Potato Varieties and Growing Guide for a Home Garden

One thing we’re known for around our part of Iowa is growing a variety of potatoes, and being able to make sure our customers are choosing the right potato for the right dish! Sometimes you may think Ashley is being nosey at a market asking “What ya makin’?” but it’s all to make sure you get the right ‘tater for the right occasion. Even when we were home gardeners, we grew seven different varieties of potatoes and each has a very distinct purpose in the kitchen and your winter storage! 

Why you should grow or buy local potatoes

While frozen potatoes may seem like a convenient option, most of the time they are loaded with seed oils and other additives that are not something we want on our dinner plates! The nice thing about potatoes is that nature makes them very easy to store and use all winter long! So whether you want to grow your own, or buy locally, storing fresh potatoes can be just as easy as keeping a frozen bag in your freezer. 

Additionally, many commercial potato growers spray potato plants with glyphosate near the end of the season to have a faster and harder kill to the potato plant to toughen the skins of the potato and make the harvest date more predictable. Glyphosate, also known as RoundUp, is used in farming as an herbicide to help manage weeds and crops. The problem is that it has been linked with many health concerns, and toxicities, and can cause cancer. We do not use any chemicals to produce or harvest our potatoes here at Pleasant Grove Homestead, leaving us feeling confident about what’s on our dinner plate– from the seed, in the ground, and to the table! We want you to have this same confidence, whether you buy from us, grow them yourself, or find a neighboring farm! 

Different types of potatoes in a bin

Types of potatoes

Did you know there are actually a lot of different types of potatoes? Not only do they look different, but they also have different textures and starch levels that make them good for different types of uses. Choosing the right type of potato for the right application can make all the difference!

Starchy- Potatoes that are considered starchy are low in moisture, and high in starch. They make excellent french fries! These types of potatoes also tend to break down easily, which makes them good for soups. Starchy potatoes are good at absorbing things like cream and butter, which makes excellent mashed potatoes. The most familiar potato variety is Russet Burbank and a crowd favorite starchy potato for fries is a Kennebec. 

Waxy potatoes- Waxy potatoes are lower in starch and firmer in texture. Their sturdiness makes them great for boiling to be used in potato salads or soups. Because they keep their shape, they also make excellent hash browns. Examples of waxy potatoes include new potatoes, red potatoes, and fingerlings. A really popular waxy potato that everyone loves is Red Pontiac potatoes. 

All-purpose – An all-purpose potato lands somewhere in the middle of starchy and waxy potatoes and does well for almost any dish. The most well-known all-purpose potato is the Yukon Gold. Yukons are great as a mashed potato, in soups, or in potato salads. 

New Potatoes- These are potatoes that are freshly dug from the ground before the season is over. This is usually about June-August in Iowa, and while it’s exciting, you should only dig what you intend to eat that week, as new potatoes do not have tough enough skins to store well. You may test out your new potato yield as soon as you see flowers on your potato plants. You will not harvest your main crop until all the plants are dead at the end of the season. 

Family in front of the potato farm

Our personal method of making it through the year without buying potatoes in Iowa:

We have learned a method that helps us plant, harvest, and store potatoes all year round without having to buy any extra potatoes in the off-season. We love doing this because we are able to enjoy high-quality farm-grown potatoes without needing to supplement them with commercially grown potatoes. Whether you are growing your own potatoes, or want to buy enough potatoes in the growing season from a local farmer, you can use the same methods to store and enjoy your potatoes all year as well! 

March (late March). Almost all potatoes that are in storage and sprouting go into the ground during this time. 

Late June- This is the time to harvest new potatoes: We grow a variety of types with different maturity dates in order to have some that are great for harvesting early, like red Pontiac. We also plant some varieties that we do not dig up at this time like Kennebec and Russet potatoes. We rely on these varieties to eat all winter so do not dig them early as new potatoes.  

potatoes in a mesh bag

August- By August or September all potatoes are dug from the garden. At this point, we sort them into three categories based on storage ability. The first category is for any potatoes that were cut or damaged by the plow/shovel and should be eaten in the first month. If there was a major problem with the plow cutting too many potatoes, we will also can or freeze the potatoes to extend their shelf life. These “eat now” category one potatoes are stored in 5-gallon buckets in our garage to eat quickly.  

Category 2 are potatoes with minor knicks on the skin that will prevent the potato from keeping for longer than 4 months. These potatoes do not need to be consumed the quickest, but they are right after the category one potatoes. 

Category 3 potatoes are the prime candidate for long-term storage that we intend on keeping all the way until February or March to last us through the winter. We will lay them all out flat to dry in the shade in our greenhouse or shop and then store them in large ventilated crates, unwashed, in our basement, in total darkness. We check on them often because one bad potato spoils them all! Keep in mind we grow thousands of pounds of potatoes for ourselves and to sell– so it’s quite the ordeal! 

Through the winter we store our potatoes in crates in our basement in a room that’s entirely dark. The key to making potatoes last is a location that is cool and dark, making a basement the perfect location! While we have experimented with leaving them in the ground all winter, it just doesn’t work in Iowa! 

Growing your own potatoes

If you are interested in homegrown potatoes, we will give you all our best tips and tricks for your home garden. Growing your own at home is not too difficult and it sure beats grocery store potatoes! They are a great crop to have in your own garden because they are something that you can enjoy year-round! 

Sprouted potato

What are “seed potatoes”?

Instead of growing potatoes from seeds like most plants, potatoes are grown a little differently. They are called “seed potatoes” and they are the potatoes that have started to grow little sprouts on them. You’ve probably seen it before, when you leave a potato a little too long and sprouts start growing off it, this is the stage where you can plant them to grow new potato plants. However, it’s not recommended to grow potato plants from ones that you have bought from the grocery store because they could have been sprayed with sprout prohibitors or grown in a different climate. It is best to purchase seed potatoes from local garden centers. However, if you are using potatoes you have grown from home, you can then use those potatoes to get your own seed potatoes to replant! 

Potatoes in crates overhead

How to grow potatoes

Potatoes are one of the easiest crops to grow, so don’t worry too much about the where, when, and how! In general, put a potato that’s sprouted into the ground and dig it up at the end of the growing season! However, if you want to have high yields, below are tips for the ultimate harvest! 

Where to plant potatoes – When choosing where to plant potatoes in your garden, it is important to remember that they need at least 6 hours of direct sunlight per day. They also like acidic soil with well-drained soil and good air circulation. Adding organic matter to your soil can help loosen it and give good drainage. Also, adding compost to your soil can help fertilize the soil and give your potato plants a happy home. Generally, though, most potato varieties will thrive anywhere! 

When to plant potatoes – Potatoes should be planted about two weeks before the last frost date. We plant around late March here in Iowa. If you live somewhere with a warmer climate you can plant potatoes in the late fall or winter for an earlier harvest. Potatoes will be able to sprout if the soil temperature is above 50 degrees Fahrenheit, and you can Google your state and soil temperature {for example Iowa Soil temperature] to see your county’s soil temperature.

How to plant potatoes – To plant the potatoes you’ll want to dig a trench and plant the seed potatoes 6 inches apart and 4 inches deep, with each row three feet apart. Cover the seed potatoes with a few inches of soil and as they start growing, add more soil on top to prevent the potato tubers from being exposed to sunlight. While many sources will suggest cutting each potato into seed pieces with one “eye” per potato, the lazy route works well here– just put the whole potato in the trench and cover it up! There are way less chances of the potato rotting or potato blight if it doesn’t sprout right away, and it saves so much time! 

Harvest time – You’ll know your potatoes are ready for harvest when the leaves start to turn yellow and die. Carefully dig the potatoes up and store them in a cool dark place for longtime storage. Harvest one plant and rub your fingers on the skin. If it rubs off easily, the potatoes may not store well and leave the rest of the plants until more of the plant dies.

What to plant or not plant near my potatoes

Since potatoes are a nightshade, it is best to avoid planting them near other nightshades. This includes tomatoes, peppers, okra, and eggplant. Generally, this is just a best practice suggestion and if you are limited on space– planting potatoes is better than not planting them! 

Potatoes require a fairly long growing season. While this may seem frustrating for a small home garden, make use of planting multiple crops in the same bed! Typically we’ve planted lettuce or green onions and been able to harvest and eat them before the late season potatoes are ready to dig. Keep in mind that some interplanting may impact your ability to dig out early potatoes. 

In Iowa, there’s still enough season left that we can plant some brassicas in the beds where potatoes were growing. We start seeds in July indoors and then plant them in the bed after the potato harvest.

More Gardening Resources

Growing your own food at home is a skill that can take some practice and patience, but is so rewarding! You can find more gardening resources with our best tips and tricks on our blog with the link below. We encourage you to give it a try! If you are new to gardening, a great place to start is with an herb garden. Herbs are really versatile and easy to grow. You can grow them in the ground, or in containers, making them a great choice for those who live in smaller spaces. 

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