Ahh, potatoes, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. It is potato planting time here in the Northeast, and my first seed potatoes have just arrived in the mail. I am excited to get planting, as thoughts of harvesting these culinary treats in a few months fill my head.
I am not alone in my love obsession with the root vegetable, as people around the world have been enamored with and depended on potatoes as a staple food source since domestication between 7,000 to 10,000 years ago. Domesticated initially in what is now present-day Peru, their popularity has since spread across the globe. Currently, potatoes are considered one of the top food crops in the world, boasting over 4,000 varieties and have become an integral part of both the world’s food supply and culture. Entwined in history, the potato is thought to have provided the principal energy source for the Inca civilization and to have been responsible for the 19th century population boom in Europe. In 1845 it was such a major food crop that when a plant disease called late blight affected the crops in Ireland it caused over one million deaths in what is known as The Irish Potato Famine. For evidence that potatoes are still part of our culture today, look to the children’s nursery rhyme ‘One Potato, Two Potato,’ the once-popular children’s game ‘Hot Potato,’ or the still relevant Mr. Potato Head toy sold commercially by Hasbro since 1952. Even our language has references to potatoes, such as the phrase “potato, potahto.”
With thousands of years of history behind them, how lucky that we can still grow these historical tubers right in our gardens? I first tried my hand at growing potatoes back in 2012 and was surprised at the relative ease of growing the crop. I have planted several varieties in the years since, including Yukon Gold, Purple Viking, Masquerade, Pinto Gold, and Huckleberry Gold. The availability of so many types makes it difficult to choose which ones to grow; they all look amazing and delicious! Besides the aforementioned Pinto and Huckleberry Golds, this season, I plan on growing a variety I’ve never grow before named Upstate Abundance. Challenging myself to try new varieties of vegetables each year keeps gardening exciting, and so I’m anxious to see how the Upstate Abundance fare in my garden. Pinto Gold and Huckleberry Gold are beautiful varieties whose flavor I have found to be delicious, and therefore they tend to be a repeat crop each year here in our garden. This season will be the first year since growing potatoes that I do not plan on planting the family favorite, Yukon Gold. It was a difficult decision, but the excitement of trying something new warranted a change of pace.
Potatoes are versatile both in the garden and in the kitchen. I have grown the tubers in both raised garden beds, pots, and grow bags, with varying degrees of success. Personally, my best results have been in raised garden beds using hoops and row cover fabric, but many gardeners have had great success with other methods. Further demonstrating their versatility in the garden, the harvest window for potatoes can be slightly extended by harvesting “new potatoes,” the young, baby potatoes before they are fully mature. These smaller, thinner skinned potatoes tend to be sweeter than their full-grown counterparts, yielding a particularly delectable treat. In the kitchen, potatoes are incredibly flexible, becoming the ultimate comfort food, no matter how you prepare them. Whether baked, boiled, fried, roasted, grilled, or mashed, they never disappoint and are always hearty and delicious.
So, are you ready to try growing a piece of history by planting a few seed potatoes in your garden this season? Let me know what varieties you have had success with and any new varieties you plan to grow. Whether it’s one potato, two potato, three potato, four I’ll always continue to go back for more! Happy planting!