9 Heirloom Potato Varieties for Your Garden

different potato varieties

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When the term "heirloom" is used with any plant, it generally refers to a cultivar that has been grown without genetic change for many years. Some plant authorities use 1951 as the date for defining an heirloom variety, since this was when hybridization first became common in horticultural commerce. Others define an heirloom as any variety that has been grown without genetic change for at least 100 years.

With potatoes, most of the varieties now grown as heirlooms were developed in the late 1800s as a response to the great potato blights of the early 1800s. The first half of that century saw many cultivated varieties of potatoes perish, since they had little or no natural resistance to rampant diseases. In response to the loss of this important food crop, botanists traveled to South America in search of the original "wild" potato species. These rediscovered species with natural disease resistance became the breeding stock used to resurrect potatoes as a viable crop worldwide.

These "new" potato varieties developed from the mid- to late-1800s are the varieties now treasured by organic gardeners as heirlooms. They are the genetic parents of nearly all modern potatoes, and they are favorites among today's organic gardeners, who appreciate the connection to history. There is something particularly special about harvesting the same crops that our great-grandparents enjoyed.

Working With Heirloom Potatoes

Heirloom potatoes are a taste of history—the cautious history that followed major catastrophes in the potato farming world—and worth the effort to cultivate for future generations. In order to grow heirloom potatoes successfully, you have to take special care to ensure growing conditions aren’t breeding pests and disease.

  • Keeping beetle grubs off of plants is an early preventive measure. Diseases will be the bigger culprit, though, so make sure to not let them spread.
  • Scab can be prevented in the seed stage by letting seed potatoes turn green in the sun—but only the seed potatoes! Never eat green potatoes.
  • Well drained soil is vital, as excess moisture can harbor disease, and it’s also important to plant varieties within their time frame. Early potatoes need to be out by the time summer picks up or the heat will invite trouble.
  • Remove diseased leaves and vines as soon as you spot trouble, and wash your hands after touching the diseased areas so that you do not spread it to the rest of the plant.

Here are 10 good heirloom potatoes you can grow.

Caution

Like tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers, potatoes are members of the nightshade family of plants. They contain a substance known a solanine, which is dangerous for human consumption. This substance is found in the leaves, stems, and in the green skin of unripened tubers. Never eat a green potato, as it carries toxins and is not edible.

  • 01 of 09

    'Peach Blow' (Solanum tuberosum 'Peach Blow')

    Few heirloom potatoes have survived from before 1850, but this one has stood the test of time. Named for the peach flowers the vine produces, the 'Peach Blow' produces small potatoes with excellent flavor.

    Native Area: South America

    USDA Growing Zones: 4–9

    Height: 12–24 inches

    Sun Exposure: Full sun

  • 02 of 09

    'Rose Finn Apple' (Solanum tuberosum 'Rose Finn Apple')

    Originating in the Andes Mountains,' Rose Finn Apple' is a golden fingerling with rose colored skin. These potatoes are an undeniable taste treat and will keep well in storage. This plant has been in cultivation since the 1840s.

    Native Area: Andes mountains of South America

    USDA Growing Zones: 4–9

    Height: 12–24 inches

    Sun Exposure: Full sun

  • 03 of 09

    'Garnet Chile' (Solanum tuberosum 'Garnet Chile')

    In 1853, this potato was introduced to market by the Reverend Chauncy E. Goodrich of Utica, New York, who selectively bred it from seed stock obtained from Chile. This small, pink potato is excellent for boiling, in salads, or as a garnish potato. It is the ancestor of many subsequent heirlooms.

    Native Area: Mountains of Chile

    USDA Growing Zones: 4–9

    Height: 12–24 inches

    Sun Exposure: Full sun

  • 04 of 09

    'Early Rose' (Solanum tuberosum 'Early Rose')

    Introduced commercially in 1861, 'Early Rose' is one of the genetic parents of the modern 'Russet Burbank' potato. 'Early Rose' has smooth red skin and white flesh. It is a medium-sized potato that is great for mashing or roasting. Along with parenting other varieties, this heirloom has been cultivated largely unchanged since the 1860s.

    Native Area: South America

    USDA Growing Zones: 4–9

    Height: 12–24 inches

    Sun Exposure: Full sun

    Continue to 5 of 9 below.
  • 05 of 09

    'Russet Burbank' Potato (Solanum tuberosum 'Russet Burbank')

    A descendent of 'Early Rose', this is the classic baking potato—it is sometimes called the "potato that built Idaho." It has light brown skin and white, relatively dry flesh. The 'Russet Burbank' began as an 1850s breeding experiment with the potato that would soon be marketed as 'Early Rose'. Today, the 'Russet Burbank' is the most popular potato in North America. You have to be in just the right climate to grow these, however. Loose soil and a Northern climate are a must.

    Native Area: South America

    USDA Growing Zones: 4–9

    Height: 12–24 inches

    Sun Exposure: Full sun

  • 06 of 09

    'Champion'/ 'Early Champion' (Solanum tuberosum 'Champion')

    This potato was introduced in 1881 by B. K. Bliss & Sons Company of New York. It cooks up best when boiled in its skin, and it a very tasty new potato. It has white skin and yellow flesh.


    Native Area
    : South America

    USDA Growing Zones: 4–9

    Height: 12–24 inches

    Sun Exposure: Full sun

  • 07 of 09

    'Early Ohio' (Solanum tuberosum 'Early Ohio')

    'Early Ohio' was introduced in 1875 by the James J. H. Gregory Seed Company of Marblehead, Massachusetts. It was a seedling variation of 'Early Rose', seized upon because it matured earlier and was more prolific than its parent. It is a good potato for northern climates, ripening just after Bliss' Triumph. The roundish tubers have light brown skin, and can grow as large as 12 ounces each.

    Native Area: South America

    USDA Growing Zones: 3–9

    Height: 12–24 inches

    Sun Exposure: Full sun

  • 08 of 09

    'Bliss Triumph' (Solanum tuberosum 'Bliss Triumph')

    'Bliss' Triumph' is a white-fleshed potato, but it is available in red-skinned, white-skinned, and pink-skinned variations. It sprouts quite early, so it should be planted late enough so that it can't be hit by frost. This is a good potato for boiling and making potato salad, but it is somewhat susceptible to blight, since the skins are easily damaged. It matures in 81 to 90 days.

    'Bliss' Triumph' was released about 1878, as a cross between 'Early Rose' and 'Peerless' varieties.

    Native Area: South America

    USDA Growing Zones: 4–9

    Height: 12–18 inches

    Sun Exposure: Full sun

    Continue to 9 of 9 below.
  • 09 of 09

    'German Butterball' (Solanum tuberosum 'German Butterball')

    This potato is an heirloom only in the sense that its grower, David Ronniger of Idaho, bred it from parent species that dated back to pre-19th century Europe. It came to market in 1988, but its decadent buttery flavor makes it likely that this potato will be around for many decades—an heirloom in the making. It is absolutely delicious and worth carrying on for our children and theirs! The tubers are quite large, up to 2 pounds.

    Native Area: South America

    USDA Growing Zones: 3–10

    Height: 24–36 inches

    Sun Exposure: Full sun