Look for early-, mid-, and late-season potato varieties to stretch out your harvest. Early potatoes are ready to harvest about 65 days after planting — perfect for summer potato salads. Midseason varieties mature in 75 to 80 days, and late ones take 90 days or more to harvest. The later varieties keep longer in storage.
Potatoes are also roughly divided into baking and boiling varieties. Baking potatoes have drier, more mealy-textured flesh; boiling potatoes are moist and waxy. Look for colorful varieties such as All Blue, All Red, and lavender-skinned Caribe.
If you're looking for something new to try, plant some fingerling potatoes. These varieties produce long, slim, tasty tubers and tend to yield more per pound planted than regular potatoes. My favorites include Russian Banana, which has yellow flesh and skin, and French Fingerling and Rose Finn Apple, which have pink skin and yellow flesh.
✓ Planting: Potatoes are another cool-season root crop that can be planted a few weeks before your last frost date. They grow rather unpretentiously and without much maintenance until late summer, when you dig the roots. Potatoes grow best in loose soil that hasn't been amended with fertilizer. Too much nitrogen fertilizer in particular can lead to poor tuber formation.
Purchase seed potatoes (small tubers), cutting the largest ones into smaller pieces with at least one "eye" or bud. Avoid planting supermarket potatoes, because they may have been sprayed with a sprout inhibitor. (Store-bought organic potatoes are okay to plant.) Place them in 1-foot-deep trenches about 1 foot apart. Fill in the trench with soil as the plants sprout and grow, eventually mounding or hilling around the tops of the plants with soil, as shown in Figure 13-3. Hilling the soil around the plants allows the roots to form more potatoes, kills weeds, and protects the tubers from the light. Tubers exposed to light turn green and have an off flavor.
Never store potatoes and apples near one another. Apples give off ethyl-ene gas, which causes potatoes and other vegetables to spoil.
✓ Pests and diseases: The Colorado potato beetle is the most famous pest. This yellow- and black-striped beetle lays orange eggs on the undersides of leaves; these eggs hatch into voracious orange-red larvae that devour potato and eggplant leaves. Handpick the adults and crush the eggs. Spray Bt san diego to control the larvae.
Wireworms tunnel into potato tubers, causing them to rot. They're a problem mostly in new gardens created from lawns.
Fungal diseases, such as potato scab and blight, can ruin a crop. Your first defense is to buy resistant varieties. Control potato scab by lowering the soil pH to below 6, and avoid using manure fertilizer. Control blight by planting your potato crop in a new place every year, buying certified disease-free tubers, mulching, and keeping weeds under control. See Part III for more information on managing pests and weeds.
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