Pacific Northwest, can experience consistently wet spring conditions that make growing potatoes challenging. Because most people plant potatoes that are still dormant (the eyes have not yet sprouted), they are at a higher risk of rotting in cold, wet spring soil. There are a number of ways to prevent this from happening - you can plant later, choose a location with good drainage, plant in containers or GrowBags, or greensprout your seed potatoes. But one of the best lines of defense is to select varieties that can handle these conditions in stride, so you'll get a good crop even if the weather isn't cooperating. We recommend: Dark Red Norland, Red Chieftain and Yukon Gem
Drought-Prone or Sandy Soil. Some regions of the country, especially the West and Southwest, are experiencing severe drought. Areas such as the Sandhill region of North and South Carolina, the Sandhills of Nebraska and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan are characterized by naturally sandy, droughty soil that drains water very rapidly. No matter which area you're in, early planting, keeping the soil covered and undisturbed as much as possible, adding organic matter and selecting drought-tolerant varieties can allow you to grow a successful crop even in dry conditions. We recommend: All Red, Elba, Katahdin & All Blue
Blight-Prone Areas. Anyone who's grown potatoes in the East (or any other high-rainfall area) will be all-too-familiar with late blight, the late summer fungus that sweeps up the coast, taking out our beloved tomato and potato plants along the way. Its water-soaked appearance is distinctive and hard-to-miss, but its speed and destructiveness spell doom for most crops, even with early detection and treatment. (And sadly, infected tubers tend to liquefy in storage, as was discovered during the Irish Potato Famine). Fortunately for all of us, a few resistant varieties have sprung up in recent years, and combined with helpful techniques like planting in well-drained areas and away from other nightshades, we can still produce a crop that will store through winter. We recommend: Elba (the most blight-resistant commercial variety available), German Butterball, Burbank Russet and Yukon Gem (which offer moderate resistance)
Scab-Prone Areas. Some areas or fields are prone to a common condition called Scab, which causes brown scarring on the surface of the tubers and may reduce yields or the aesthetic appeal of the crop. While not nearly as destructive as late blight (since it may have no impact on yield), scab certainly makes peeling potatoes less fun, and can make them unmarketable for commercial growers. While the responsible pathogen, Streptomyces scabies, is naturally occurring in most soil, it only tends to become a problem in particular conditions - alkaline soil, lack of water during tuber formation, very high levels of organic matter, poor crop rotation, and light, sandy or weathered soils all support its development. The best tactics for reducing scab include lowering soil pH to below 5.2, re-building healthy soil with appropriate amendments, rotating potatoes with corn or small grains, and most importantly, using resistant varieties. We recommend: Dark Red Norland, Purple Viking, Elba, Red Chieftain, German Butterball, Rose Finn Apple Fingerling and Russian Banana Fingerling.
Containers or GrowBags. While many different varieties can be successfully grown in containers or GrowBags, it's a good idea to select varieties with a compact growth habit to make the most efficient use of space. It's also a good idea to select varieties with different maturity dates, to extend the harvest throughout the season and be able to harvest new potatoes, mid-season varieties, and storage potatoes. As a general rule of thumb, you only need about 3-5 potato pieces (about 1 lb) for a standard size Potato GrowBag (which holds about 50 quarts of soil and is roughly a foot wide and tall), or about 7-10 pieces (about 2.5 lbs) for a Jumbo GrowBag (which holds about 120 quarts of soil and is roughly 24" wide by 14" tall). We recommend: Purple Viking (for early or new potatoes), AmaRosa or Russian Banana (for a mid-season fingerling), and Yukon Gem (for a late season storage potato).
Varieties for Specific Uses
Fresh Market. Some varieties are especially good for consuming as "fresh market" or tender, miniature "new" potatoes (and these varieties often don't store as well as others). These include: All Red, Purple Viking, AmaRosa, Dark Red Norland and All Blue.
Long Storage. Most of our varieties will easily last 6 months or more under proper storage conditions, such as in a cool, dark basement. For the longest storage, we recommend: Elba, Katahdin, Red Chieftain, Yukon Gold, Burbank Russet, German Butterball, Yukon Gem, Rose Finn Apple Fingerling and Russian Banana Fingerling.
Specialty Appeal. Many people increasingly prefer the unusual, eye-catching colors and high antioxidant content of specialty potatoes such as All Red, All Blue, Purple Viking and AmaRosa Fingerling, as well as the uniquely-delectable flavor of gourmet Rose Finn Apple and Russian Banana fingerlings.
For varieties for specific culinary uses, check out our article The Perfect Potato!