The Potato Trial - In Search of a New Potato Variety that Works for Me

Potatoes are one of the easiest, cost effective, beneficial, productive and nutritious vegetables to grow.  But storing the harvest can prove problematic at times and so alternative methods like pressure canning and freezing have to be used to preserve the harvest.  However, if conditions are right the potato will store for months with little to no degradation of the vegetable.  But not many people have the perfect conditions, myself included.  I do not bad, but I do need to store them for upwards of seven months and so I decided in 2023 to trial some new varieties that I would not find in a store in hopes of finding a better storage potato  than what I have.  And, have some fun with it along the way.


The Potato Trial

Like a large majority of society, for me the potato is a must have.  I grew up eating potatoes for most evening meals as it was a great way to “fill you up”, extend a meal to feed more people, it was recognized as being cheap to consume and it provided great health benefits as well as I explore in The Potato - Are Potatoes indeterminate or determinate?.  Although I did tire of potatoes for a while, it wasn't long till it returned as a must have in my diet.  But for many it remains a staple within their diets.  According to the Alliance for Potato Research & Education article, they state that “According to What We Eat: NHANES 2009-2010, Americans ages 2 and older eat a daily average of 0.35 potatoes.”, and that “According to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, the average Canadian eats 71 kilograms of potatoes a year. This translates to 0.43 pounds of potatoes per person per day, which is the equivalent of about a medium potato a day.”  I wasn't really surprised that Canadians eat more potatoes than Americans because what vegetable can be produced easily, in a short period of time and store well for our lengthy Canadian winters.

But therein lies the question for me as to which varieties store the best whilst providing the best texture, flavor and usefulness.  Although all potatoes can be used interchangeably for frying, boiling or baking, certain types of potatoes are better suited for certain applications in the kitchen.  Generally speaking, the higher the starch content the better storage you will have and the better the potato is for deep frying and baking.  Lower starch potatoes do not store as long but make a better boiled potato.  For a quick reference on which types of potatoes are ideal for which type of cooking technique, the article A Guide to Potato Types and Uses by The Spruce Eats provides the following reference:

  • Baking: Russet, long white, Peruvian
  • Boiled: New potatoes, round red, white
  • Fried: Russets and white
  • Roasted: New potatoes, russets, Peruvian, long whites
  • Mashed: Russets, long white, yellow


The Potato Trial - Context

However, for me the ability of the potato to store in my total dark sand floored cellar which has an average winter temperature of around 19 C (66 F) and a humidity of around 40% dictates the variety I grow and ultimately store.   Because of these factors, over the years I have settled on growing a determinate variety called Red Norland because it gives me early potatoes for boiling, roasting and such, but it does not store well and is usually soft and shriveled by Christmas time, about 2 - 3 months after harvest.  I also plant a mid season variety called Purple Viking that leans towards being indeterminate in growth habit, it typically produces well and has a creamier texture with less starch and stores quite well into April.  Although it typically produces well, it can get fairly large and become hollow as a result which can affect it's storage ability.  The last variety that I currently grow is an old school (pre 1995 seed) indeterminate variety called Netted Gem, which is similar to the Russet, that typically produces extremely well but can produce very irregular shaped potatoes often times with side potatoes growing off a main tuber. With it's high starch content it stores into May, or longer, and it is good for boiling but can be a bit drier.  It's high starch content makes it great for canning but multiple clear water baths to remove starch is necessary.  It is also great for freezing for fries and wedges. 

On the surface it would seem that I am already storing varieties that grow well for me. So why would I want to do a Potato Trial? I totally get that having to remove shoots after a couple months, usually February or March, is something I need to do to extend the firmness and storage of the early and midseason varieties.  

The Potato Trial - sprout growth - March 2024

After sprout removal, there is nothing wrong with the potatoes and it will give me a little bit longer of effective storage.

The Potato Trial - sprout growth removed - March 2024

I also get that that because of variety choice, I need to start processing all the potatoes by end of March or into April to avoid loosing them all because they are too shriveled and start turning black inside.  And finally, I also realize that because of variety choice at the moment, removing the sprouts that have developed again by the end of April or beginning of May is all part of it so that the sprouts are not too long for planting season. Typically, the end of May and even into the first days of June. 

But I can't help but wonder if there are varieties out there that would store as well, or better, that would give some more interest and flexibility in usability due to the color and texture.  Although developing my storage to be better suited for potato storage is something I am working on, it won't be perfect.  And so, the variety is key I feel as it is something I can affect without having to spend a ton of money on proper humidity and temperature storage.   And besides, it would be interesting to experiment with a few of the over 4,000 varieties that exist in the world.

So after doing some research and considering the Yukon Gold, a Canadian developed potato, which is typically sold locally in the spring I decided against it because of problems I had been told about regarding storage, growth and texture.   My research led me to an Alberta company called Earth Apples, that had some very unique varieties to try.  With my criteria of storage ability, production, texture and uniqueness in mind, I decided on:

  • Purple Magic which is an indeterminate purple potato with a white border that is high in anthocyanins and is stated to store for up to 5 months at 6 C (42.8 F);
  • Red Ammalie which is a fingerling variety with reddish pink flesh that is said to contain high antioxidants, but only stores for 4 months at 6 C (42.8 F).


The Potato Trial - Planting

With the seed potatoes from the three varieties I have grown for years and the two new varieties in hand, I planned to plant some in part of the garden with new soil and part of the potatoes in the old garden bed. It was the year to expand my garden.  

The Potato trial - garden expansion - June 2023

With the garden ready to go and the soil being warm, I set to work planting the potatoes on June 14, 2023.  First thing I do on planting day is to gather the seed potato and go through them cutting the larger potatoes into smaller pieces containing at least two eyes.  The eyes are the spot on the potato where the sprouts will come off of to make the new plant.  A smaller seed potato I will leave whole unless I am short on a specific variety.  Although a lot of growers recommend leaving the cut potatoes to callus over, I do not do this as I don't find the extras step to be required in my soil.  As well, I don't need to chit my potatoes as they are usually quite sprouted when I bring them out of  the cellar.  To chit a potato simply means to give the seed potato conditions favorable for development of good strong sprouts, which is typically done in a cool well lite location.  Dark conditions such as my cellar result in leggy thin sprouts and so this is why I pull the sprouts off a couple weeks before planting so that smaller sprouts will form.  I do not find planting the seed potato with the long sprouts attached to be a good option.  

With prepared potatoes in hand, I dig a hole with my hoe that is 4 - 6 inches (10 - 15 cm) deep and spaced about 12 - 16 inches (30 - 41 cm) apart with rows set about two feet (0.61 m) apart.  After placing the seed potato in the hole, cut side down, I cover it with the removed soil and lightly press down the soil.  This may seem to be a little intensive for a potato patch to be planted but I intensively plant my entire garden so the rows are only wide enough apart to allow for minimal weeding and in the case of the potatoes, hilling.  The row closeness effectively makes a full canopy that helps cover the earth and therefore decreases evaporation and weed growth.  It is very similar to the Back to Eden method I discussed in Achieving a Permaculture Design Principle with the Back to Eden Gardening method but with a different methodology.  The goal is the same though - cover the earth. 

By the time I had the potatoes in the ground I had put in 114 hills split between the 5 varieties with the Purple Viking, Netted Gems and Red Norland being partially planted in the new part of the garden which was very high in horse manure.  By July 29 they were looking okay and had been hilled once by drawing up the dirt around the stems of the potato plant as high as I could get without burying the plant, usually somewhere around 6 -10 inches (15.24 - 25.4 cm), depending on the plant.  Although a noticeable difference could be made between the planted in the new soil and the old soil they were still growing okay.   Left row was new soil and top half of rows two and three were in the old soil.

The Potato Trial - potato patch - July 29 23


At this time, the Netted Gems I planted in a five gallon bucket on June 14 and added soil as tops grew 6 inches (15 cm) had already reached outside the bucket.  I wanted to see what I would get from the harvest.  I had just finished dusting my brassicas with diatomaceous earth and included the old potato duster in the picture. However, I did not have to use it for Colorado Potato Beetle at all as none were noticed on my plants. I do quite a bit of container gardening as I explore in How to container garden.

The Potato Trial - container grown potato - July 29 23

By September 2, 2023 the potato patch was certainly full and looking good.

The Potato Patch- Sept  2  2023

However, it was to be short lived.  Temperatures dropped and the first frost struck on September 14, 2023.  Although it was not a killing frost and the weather turned nice again after that, the potatoes really were not growing.  The frost and shorter day hours was triggering them to start toughening up the skins for storage, to cure.  With my cellar as it is, I like to leave root crops in  the ground as long as I can.  But finally, on October 9, not wanting to push it much further and be forced to dig potatoes in a snow storm, I made the decision that it was time to harvest.  Digging potatoes in the snow is not fun, this I know.

The Potato Trial -  harvesting potatoes - October 9 2023


The Potato Trial - Harvesting and Storage

If possible, I prefer to harvest the potatoes when the soil is dry and then leave them for an hour or two to sit and dry in the garden.  On occasion though I have had to dig them wet and then lay them out on sheets in my house or put them on the veranda to dry.  But I will say that letting them dry in the garden is my preference.  

Although I planted 114 hills in total, I was only able to harvest from 40 hills of Netted Gems, 14 hills of the Red Ammalie, 22 hills of the Purple Viking and 15 hills of the Purple Magic.  I was not planning on putting in any Red Norland but 4 hills volunteered in other areas of the garden from potatoes I missed in 2022.  In total 95 hills of potatoes was harvested.  The remaining hills just did not come up, due in part to the new soil.

Although the harvest of  Purple Viking, Netted Gems and Red Norland were less than normal because of the site conditions, coupled with the new varieties, the potato patch still generated 151.34 Kg (333.6 pounds) of potatoes made up of harvest by variety as follows:

  • Netted Gem - total harvest from 40 hills of 59.1 Kg (130.3 pounds) or 1.472 Kg (3.26 pounds) per hill;
  • Red Ammalie - total harvest from 14 hills of 28.4 Kg (62.6 pounds) or 2.0286 Kg (4.47 pounds) per hill;
  • Purple Viking - total harvest from 22 hills of 15.4 Kg (33.95 pounds) or 0.7 Kg (1.5 pounds) per hill;
  • Purple Magic -total harvest from 15 hills of 47.84 Kg  (105.5 pounds) or 31.89 Kg (7 pounds) per hill;
  • Red Norland -  total harvest from 4 hills of 0.6 Kg (1.3 pounds) or 0.15 Kg (0.33 pounds) per hill.

These yields did not include the approximately 2.27 Kg (5 pounds) of baby potatoes I gathered from all the varieties.  They will be blanched and frozen.

The Potato Trial - small potatoes - Oct 9 2023

In addition, the total harvest did not include the couple pounds of smaller type Netted Gem potatoes grown in the five gallon bucket that I harvested on September 24, 2023.  It was a small harvest but in truthfulness, I did not stay on top of watering and/or fertilizing.  So really not a surprise.

The Potato Trial - five gallon bucket harvest - Sept 24 2023

While harvesting this crop, I did notice a few noteworthy things:

  • The Red Ammalie had a tendency to have more small potatoes along the stem where the stem made contact with the ground;
  • The Red Ammalie large potato to small potato ration leaned to the smaller;
  • The Purple Magic despite being planted in the older soil and no potatoes were planted in that spot for years, were covered in Potato Scab.  As the University of Wisconsin- Madison explains in the article Potato Scab, “Potato Scab is caused by the bacterium Streptomyces scabies.  This bacterium is related to certain bacteria that produce antibiotics used to treat human diseases.  S. scabies occurs naturally in many soils, from soils with high organic matter content, to coarse and gravelly soils that tend to dry quickly.”.  Although the seed potatoes were spotless when I planted them and I have not had Potato scab in years, high manure content has been known to cause Potato Scab. So perhaps this is what caused it;
  • No other potato varieties had Potato Scab;
  • Purple Magic potatoes were more clustered around the central stems;
  • The Netted Gem and Purple Viking were smaller in individual potato size than normal, primarily due to soil;
  • The skins on all varieties were good and solid indicating that I had left them the right amount of time before digging.  I have dug potatoes before where the skins are easily removed but one has to be very gentle when putting them in storage and allow them to cure/dry well before putting them in the potato bin.

With the potatoes harvested  and dried, they were carried to the cellar and dumped into the slotted bins.  Because potatoes like to sweat when they come in from outside into my house, I put a fan on them for a week to help evaporate any moisture that may develop as they acclimate to the cellar temperature where they will remain for the next six to seven months.  And I started using them.


The Potato Trial - Findings

I had planned on using the low starch potatoes first as I always do and start interspersing the new varieties.  After all, how they stored was part of what I wanted to find out.  But I certainly got a surprise within a month of harvest, the Red Ammalie started going soft and within two months, started growing small sprouts.  I quite liked the denser, creamier texture and taste of the Red Ammalie and you certainly can't beat the nice color it brings to the plate, whether boiled or fried.  But unfortunately, this one factor will eliminate it from its use as a storage potato.  By end of April, most of the potatoes had shriveled, turned hard and had heavily sprouted despite the sprouts being removed a month earlier.  Some may still be useable for eating but I won't be preserving many, if any, of them.

The Potato Trial - Red Ammalie - April 25 24

The Purple Magic have stored quite well and only started to sprout around the same time as the Purple Viking and have only started to regrow sprouts as of the end of April.  But interestingly, I noticed that the smaller ones that made it into the bin turned hard around February and the larger ones, although there is the odd hard spot on some of the potatoes, which I assume is from where they were attached, they are keeping well.  I quite enjoy the interest the color brings to a plate of fried potatoes and the added health benefits from the purple potato.  But as a boiled potato I found that they broke apart easily and although they tasted fine, the purple hue was a little much in mashed potatoes for some. I am not sure how they will can up and may just end up freezing them instead.   

The Potato Trial -  Purple  Magic -April 25 24

The Purple Viking are storing well as they have for me in the past.  With my limited crop, I did not use many of them. But they are certainly edible at the end of April. They have just started to sprout again.

The Potato Trial - Purple Viking - April 25 24

The Red Norland, as expected, were past their prime shortly after Christmas. They did store better than the Red Ammalie though.  Once they passed their prime I quit using them and left them to plant in the spring for early potatoes as I always do. They are just starting to sprout again at  the end of April and although quite shriveled, I could certainly use them in a pinch.

The Potato Trial - Red Norland - April 25 24

The Netted Gems as usual were the troopers.  They are still as solid as the day I put them in the cellar and have barely started to sprout for the first time at the end of April.  They will be canned and/or frozen to preserve them later  and will be eaten even further into spring, perhaps until the first potatoes make an appearance.  They do turn black inside as they get older so every year is a little different how long that will be.

The Potato Trial - Netted Gems - April 25 24


The Potato Trial - What's New for 2024

When I review the results of the 2023 garden year, I am pleased with the extra potatoes I got from the new varieties and although I won't be planting any number of the Red Ammalie I am still thinking of putting in a few of the Purple Magic just to see if the Potato Scab was a one off or if it is now in my soil.  I am thinking it is the former.  If I do plant them again in any amount, it will be in a different area of the garden, that's for sure.  I am also thinking it might be a good variety to try in the five gallon pail container garden.

But I have already planted some of the five varieties I grew in 2023.  I planted them on October 10, 2023.  That's right, a fall planting.  I had seen a couple folks that were planting their potatoes in the fall and it made me think about the ones that  I had come up in 2023 from 2022 potatoes I missed.  To see if it will work, I decided to plant two hills of each of the varieties and I'll see what happens this spring and summer.  If it works, I will have some very early potatoes.  As of the end of April, nothing had come up yet but the snow from a late winter storm had just melted too. So only time will tell.

The Potato trial - fall planting 2023

But if it does work, and I get early potatoes, I will only plant enough for fresh eating in the future.  For storage, I need to take them as long as possible into the fall and so they will be planted in the spring when the soil has sufficiently warmed.    However it would seem that the indeterminate varieties will continue to grow into the fall, thus possibly producing more and/or larger potatoes per hill.  Will have to play it by ear.

But for the 2024 Potato Trial, I decided to try four new varieties which I again ordered from Earth Apples.  The new varieties I will be planting along side my three tried and true varieties are:

  1. Melody - an indeterminate great container or garden variety that matures in 100 - 110 days.  Yellow mealy flesh that makes it good for boiling, mashing and baking. Excellent long term storage of 7 months at 6 C (42.8 F);
  2. Rosemarie - an indeterminate fingerling that grows well in pots, containers and in the garden maturing at 80 - 90 days.  Pink flesh that is described as having a moist waxy texture with a buttery, slightly tart, taste that makes it ideal for oven roasting, boiling or steaming.  Will keep for 4 months at 6 C (42.8 F);
  3. Alaska Bloom - an indeterminate variety that produces large evenly round potatoes with high yields in 90 -105 days. It is described as having a moist, slightly waxy texture with a subtle sweeter taste. It works well for boiling, baking, scalloped or for home-made hash browns. Will store for 5 months at 6 C (42.8 F);
  4. Lady Amarilla - an indeterminate variety that produces longer elongated potatoes in 90 - 105 days.  This yellow fleshed variety is excellent for making home-made fries and chips. Even after long term storage, the frying qualities will remain consistent and produce good quality fries.  It's floury texture makes it good for baked potatoes as well.  Will store for 7 months at 6 C (42.8 F).

Although not part of this trial, I will be trying to grow sweet potatoes again.  I had tried them in the past but I only produced a small number of one inch diameter tubers.  Although it was interesting, I only tried it for a couple seasons.  But recently I learned about the Covington Sweet Potato variety and was able to source it from T & T Seeds.  T & T Seeds describe this variety as an improved early variety that will mature in about 100 days.  It is said to have bright orange flesh with beautiful, deep rose colored skin.  I am excited to give them a go!!


The Potato Trial - Final Thoughts

There are definitely some prospects for the 2024 potato patch and barring any kind of natural disaster, I should end up with a good potato harvest that is sure to save me money over buying them in the store.  Barring that, at the very least, I should have a nice variety of organic colorful potatoes that I could not buy in the store.  But as I explored in Does Gardening Save Me Money - A Year In Review, last year's harvest of 151.34 Kg (333.6 pounds) saved me approximately $832.37 CDN ($609.42 USD) so I would expect that the 2024 harvest should save me about the same amount of money.  That, in my opinion, is worth the effort.

I may not have found a better storage variety in 2023 than what I have been planting for years.  And so I will continue to plant Red Norland,  Purple Viking and Netted Gems until I do find one equal or better.  Maybe I will find one or more in 2024.

I hope you found this information to be useful and that you consider planting your own garden, however small, not only for the produce but also for the benefits that gardening provides.  Please consider joining the My Boreal Homestead Life community.  By supplying your email address at the bottom of the page and hitting "sign up" or by clicking Join the community, you will ensure you get an email notification when I post new blogs to the My Boreal Homestead Life site.

Thank you for joining me on the front porch of My Boreal Homestead Life as we explore this Homegrown, Homestead life, In a Modern World.


Additional Resources

The Potato Trial - 2023 trial - pinterest














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