If you are a potato-lover, devote space in the vegetable garden to growing your own. To determine what type of potatoes to plant, learn more about the different varieties. Two popular, widely available and easy-to-grow options are red and russet. Consider the advantages of red potatoes vs. russet to decide which better suits your needs--or grow both!
Red potatoes have red skin and white, yellow or red flesh that is firm, smooth and moist. They come in dozens of varieties including Norland, Klondike Rose, Inca Dawn, Red Cloud, Viking, Rose Gold and Osprey. The many varieties differ slightly in appearance, texture and harvest time, but share general characteristics of the red potato. Russet potatoes are the most widely used potato in the United States. They have brown skin and white flesh that is high in starch. Varieties include Acadia, Butte, Freedom, German Butterball and Innovator. As with the red potato, the dozens of varieties of russet offer somewhat different appearances and growing times but share the general characteristics of the russet.
Red potatoes are best boiled, roasted, in gratins and salads, steamed and scalloped. Russets are ideal for mashing, frying and roasting. When a recipe calls for a specific potato, it is a good idea to use it to achieve specific results. For instance, red potatoes may taste good mashed, but they produce a denser result than russets. And russets make fine potato salad, but may become mealy around the edges, whereas red potatoes are firmer and hold up better to tossing. In addition, reds add inviting color to potato salad when the skins are left unpeeled.
Both red and russet potatoes come in early, mid-season and late varieties. Check your specific variety to determine when to plant. Any variety of either red or russet that is available at your local nursery should be well suited to your local conditions. But be wary of choosing reds or russets from catalogs or the Internet without determining how well a specific variety will adapt to your growing conditions. For instance, commercially, Russet Burbank is the most significant potato grown in the United States, but it does not grow well in most home gardens.
Diseases such as early blight can affect both red and russet potatoes. Early blight is characterized by brown and black spotting on leaves. It spreads rapidly to kill potato crops. Heavy rainfall in early spring can encourage the development of blight. While no varieties of red or russet potato are immune to blight, some are more susceptible than others. Red Norland, a variety of red potato, is highly susceptible to blight and should be avoided in areas where the disease is a common problem.
Experiment with growing both reds and russets in several varieties to determine which you prefer. Seed pieces are often available in bulk; join in with your neighbors to distribute the cost, and let everyone experiment with a few of each type.