Growing White Potatoes

White potatoes are classics with light tan skin and pure white flesh, and are indispensable for using in nearly any recipe but are superb when boiled or fried.
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How to Grow Potatoes 05:02

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

White potatoes, with their smooth, light tan skin and white flesh, are the most common potato varieties used for processing, especially for making potato chips and fries in fast food restaurants. The all-purpose tubers are good in nearly any potato recipe; when baked, steamed, or boiled they are healthier alternatives to being fried. Their skin is thin and delicate enough to leave on even when making mashed potatoes.  

Good Varieties

Onaway  is somewhat rough-looking and has light tan skin and a buttery flavor when cooked; it is an early-producing variety, harvested often after just three months which is very handy for growing in areas with a short period of cool weather. Elba, another early variety, is a dependable producer in home gardens with outstanding resistance to disease and drought, and firm white flesh. Superior produces tremendous yields early in the season and holds up very well when cut and fried.

Maris Bard is a popular British variety with a soft waxy texture good for boiling. Kennebek, one of the top ten potatoes grown in the Northeast, is well-suited for growing in harsh conditions, and superb for baking in skins. Irish Cobbler is a widely-grown heirloom with a strong, consistent yield and a strong potato flavor; it is a favorite for making mashed potatoes.

Growing Potatoes

Potatoes are tubers that sprout from the lower stems of leafy plants set out during cool weather when there is no danger of a freeze but when temperatures remain below the mid-80s. Fresh mature tubers are cut into small pieces, each with one or two small buds called “eyes” and planted where soil or thick mulch can be piled up around the young plants as they grow. This keeps the lower stems in total darkness, which is important for the new tubers to form and to prevent greening which makes the tubers taste bitter and can indicate high levels of solanine, a natural but poisonous alkaloid.

Supermarket potatoes often do poorly because they may not be the best varieties for your area, or may even be treated to prevent sprouting. Get seed potatoes for cutting and planting at local garden centers or online; order early while supplies last.

Potatoes need at least seven or eight hours of direct sunshine, well-drained acidic soil, and good fertility, with an all-purpose fertilizer applied at planting time and a little more when the plants are about half grown.

Plant potatoes in rows, individual mounds or hills, raised beds, or in containers such as plastic bags, large buckets, or even stacks of used tires with the bottom one filled with soil and the others filled with leaves or straw.

Lower stems which are exposed to sunlight often fail to produce tubers later, so as soon as the plants begin to grow a few inches, pile more loose soil or mulch over the plants so only a few leaves show. Do this every week or so until six or more inches of stem are completely buried. Any potatoes exposed to sunlight may turn green, which can be poisonous.

Harvesting Potatoes

Small early or “new” potatoes can be harvested about three months after planting, or when the plants are in flower. For larger, mature tubers wait until the plants begin to turn yellow, or about four months after planting, at which time any still-growing plants can be cut a few days before harvesting the buried tubers.

Store tubers in a cool, dry, dark area for up to four or five months, checking regularly for decay.

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