The Vegetable Garden

Potato, Irish

    Potato is a cool-season vegetable that ranks with wheat and rice as one of the most important staple crops in the human diet around the world. The white potato is referred to as the "Irish potato" because it is associated with the
    potato famine in Ireland in the 19th century. Potatoes are not roots but specialized underground storage stems called "tubers." Maximal tuber formation occurs at soil temperatures between 60° and 70°F. The tubers fail to form when the soil temperature reaches 80°F. Potatoes withstand light frosts in the spring and can be grown throughout most of the country in the cooler part of the growing season, but they prefer the northern tier of states for maximal yield and quality.


    There are more than 100 varieties of potatoes. White-skinned (actually very light brown) and red-skinned varieties with white flesh are the most common in home gardens. Some russets and yellow-fleshed types are also grown. Russet Burbank is the most important commercial variety produced in the United States, but the weather over most of the country is too warm and the moisture fluctuation too great for the production of smooth tubers and good yields. Common garden varieties offer better taste, texture and cooking quality for home use anyway.

    The following varieties are well adapted to a variety of conditions. If possible, use northern-grown seed potatoes that are certified disease free.


    • Irish Cobbler (light brown skin; often irregularly shaped)
    • Norland (red skin, smooth, resistant to scab)


    • Red Pontiac (red skin, deep eyes)
    • Viking (red skin, very productive)


    • Katahdin (light brown skin; smooth; resistant to some viruses, verticillium, bacterial wilts)
    • Kennebec (light brown skin, smooth; resistant to some viruses, late blight)

    Green Mountain is an old semi-rough white variety noted for its great taste. Due to a fairly high number of misshapen tubers, it has all but disappeared from commercial production. For dependable production in all seasons and the greatest-tasting baked potato ever, Green Mountain is worth the effort to find certified seed.

    Yukon Gold is the most famous of the new wave of yellow-fleshed varieties now available. Long popular in Europe, these have good flavor and moist flesh, which many people claim requires less of the fattening condiments required by dry-as-dust Russet Burbanks. Yukon Gold is a very early bearer of large, round, attractive tubers with a hint of pink around the eyes. Many grocery stores around the country now feature some name-brand version of "golden" potatoes, usually this variety. If the flavor of these market potatoes suits you, look for seed of Yukon Gold.