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Potatoes, Part One: A Subterranean Bounty

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Starting in the lower left, the large, deep purple potato is an Adirondack Blue, and continuing clockwise, we have Yukon Gold (yellow skin, with waxy yellow flesh), Cheiftan (red skinned and white fleshed), Laratte (a gourmet fingerling variety prized for its nutty taste), Adirondack Red (red skin and flesh), Peter Wilcox (purple skin and yellow flesh), and Mountain Rose ( red skin and pink flesh).
Though it’s still a little early to be digging up potatoes, today we just couldn’t resist. We were rewarded for our impatience by a muddy, subterranean bounty which, when cut into, produced a beautiful testament to potato diversity.
This diversity was hardly accidental. In planning our garden this year, we hoped to try out a number of different potato varieties: rare and newly-developed varieties, fingerlings, and tried-and-true favorites, all with different colors of skin and flesh. Diversity and a sense of adventure aside, all our potato varieties were selected with an eye to their survival on our hill-top farm. This meant that we chose only early- and mid-season maturing varieties, so that the crop would be ready by the end of our short growing season. We also sought out only potatoes that were known to do well in the Northeast, and under organic growing conditions; pests such as the Colorado Potato Beetle or cutworms can be a serious problem for growers that don’t spray pesticides—the former eat the leaves that the potatoes need to grow, and the latter make ugly holes in the tubers themselves.
Like their cousin the tomato, potatoes are susceptible to late blight as well (in fact, this disease was the main cause of the Irish potato famines in the 19th century). It is largely because of this threat that we avoided “Heirloom” varieties proper, though many of our potato varieties were recently created by crossing heirloom and conventional potato genetics.
The beautiful colors of these potatoes are not just decorative, either. The “Peter Wilcox” potato was specifically bred by the USDA to contain high levels of carotenoid antioxidants, and all colored-flesh potatoes may contain higher levels of nutrition than their white-fleshed peers (http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/AR/archive/oct01/potato1001.htm).
 Coming soon… A taste test!
– Rose