Everyone Loves Potatoes!



Baked, boiled, mashed, fried or roasted, potatoes are supremely versatile. They are easy and economical to grow also. They don't need a trellis or cages. And a late season storm does not destroy the plant. The potatoes are still there, protected, under the surface.

If you are new to growing potatoes, or just want more information on growing methods, Vegetables page 5 is the place to go.

This year we are growing 3 varieties of potato in our Pocono garden. Russian Fingerling, Gold Rush and Red Pontiac potatoes.

We made our choice of varieties with great care. We have grown a dozen or so over the past 9 years. We have limited space, so I can not grow all the plants I would like to. We also have the scab disease in our soil.

Red Pontiac has been in the garden from the start. The Russian Fingerling is a replacement for another fingerling that was not available this year. Gold Rush is new for us.


Red Pontiac

These potatoes should look familiar to you. They are sold in many grocery stores. When you are in the produce department and see bags of potatoes you most likely see the old standard varieties of Yukon Gold, Russet and Red Pontiac.


Potato Red Pontiac

These are white potatoes with thin, red skin. They do very well in heavy soils where other potatoes are stunted or badly formed. They also store well or are a "good keeper" as your Mom might say.

The are considered a mid to late season potato. In the Poconos you can expect to harvest the Red Pontiac as new potatoes at around 95 days. A mature crop can be dug after 110 - 115 days. You can leave them in the ground longer, but not longer than 130 days, because they begin to turn mushy.

When you are nearing the 95 or 100 day mark, make sure the plants receive consistent watering. Like most potatoes, they can develop hollow heart if they get very dry in between waterings.

Hollow heart is a condition in which the center of the potato contains a star shaped, irregular dry void. The exact cause is yet to be determined but inconsistent moisture and low levels of potassium in the soil are involved.

Red Pontiac potatoes are good mashed or boiled with salt and butter. They also make good potato salad. It looks very attractive with the skins left on.

Russian Fingerling

Fingerling or Banana potatoes are all the rage right now. They are the latest gourmet vegetable to attract notice of the masses. You'll see them on the network morning talk shows and Food Network. Most are heirloom varieties reintroduced in the last few years.

We grew a French Fingerling the past few seasons. Yellow fleshed with a high yield. I was sorry we couldn't get them this year. But they were already sold out when we placed our orders in January 2009. That's how popular they are.

So instead, I decided to try the Russian Fingerling. It has golden yellow skin and flesh. The slender potatoes average 4 to 5" long and are purported to be very high yielding. The catalogs say that baked, boiled or in salads they are tasty. I'll let you know.

This is a late season potato, as are most fingerlings. I don't recommend digging them for new potatoes. They are slow growing and not huge when they are mature. So I would think that you wouldn't get enough new potatoes to be worth the effort. The soonest the should be ready for harvest is 105 days, up to 135 on the late end.

None of the catalogs or websites I found mentioned disease resistance or particular susceptibility. The only problems I had with the French Fingerlings were some scab and the voles seemed to enjoy them as much as I did.

Gold Rush or Goldrush

Gold Rush are long, russet skinned potatoes with bright white flesh. These spuds are a little on the dry side so they are good for cutting into chunks for soups and stews. They also make a nice baked potato or french fry.

Gold Rush Potato Plant

The main reason I chose this variety is because it is resistant both to hollow heart and scab. I also needed something that would mature a little earlier than the fingerling or the Red Pontiac.

The Gold Rush is an early to mid season potato. I should be able to dig new potatoes starting around June 20th. I planted the first 6 plants on March 25, 2009.




Cultivation & Problems

Soil

When we started our garden we had very heavy, clay soil filled with those lovely Pocono rocks. So Red Pontiac potatoes were one of the first varieties we tried.

Years of leaf mold compost and composted cow and horse manure and a few hundred pounds of coarse builders sand later and we have awesome garden soil. I may have to take it with me if we ever move.

I also built two rock wall flower beds in front of the house. ;)

Voles

We plant all potatoes in raised beds. Last year, due to a growing problem with voles, we began to line the bottoms of them with hardware cloth. Hardware cloth can be purchased at your local farm supply. I buy mine at Agway.

It is a galvanized, welded wire product with the wires creating a grid of 1/2" openings. When we build a new bed, we staple the hardware cloth to the underside of the frame. This keeps the voles from tunneling up underneath the bed and eating the crops.

Voles don't like to eat everything, just most things. They love potatoes and carrots. I don't think they particularly like onions, but they always take at least one bite of each. I think they just move along the row hoping that the next one is better.

They also eat the roots of other plants. I have lost Rudebeckia, Hostas, day lilies, Petunias and Coneflowers to them. The plants seem to die for no reason & when you pull them out there are tunnels where the roots used to be. If it is a plant with a tuber or rhizome, like a hosta, whatever is left of it has little teethmarks in it.

Some plants they avoid. Garlic, Iris, Monarda, Oregano, Sage, Thyme, summer Squashes and Tomatoes are always left alone.

Since we can't get rid of them entirely, we line the bottoms of the beds where we plant things that they like. Or grow those plants in containers. And plant stuff they don't like in the other beds.

So far they have not figured out that they could climb the side of the bed and tunnel down next to the plant. When they do, I will have to investigate other options.

This one from Yardiac.com looks promising.

Diseases

Hollow Heart

Hollow Heart is more of a syndrome than a disease because it is not brought on by a know organism, but a series of conditions. Hollow Heart will affect your potatoes when your soil is lacking in potassium and receives irregular amounts of water during tuber development.

It can also appear when we have unusually cool, wet weather in August or towards the end of the growing season in other parts of the world. So I supposed any kind of sustained stress could cause it.

The leafy part of the plant does not show any symptoms of disease and the potatoes themselves look fine on the outside. You find out your potatoes are affected when you cut into them and find the dry, open cavity. I read an article that says a University in Virginia is working on using some kind of sonar or ground penetrating ultrasound to detect affected commercial potato crops.

Hollow heart won't change the flavor of the spud and won't make you sick. Just trim out the dry part and chuck it in the compost.

Scab Disease

Scab disease causes cork-like patches to form on the skin of the potato. It won't hurt you, just peel those portions off before preparing, but is is unattractive.

Once you have it in your garden soil, you can manage it, but I don't believe you can ever eradicate it. Refer to Vegetables, page 5 for more information about it.

Our management of it includes testing our soil pH with this . Then I adjust the pH to between 5 and 5.3. Adding pelletized limestone will raise the pH. Adding elemental sulfur will lower the pH and acidify the soil. One application lasted for years but it needs to be added to the soil as early in the season as possible, because it needs a few months to work.

If you are really organized and dedicated, you can test your soil at the end of this season and add the sulfur where you need it. The bacteria in the soil convert the sulfur to sulfuric acid. They work best when warm and become dormant over the winter.

So cover the bed with black mulch paper or Recycled Plastic Weedblock after you apply the sulfur. It will stay warmer longer in the fall and the bacteria can do an effective job at getting the soil ready for spring planting.

Insect Pests

We don't have much damage from Colorado Potato Beetles but we do battle the Japanese Beetles and Stink Bugs every year.

I try not to use chemical controls of any kind, if I can help it. So we set out the Beetle Catch-Can with Bait traps and spread Milky Spore 10 Oz. bags of powder once per year. It used to be "common knowledge" among gardeners that the Japanese Beetles arrived the first weekend in July. Now I have noticed that they have started appearing the second week of June. Just one more effect of global warming I suppose.

The Beetles that are not lured to the traps, along with the Stink or Squash Bugs are knocked off the leaves into a bucket of soapy water early in the morning, while they are still slow. It's not a fun job, but I wear gloves, long sleeves and a hat and do it because it needs to be done.

But the alternative would be putting on a mask or respirator and spraying poisons around. I could use something "natural" but even natural products can affect other beneficial species.


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