Plant an Easy-to-grow, Early Spring Heirloom: All Blue Potatoes

March 7, 2011

These ancient blue potatoes are nutty,robustly flavored and full of antioxidents.

Credit: Photos by Doreen G. Howard
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With thoughts of crisp blue potato skins heaped with bacon bits and melted cheese, I planted my first All Blue potato in 1990. I’ve been hooked ever since. I even eat blue mashed potatoes.

As a kid I hated potatoes. My Mom cooked only mashed potatoes, the consistency of wallpaper paste, with no gravy. Adulthood wasn’t much better; I even avoided French fries. Children changed the equation; I needed to set a positive example. A seed catalog arrived one spring with photos of vivid blue-skinned potatoes. The flesh was blue, too. I thought my son would eat them out of curiosity. I was really projecting my own potato problems, because he already was a French fry and baked potato fan.

All Blue potatoes are probably the most direct descendent of potatoes found almost 10,000 years ago high in the Peruvian Andes mountains. Blue and purple pigments developed as mechanisms to shield tubers from excessive levels of ultra violet light found at high altitudes.

Tubers exposed to direct sunlight turns green, which indicates large amounts of solanine, a compound that sickens humans. All potatoes contain tiny amounts of solanine, but green portions contain toxic amounts. The first potatoes grew in crevices and rocky outcroppings where the soil is very shallow. Developing tubers had only a scant layer of dirt to cover them, so purple and blue pigments evolved over time as a natural sunshade.

Any potato is easy to grow, and All Blues are even easier, as they seem to resist fungal diseases. I place tubers on top of a garden bed that has been enriched with compost and a bit of soil sulfur. Potatoes develop scab in alkaline soils (6.0 to 6.5 pH is ideal), and my ground is 7.2 pH. So I add sulfur to acidify the soil. I use whole tubers, instead of cutting them into chunks, as many gardeners do. I feel I’m avoiding a rot problem, as early spring in my area is cold and wet.

All Blue is just one of the heirloom potatoes I grow.  Red Cranberry and Russian Banana Fingerling are both as colorful and tasty.

After spacing the potatoes about 12 inches apart in every direction, I cover the bed with about a foot of straw. That’s all I do. Other easy techniques are to grow potatoes in a wire cage above the ground or in grow bags.

You can start harvesting baby or “new” potatoes when plants flower. And, yes, their flowers are blue, too!

Blue Potato Tips

  • Plants survive temperatures down to 15ºF with little or no protection. Place a double layer of newspaper over plants when freezes threaten and foliage is still actively growing.
  • Microwave to retain the blue color, or steam potatoes just to the point of tenderness. Baking, boiling and stewing will fade colors slightly.
  • Blue fleshed potatoes have more vitamins and antioxidants than white potatoes. They have as much anti-oxidant power as Brussels sprouts, kale and spinach.

What do you think about the All Blue Potato?  Please share your comments—and any questions—by posting below!

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Doreen Howard has written for The Old Farmer's Almanac All-Seasons Garden Guide for 15 years and is the former garden editor at Woman’s Day as well as a photographer. She has grown more than 300 varieties of heirloom edibles and flowers in the last two decades.

In stores now!

Look for Doreen's newest book, Heirloom Flavor: Yesterday's Best-Tasting Vegetables, Fruits and Herbs for Today's Cook. Find in stores everywhere including Walmart and on the Web including amazon.com.

Comments

I have several varieties of

By Gertrud Bessai

I have several varieties of blue potatoes, including fingerlings - also all red as well as various yellow fleshed ones - round as well as fingerling types. They all taste good! When boiled in skin they retain their colours better and once peeled and served they look very pretty - children love them. the fingerling types tend to be less mealy and make wonderful salads.

where can I buy tubers so I

By pete smith

where can I buy tubers so I can plant,I'm second generation Irish and have'nt met a spud I don't like

At the grocery store,

By Anonymous2

At the grocery store, Walmart, they sell a medley with blue, red skinned ang Yukon gold. They need a little longer to wake up but will grow.

Harris Seeds, Territorial

By Doreen G. Howard

Harris Seeds, Territorial Seed Co. and Jung Seeds & Plants are three catalogs that come to mind. You can find their virtual catalogs on the web and order online.

Those Peruvian Blue Potatoes

By Jim Cowan

Those Peruvian Blue Potatoes look very similar to the Blue Potatoes we grew and ate when I was a child growing up on the West Coast of Newfoundland in the mid 1950's.

porch gardening

By awoods

hello i live in zone 5 and porch garden (i live in an apartment). is it possible to grow these lovlies in my ledge gardening box?

Re: porch gardening

By Doreen G. Howard

Use the grow bags.  They are perfect for patios, balconies and porches.  Just remember to add some lime to commercial peat-based potting mix, so the spuds don't develop scale, which is a rough skin.

I thought lime caused

By Anonymous2

I thought lime caused scabbing. Lime causes the ph to go up not down.

The lime brings the

By Doreen G. Howard

The lime brings the peat-based bagged soil mix to a neutral pH. Be sure to mix it well. Peat is very acid, about 4.5 on the pH scale. Potatoes grow best in neutral PH soil.

Thanks for the ideas!

By JBL55

This year I'll plant the potatoes whole, and I'll test the soil as it's been a few years since I last did that. I tried planting bush beans by my potatoes to ward off bugs, and it may have worked as I had no bugs, but I'd rather plant pole beans and try the neem seed oil instead.

BTW the "grow bag" link didn't work.

Grow Bag Link fixed

By Almanac Staff

 Thanks for letting us know.

Re: Spud bugs!

By Doreen G. Howard

Try spraying the potato foliage with neem seed oil.  It's toxic to beetles, but it won't hurt pets, people or the environment.  You can find the oil at big boxes and independent garden centers.

Neem oil and other neem

By Anonymous12

Neem oil and other neem products such as neem leaves and neem tea should not be consumed by pregnant women, women trying to conceive, or children.

There is some evidence that internal medicinal use may be associated with liver damage in children.

Spud bugs!

By Janice Stillman

I love growing potatoes (including, infamously, in a barrel), Doreen, but have had trouble with beetles when I've tried spuds in the ground. My understanding is that the best remedy is to handpick the insects off of the plants. The problem is, I can't be there all the time. Got a good solution??

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