Growing Waxy Potatoes

Waxy potatoes can be any shape, size, or color, but tend to be relatively low in starch, which causes them to retain their shape when cooked, making them ideal for boiling and chopping, not for mashing or baking.
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Joe Lamp'l shows how to plant, grow and harvest potatoes.

Of the thousands of varieties of potatoes in every shape, size, and flavor, many are categorized by cooks by the level of starch in their mature tubers. Those with low starch (called amylopectin) are known as waxy, while those with more starch (amylose) are called floury.

Waxy potatoes stay together better when cooked, and are best when roasted or boiled and used in soups, stews, casseroles, and potato salads, but tend to make lumpy mashed potatoes. Floury potatoes such as russets fall apart when boiled, making them better for baking or mashing.

Waxy Potato Varieties

Though red round potatoes are the most common, waxy potatoes can be long or round, large or small, or any color, but they all tend to have thin, smooth skin. Most fingerling potatoes are waxy, as are nearly all “new” potatoes which are harvested while small and immature before their natural sugars convert to starch.

The most popular waxy or boiling potatoes include Red Norland, La Soda, Red La Rouge, Yellow Finn, Pontiac, and Red Bliss. The early, heavy-cropping Maris Bard, very popular in Ireland and the UK, is a smooth white skinned waxy tuber with white flesh and a traditional new potato taste.

Some potatoes are partly waxy, partly floury, in an in-between "all-purpose" category, and can be used in recipes like waxy potatoes. They include Superior, Kennebec, and colorful Yukon Gold and Peruvian Blue.

Growing Waxy Potatoes

All potato plants need three to four months of cool weather, neither freezing nor consistently above the mid-80s, to produce well. They require at least six or eight hours of direct sunshine and moist, well-drained soils, and moderate fertilizers at planting and again a month or so later.

Because supermarket potatoes may be treated to reduce sprouting, buy certified disease-free “seed” potatoes in local garden centers or online. Cut seed potatoes into small pieces, each with one or two small leaf bud “eyes” and allow the cut pieces to dry a few days before planting. Dust with sulfur to reduce disease problems.

Plant the cut seed pieces about three inches deep and a foot or so apart in rows, hills, raised beds, or containers. Water as needed, especially after flowering when tubers form, but don’t keep plants wet.

As potato plants grow, they produce tubers on short stolons on lower stems. If the tubers are exposed to sunlight they can turn green and bitter, and even develop a poisonous natural alkaloid called solanine. Avoid this by piling soil thick mulch around small plants, repeating as needed until six or eight inches of lower stems are buried.

Harvesting Potatoes

You can harvest tender small early potatoes within about three months by feeling around gently with your hands. Or let mature tubers form by waiting until plants begin to turn yellow, or after about four months when you can cut the plants down and allow the tubers to dry a few days before digging. While digging, avoid cuts and bruises, and only gently brush off soil instead of washing which can lead to decay during storage.

Store potato tubers in a cool, dry, dark area for a few weeks to three or four months, checking regularly for shriveling and decay. 

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