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Potato surprises: new colors, shapes, flavors.

Some are rediscovered old-timers, others are brand-new. They're easy to grow. Now's planting time

Take a look at its new colors and shapes and you'll see why the once homely potato is vying for higher status-both in the garden and at the dinner table.

There's no denying that these pink-, purple-, red-, and yellow-skinned beauties-whose flesh, too, is often colorfulhave great visual appeal. But each variety also has a unique texture and flavor; some are smooth and creamy, some rich and lusty (but never mealy).

You'll be pleased by these potatoes' performance in the garden, too. Most shown here are old-timers that have been rediscovered. Selected for their outstanding performance, they produce large, dependable crops under varying conditions.

You may have seen yellow or blue potatoes in restaurants and gourmet markets. But most are new to the home-gardening marketplace (many were introduced by Idaho gardener and seedsman Jan Blum) and hard to find in nurseries. For sources, see page 132.

In five years, Ms. Blum has evaluated a thousand kinds. "A number of them were duds," she But many are wonderful. As supplies increase over the next few years, gardeners will be able to grow more and more unusual and colorful potatoes."

Starting spuds

Potatoes thrive in cool weather. In the lower deserts and mild coastal climates, late winter is prime planting time. In wet or cold climates, wait until early to late spring to set them out.

Most catalogs sell seed potatoes (a few sell tissue-propagated minitubers). You can cut them in half lengthwise (allow to cure for a day or two), but for best results use whole potatoes.

Set potatoes in full sun in soil that's well drained and contains plenty of organic matter. If the soil is full of rich compost, you probably don't need fertilizer. Otherwise, mix in fertilizer before planting; side-dress when tubers are developing.

Set tubers eye sides up about 12 inches apart in 6-inch-deep trenches about 2-1/2 feet apart. Tubers grown for new potatoes can be planted closer-6 inches apart in rows 1-1/2 feet apart.

Once plants reach 4 to 6 inches, begin mounding soil over stems (potatoes develop along the stems). As plants grow, repeat until trenches are full and soil is mounded, then mulch.

Keep the soil evenly moist. Fluctuations cause misshapen tubers.

Harvest with care

Usually, when you harvest potatoes determines how long you can store them. But some varieties naturally store better than others-and new potatoes, dug soon after plants start flowering, must be used fast. To harvest for storage, dig two to three weeks after plants die down; this gives skins a chance to toughen. If plants keep growing, knock them over and cut back on water to encourage maturity (potatoes take four to five months to mature).

Harvest carefully so skins don't bruise, and place unwashed potatoes in a cool area with good air circulation.
COPYRIGHT 1989 Sunset Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:Jan 1, 1989
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