A potato doesn't come from the garden with a nutrition label, but it should. With more potassium than a banana and only 110 calories, a medium-size potato has no fat, cholesterol or sodium. It's no wonder that more gardeners are turning to the potato as a crop for the home garden. These natural sources of vitamin C -- 45 percent of the USDA daily requirement -- come in a vast number of varieties. Whether you want new red potatoes for a barbecue or a large harvest for winter storage, a wide variety of seed potatoes are available for the home gardener. There is at least one cultivar that meets your potato growing needs.
Early Potato Varieties
Do not confuse early potatoes with new potatoes. A new potato is one that has not grown to maturity. The flesh is very tender and the potato does well when boiled. Early potatoes reach maturity earlier in the year than other potato varieties. These potatoes are used for salads, boiling, mashing and frying. Some early varieties include "Norland" and "Yukon Gold." Both are excellent for boiling and mashing. "Yukon Gold" is good as a baking potato and stores well. Other early varieties with versatile uses are "Sierra Rose" and "Sierra Gold." The seed potatoes for all potato varieties should be cured for seven to 10 days after cutting so the tubers do not rot in the ground. You can plant early potatoes as soon as the soil temperatures reach a minimum of 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Early potatoes set tubers about 55 to 70 days after planting.
The mid-season potato varieties set tubers a few weeks later -- about 70 to 90 days. "Gold Rush" and "Kennebec" are two varieties that boil and fry equally well. The white flesh makes them perfect for mashing. Other mid-season potato varieties include "Adirondack Blue" and "Adirondack Red," with flesh that is the same color as the name. These potatoes are good for salads and specialty dishes where you need a quality potato and added color.
Late Potato Varieties
Once the picnics and reunions are over, you need a potato that stores well. The late-season potatoes are harvested at 90 to 110 days. These potato varieties include "Green Mountain" and "Desiree" that will fry, mash and boil well. Many produce large tubers for baking, such as "Canella Russet" and "German Butterball". All potatoes need two to three weeks of drying before you package them for winter storage. Simply set the freshly dug potatoes on a bench or table, out of the direct sunlight and turn them once a day. The skin callouses and protects the tender flesh.
Potatoes for Small Spaces
It doesn't take a big garden space to grow a large potato crop. A 5-gallon bucket or large trash can yield enough potatoes for quite a few dinners. Be aware that there are determinate and indeterminate varieties of seed potatoes. The former grows to a certain height and sets tubers, while the latter sets tubers while the vine continues to grow. If you live in an apartment and can only grow on a patio or deck, choose a late-season seed potato variety, such as "Ranger Russet" or "Russet Burbank" to grow in a container. Plant the potatoes and as the vine grows, add soil so the stem is covered and the top leaves are exposed. Once the container is filled with soil, allow the vine to grow and flower as normal. When the vine turns yellow and dries, you can harvest the potatoes.