Growing Heirloom Potatoes

Heirloom potatoes have been passed down, year after year, for many decades, and offer unique shapes, colors, and cooking qualities worth trying in the home garden.

How to Grow Potatoes 05:02

Joe Lamp'l shows how to plant, grow and harvest potatoes.

An heirloom potato is one which has been grown consistently year after year for decades or longer, maintaining its original characteristic tubers with little or no change from the original.

Like other heirloom vegetables, many old potatoes have been preserved through the years by small-scale farmers and home gardeners who appreciate their sometimes-subtle differences in size, shape, and cooking qualities. They are also grown because of interesting heritage stories that come with them, and the loftier preservation of genetic diversity in a world which has turned to mass production of a few species.

Preserving heirloom potatoes isn’t always easy, because many are not super productive, or not enough people grow and share them to keep the strains alive. Plus they often lack resistance to diseases.

All Potatoes Are Grown Alike

Regardless of heritage, all potatoes are grown about the same. Potato plants are grown in full sun, well-drained soils, and in cool weather – neither freezing nor remaining above the mid-80s.  Plant whole tubers, cut into small pieces each with one or two leaf-bud “eyes” which sprout into stems on which potato tubers form; planting to harvest takes three or four months.

As plants grow, pile fresh soil or mulch over the lower stems to prevent them from getting sunlight. This helps prevent the tubers from getting sunscald or turning green which makes them taste bitter and increases the production of solanine, a toxic alkaloid that forms in green skins and eyes.

Growing heirloom potatoes requires saving tubers every year to replant. Save inedible green tubers, as well as a few of the largest and firmest. Do not wash the tubers when harvesting, which can lead to decay. Store them in cool, dry spot, in labeled paper bags.

Heirloom Potato Varieties

Keep in mind when planning an heirloom potato crop, that every region has best selections for particular soils and climates. Pardon the pun, but what flies in Vermont may fry in Florida.

Garnet Chile, a pink to red potato bred in 1853 from a disease-resistant Chilean potato, is a parent of many well-known heirloom varieties including the Russet Burbank. In 1861 the oblong Early Rose with a pink streak in the flesh became one of the most successful potatoes of the late 1800s. Peach Blow, another heirloom variety from 1850, has a peachy-pink flower and wonderful potato flavor.

flesh Vermont Champion, white skin and yellow flesh, was introduced in 1881 as a disease-resistant strain. The light tan Green Mountain has been popular since the 1880s for its high starch content and distinct flavor. Irish Cobbler is early-season potato with a pronounced potato flavor and earthy aroma to the skin.

German Butterball has yellow skin, yellow flesh and a creamy texture; Red Lasoda has red skin, white flesh and a perfect texture in soups and potato salads; Purple Majesty has purple skin and dark purple flesh; Mountain Rose has pink skin, reddish pink flesh, and a moist, creamy texture. Austrian Crescent is an heirloom fingerling variety with light yellow skin, yellow flesh and a firm texture.  

Bintje, developed in 1905, has yellow skin, yellow flesh, and a starchy texture. La Ratte fingerling potatoes were a wild potato discovered in the Swiss Alps with long, uniform tubers, yellow flesh with firm, waxy texture and high production; because of their nutty flavor, they are considered by chefs to be one of the top gourmet potatoes.

Irish Lumper, an early 1800s white potato commonly planted in Ireland when the disease called “late blight” or “potato rot” devastated several crops in a row, leading to the horrific Great Famine. It has been cleared of diseases and reintroduced as a heritage potato.

Most heirloom potatoes are grown on small farms but can be found online. But order early, as popular varieties tend to get sold out very quickly every year. 

Potato Varieties

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Potato ‘Red Duke of York’

A vigorous first early, producing abundant, good-sized, red-skinned tubers with delicious pale yellow flesh. Perfect in salads when small, and boiled or baked when larger. Young shoots need protection from frost.

Plant: Early spring
Harvest: Early to midsummer
Soil Preference: Well-drained soil, moist soil
Sun or Shade: Full sun

Photo By: DK - Vegetable Gardening ©2007 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Potato ‘Mimi’

The ideal first early for containers, producing masses of small red tubers with incredibly tasty, waxy, cream-colored flesh. An excellent salad potato with good scab resistance. Protect new shoots from frost.

Plant: Early spring
Harvest: Early summer
Soil Preference: Well-drained soil, moist soil
Sun or Shade: Full sun

Photo By: DK - Vegetable Gardening ©2007 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Potato ‘Foremost’

Harvest this useful early variety from early summer or lift as required throughout the summer. The white-skinned, white-fleshed crop has a firm texture, ideal for salads and boiling. Protect young shoots from frost.

Plant: Early spring
Harvest: Early to late summer
Soil Preference: Well-drained soil, moist soil
Sun or Shade: Full sun

Photo By: DK - Vegetable Gardening ©2007 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Potato ‘Charlotte’

A supermarket favorite because of its long, smooth, yellow tubers, with fabulously flavored, waxy flesh.This second early is easy to grow in the garden, and one of the best salad potatoes.

Plant: Mid-spring
Harvest: Mid- to late summer
Soil Preference: Well-drained soil, moist soil
Sun or Shade: Full sun

Photo By: DK - Vegetable Gardening ©2007 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Potato ‘Arran Pilot’

A popular first early, excellent for gardeners eager to enjoy large yields of small potatoes with creamy, waxy flesh. Good scab resistance and tolerance of dry spells. Young shoots need protection from frost.

Plant: Early spring
Harvest: Early to midsummer
Soil Preference: Well-drained soil, moist soil
Sun or Shade: Full sun

Photo By: DK - Vegetable Gardening ©2007 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Potato ‘Saxon’

For baking, boiling, and french-frying, try this floury textured second early. The large, white tubers have a mild, creamy flavor, and the plants display a useful resistance to both blackleg and eelworm.

Plant: Mid-spring
Harvest: Mid- to late summer
Soil Preference: Well-drained soil, moist soil
Sun or Shade: Full sun

Photo By: DK - Vegetable Gardening ©2007 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Potato ‘Royal Kidney’

An old maincrop salad variety, ‘Royal Kidney’ produces delicious, yellow-fleshed salad potatoes from late summer. It is also tempting to dig up the plants earlier for crops of tender baby potatoes.

Plant: Mid-spring
Harvest: Late summer
Soil Preference: Well-drained soil, moist soil
Sun or Shade: Full sun

Photo By: DK - Vegetable Gardening ©2007 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Potato ‘Kerrs Pink’

This versatile and high-yielding maincrop variety is reliable in most soils. The blush pink tubers have delicious floury cream flesh that is perfect for mashing, french-frying, roasting, and baking. Stores well.

Plant: Mid-spring
Harvest: From early fall
Soil Preference: Well-drained soil, moist soil
Sun or Shade: Full sun

Photo By: DK - Vegetable Gardening ©2007 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Potato ‘Ratte’

The long, slightly knobby tubers harvested from this maincrop variety are a real treat. Their dense, waxy, yellow flesh has a strong nutty flavor, making them perfect for salads.

Plant: Mid-spring
Harvest: Late summer
Soil Preference: Well-drained soil, moist soil
Sun or Shade: Full sun

Photo By: DK - Vegetable Gardening ©2007 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Potato ‘Sante’

An excellent choice for organic gardeners because of its excellent pest and disease resistance, this maincrop variety yields large cream tubers that are great for baking, boiling, and roasting. Stores well.

Plant: Mid-spring
Harvest: From late summer
Soil Preference: Well-drained soil, moist soil
Sun or Shade: Full sun

Photo By: DK - Vegetable Gardening ©2007 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Potato ‘Pink Fir Apple’

A curious old maincrop variety, producing long, irregular tubers with pink-tinged skin that is best left on during cooking. The waxy flesh, with its earthy flavor, is popular in salads, and the tubers store well.

Plant: Mid-spring
Harvest: From early fall
Soil Preferences: Well-drained soil, moist soil
Sun or Shade: Full sun

Photo By: DK - Vegetable Gardening ©2007 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Potato ‘Nicola’

Resistance to eelworm and blight makes this variety a good option for maincrop salad potatoes. Large crops of long, yellow, waxy tubers are reliably produced and store well over winter.

Plant: Mid-spring
Harvest: From late summer
Soil Preferences: Well-drained soil, moist soil
Sun or Shade: Full sun

Photo By: DK - Vegetable Gardening ©2007 Dorling Kindersley Limited

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