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Potatoes | New World Seeds & Tubers

Mashua harvested 11-13-2011

We’ve got a few a few late-breaking items listed including a couple of exotic Andean tubers, 5 new potato listings, and 9 new tomato listings. We realize that it’s late for tomatoes for most of you, but we’re glad to get them listed at all after we almost weren’t able to get anything listed at all this year.

We can ship tubers only to US destinations. Seeds worldwide to most destinations.

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Just got off the phone with Tom. He mentioned an inquiry from a garden writer who is calling “blue” tomatoes “purple”.

I always thought they were purple. Eggplant purple.

A long time the potato industry decided that purple potatoes were “blue”. I suspect it’s the prevailing prejudice against “purple”.

Purple strikes people as being sort of a gaudy color…something little girls like, then when they become adults they don’t want to admit that deep down, they still like the color purple, which is a secondary color, but instead have to put on this false persona that only likes color fashionably well beyond tertiary like “taupe” and “mauve”, or better yet, colors we don’t have words for so you have to name something of a similar hue like “wheat” and “periwinkle”.

They then think they can cover up the whole sordid purpleness business by covering it up linguistically. It’s not purple, it’s “lavender”.

Talk about denial.

I often wonder how many people who refer to purple as “lavender” have ever seen lavender, which is usually a grey shade of blue.

“Blue” potatoes vary, probably according to the pH of the potato since it’s all the same pigment. Typically they’re purple just like an old-fashioned sweet potato before someone decided sweet potatoes should be orange or yellow not purple. But the purple ones are popular in Asia where they call them “ube”.

I think another issue is a longing for blue–which by the way is a primary color, but lacking particularly many blue receptors in our eyes, it doesn’t strike us as being particularly flashy. People long for blue, so they imagine it where it is not, like in Violets (and potatoes and tomatoes…).

Being the Johnny-come-lately of colors, blue is rare in flowers. Forget-me-nots are one of the few I can think of off the top of my head that are particularly common. Delphiniums can be blue. It seems like Iris should come in blue but they don’t really–though they have many close relations in the southern hemisphere that do. Blue seems commoner in the flora of the southern hemisphere than of the northern.

I come from a part of the world where true blue flowers exist–typically up in the mountains where we have Sapphire blue Gentians and sky-blue Penstemmons. We also have all sorts of exotic imports in our gardens like Cypellas, Meconopsis, Libertias, Dianellas (the flowers are blue; the berries are PURPLE), Pasithea coerulea, and one of my favorites, Tecophilea cyanocrocus, that I could just stare at all day, sighing.

What do you think? Are “blue” tomatoes blue or purple? What about blue potatoes?

…Roses are red and violets are purple
Sugar is sweet and so is maple surple
I was the seventh out of seven sons
My pappy was a pistol
I’m a son of a gun.
–Roger Miller

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One of our customers posted this on Facebook:

Everett man obsessed with better tomatoes and potatoes

Wagner’s name is surprisingly little-known in the broader food-loving community. To those in the know, though, he’s a legend: On one random day’s check, the site where he sells his seeds (http://www.newworldcrops.com/wp/) was being browsed by a Dane living in Poland, by an American stockpiling his own end-of-the-world seed bank and by 100-plus others. And at age 65, Wagner hasn’t slowed down. “To me,” he says, “what I’m doing is like a preacher man who gets a calling and serves the Lord.”

I knew about the article but had not seen it; I don’t subscribe to the Seattle Times.

The Zebra’s fame spread in part due to Alice Waters of Chez Panisse, who listed it as one of her favorites. Wagner has other notables, says Goldman, like the elongated, zigzagged Casady’s Folly, or the globe-shaped Green Grape. But he’s never attempted to license them. Wagner doesn’t make a dime from sales of his varieties unless they’re ordered through his own tiny company, and other seed-growers have been able to work with them.

“He’s just been incredibly generous . . . allowing interested gardeners and amateurs to take these and run with them,” Goldman says. “I’m just truly grateful to him for leaving these in the public domain.”

So be sure to buy them from the source, and patronize his (this) website, so that he can afford to keep sharing them! Thanks!

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In the sunbelt states, in USDA zones 8-10, it is possible to plant potatoes in late summer for an autumn harvest, or in frost-free climates, even late autumn for a late winter harvest. In some of the hotter states, this is the best time of year to grow potatoes, and possibly the only opportunity.

This only works in the southern states (including the southwest); in a Pacific Northwest zone 8 or 9 you would find that if late blight (or, in recent years, early frost!) didn’t kill them, they’d stop growing anyway in November for lack of enough sun. This only works where autumn days are not too short and too cloudy, and where late blight is not a problem.

First, you need some potatoes that have been kept refrigerated. Potatoes harvested earlier in the year probably won’t be able to break dormancy on time, though this depends on the variety. To make sure they break dormancy, you might want to put the “seed” tubers in a paper bag with a ripening apple or banana.

Unfortunately we don’t have refrigeration facilities for storing our potatoes, and worse, the big companies that do don’t usually plan for potato sales late in the year. The good news is that I’ve been able to locate a few. I suggest ordering them NOW before they run out completely.

Burpee still has 4 varieties left:



Potato, Russet Norkotah 1 Pack (10 mini tubers)



Potato, Cal White 1 Pack (10 mini tubers)



Potato, Yukon Gold 1 pack (10 mini tubers)



Potato, Red Lasoda 1 Pack (10 mini tubers)

Here are some discount codes you can use to save money when you check out, BE SURE TO ENTER THEM:

Shop Burpee.com now through August 31st and get $15 off all orders of $75 or more with code LSFL8. Shop Now!

Shop Burpee.com now through August 31st and get FREE SHIPPING on all orders of $50 or more with code LSAG1. Shop Now!

Shop Burpee.com for $5 off your order of $30 or more with code LSAG5 now through August 31st

You’ll need some either all-purpose or vegetable fertilizer, and unless your soil is naturally rich in calcium, you’ll probably want to add a little lime too to keep the potato tissues firm and prevent rotting.

I can’t find any lime on the Burpee site, but Gardener’s Supply has it

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In case you’re wondering, no, it’s not photoshopped. If it were, I probably would have shifted the yellow to green on the leaves while I was at it so they didn’t look a bit chlorotic. I don’t remember them being chlorotic; more likely it’s the light and the fact you’re looking at the undersides of the leaves. Oddly, potato plants that bear tubers with intense yellow flesh look that way normally. Anyway, the tubers are about as red on the inside too.

Last spring while we still had potato sampler packs available for sale, we got a lot of special requests for specific colored-flesh potatoes.

Unfortunately, our stocks were low due to a fiasco the previous year. Tom lost a lot of Negro y Azuls and other potatoes that had been mentioned by name in Carol Deppe’s book The Resilient Gardener.

Subject to harvest, this year we expect plenty of not only the colored-flesh potatoes that customers have read about and asked for, but newer varieties fresh out of Tom’s breeding program.

Personally I wonder why there are not as many inquiries for the beautiful violets (more of a reddish shade of purple than the blues, and a little lighter colored) or the beet-red reds as there are for the “blues”. My best guess is that most folks just don’t know about them yet.

We’ve been so busy growing them that I haven’t had the chance to eat any yet. Unlike some of the competing blues out in the market, which tend to have an unpleasantly crumbly texture, Tom has blues with textures anywhere from waxy for making perfect cubes for potato salad, through starchier Russet types, to more “primitive types. Medium to high specific gravity, which means that if you don’t rush harvesting they won’t be watery and shrivel up after cooking like many store-bought potatoes do.

Once I have extras I’m going to experiment with them. I want to know how to best preserve the colors. The pigment is anthrocyanin, the same one as in blueberries. Some of Tom’s potatoes have about as much anthrocyanin as a blueberry! From what I’ve found on the internet, microwaving is the top choice for preserving the color, followed by steaming and baking. I’m wondering if lower temperature would help. The yellows are tough carotenoids; it’s the blues and reds that need some TLC.

What do you think? Any cooks out there who have figured out the best way to preserve the colors in colored-flesh potatoes? We’d love to hear from you.

Additional reading:

A lot of customers asked us about specific potato varieties mentioned in Carol Deppe’s book The Resilient Gardener. There are reasons she mentioned specific varieties, and also specific purposes for them, but Tom has more varieties than she would have had access to, and many of them are very similar.

While Tom appreciates the publicity, the real reason we like the book is because it’s about a topic near and dear to our hearts, and that is, food self-sufficiency. This is one of the few books on the subject that really gets into the heart of the matter. For one thing, she keeps it simple by recommending just 4 strategically-chosen core crops, plus eggs. With just these 4 staple crops, you can get all of the macronutrients (protein, fat, and carbohydrate) you need. Most people in most parts of the USA, and much of Europe, can grow them.

Dr. Deppe likes corn because she is sensitive to wheat gluten. Corn has another advantage though: as is true of most Amerindian crops (there’s a reason we like them), it is very convenient for manual planting, cultivation, and harvesting. The scale of the plant makes it easy. Contrast to wheat, which is backbreaking work to harvest with a cradle scythe.

This is the only book I have read on the topic that is practical instead of purely theoretical. If you are serious about growing your own food, this is a good book to start with. Only $19.77 new, which is a bargain for one of those “keeper” books you’re likely to save for future reference and re-reading.

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We’d like to take this opportunity to thank our customers for a good sales year.

I’ve taken the last of our potato packs offline pending an inventory count, to avoid running out while there are still open orders.

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At long last, the true potato seeds are back online. We’ve got a lot of varieties, so there was a lot of copying and pasting back and forth between this site and the shopping cart site. Now I’m tired and ready for a nap, but I’ve just been reminded that my kids need lunch food for the week, so after shaking off the soporific feeling I’m off to Trader Joe’s.

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Tom packs the potatoes from his apartment and does not have any storage capacity there. We went to fetch some potatoes back in February. Lacking transport other than my old jalopy we were worried about snow on the passes, but thanks to the miracle of webcams broadcasting pass conditions live over the internet, we were able to ascertain that the pass was clear. Daytime temperatures were well above freezing.

I picked up Tom downtown, and we passed Uwajimaya (Japanese supermarket/variety store) on the way back to where the car was parked. I hadn’t had any breakfast yet so we went in to look for something to bring along for the trip. I found some buns filled with red bean paste, and some Asian-style rice crackers–you know, the ones typically flavored with soy sauce and wasabi.

Stevens PassIt was a bright crisp day with a few small cottony clouds against a dazzling blue sky. There were tiny snowflakes over the pass but they didn’t stick and the road was clear. We made good time through the pass and stopped at a rest area nestled in the eastern foothills of the Cascades. That area is fairly picturesque: it has a somewhat southwestern contour to it, its canyons carved by wind and water erosion, and covered in open pine woodlands.

Unfortunately the buns were horribly stale. Tom got a surprise when he bit into the bun and discovered the bean paste. The combination of beans and sweetness was a novelty.

We got our potatoes and stopped in Ellensburg for some lunch. This turned into a challenge as it is not a large city and a lot of the restaurants and cafes we passed were closed. I would hazard a guess the local economy isn’t booming right now. Had to find something that wasn’t too greasy. We passed the local college and admired the old brick romanesque architecture. Ended up having overcooked Chinese buffet.

On the way back we stopped for a few minutes at the pass. I asked Tom to stand for a picture so that I could get the camera set up. When I look up again, I discover that I’m under attack:

Snowball assault

Hard to tell but there’s a snowball in his right hand about to be launched in my direction. But it was all in good fun and I jumped into the next photo.

We got back into the car and headed back to town. I don’t remember what was playing on the radio but it wasn’t to my taste, so I turned it off and, being in a jolly mood, started singing. I often sing while driving or working.  I suggested Tom sing too so we had to find a song we both knew the words to. He suggested “When the saints go marching in”.

To my ears that sounds like a funeral song from New Orleans but we rendered it with some spirit. Tom sings baritone; I sing bass.

Tom fell asleep shortly thereafter which was probably just as well so he didn’t have to worry about the road rage driver who pulled in behind us in Issaquah. I glanced up at my rear-view mirror to look at the late-model luxury sedan that was too close to the rear of my own, to see the driver making rude gestures and flashing her lights at me.

There was really nothing I could have done; there was a car in front of me. She could have gone around but mid-afternoon traffic was getting thick enough she probably didn’t want to weave her way back to the lane she wanted. Maybe I and everybody else in her way was supposed to just pull out of her way. Life must be hard for people who are chronically frustrated by all the idiots in their way.

We lost her in Bellevue and headed back to the park-and-ride where I dropped off Tom and his potatoes. It was a slow ride back home for me, as the streets of his neighborhood were still coated in a thick layer of ice.

That’s not a typical working day for us; that was more like a junket. We’ve got another one coming up shortly, but some real work later this month. Real work is good too and I enjoy it as long as I don’t end up hurting anything, which I usually don’t as long as I build up to it. It’s hard work for two old duffers the younger of whom is 46 and the other one is JUST ABOUT TO HAVE A BIRTHDAY! (Happy birthday ole buddy…).

I’d better go out with my youngest daughter to fetch the goodies I’ll bring on the next trip, which will be the day after the big day. I can’t tell you what he’s getting for his birthday just in case he reads this but you may benefit indirectly. While I’m out fetching the treat to bring on the trip (yow, it’s downpouring as I type this), I’ll mail an order for some rare crop varieties for us to grow out this year, that I think you’ll really like.

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After discussing potato seeds and why I think they are a win-win situation–even if you don’t plant them, the fact that they are there if you need them in the future–it occurred to me that I’d better state the obvious:

Potatoes are Nightshades, and their berries are full of poisonous alkaloids. Don’t eat the berries, and take whatever steps are necessary to prevent children, pets, and livestock from ingesting them.

The alkaloids are bitter, so that you are unlikely to willingly eat enough to kill you.

The whole green part of the plant is somewhat toxic, and the potency varies.

Potato berries don’t even look particularly tempting. They usually ripen green, or sinister shades of off-white, or muddy purples. That’s probably the plant offering your first clue that they’re not for you to eat.

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“Seed potatoes” aren’t seeds; they’re tubers. I’m talking about seeds, not tubers. You can grow some of our potatoes from seed rather like a tomato.

There are a few differences worth mentioning: potato seeds are smaller than tomato seeds, and produce smaller seedlings. Potatoes also have naturally lower germination rates than tomatoes, because they haven’t been artificially selected for immediate germination as tomatoes have.

Why would anybody bother coddling potato seedlings, when it’s so easy to just divide up a tuber to grow more potatoes? The answer is that planting is only one part of the difficulty of growing and maintaining a supply of potatoes. The good news is potatoes are overall an easy crop. But as with many good things there’s a catch: they’re disease-prone.

In fact, I (Rob) was so worried about disease, that when so many of my friends said that I just had to grow potatoes as part of a bigger plan to secure some food resources, I resisted. The potatoes I had grown before meeting Tom were weak, chronically chlorotic, and prone to disease.

Tom brought over some potatoes for me to try the day we met. I got my first big surprise when, to try to squeeze as many hills as possible out of them, cut them into pieces and did a double-take when I saw the flesh colors of 3 of the potatoes he brought over. One was a yellow so deep it looked like a sweet potato, and two were almost black-purple.

But the next big surprise was when they grew. One grew taller than I am (and I’m a big boy), and all of them were fairly big bushy vigorous plants.

It’s not my backyard soil, which is a sour, nutrient-poor sandy loam sadly lacking in humus. The secret is that Tom regularly grows potatoes from seed. As a result, they don’t accumulate viruses. Some of them have hybrid vigor too but that’s beside the point.

Not only does seed not accumulate viruses, but Tom cleans it pretty thoroughly. You can’t clean tubers that well, with the result that the tubers themselves can be disease vectors. The growers try to clean them up but the fields themselves get full of disease.

The way to clean up the fields is not to grow any Solanaceous crops again until the diseases thin out for lack of hosts. But if you’re saving tubers from year to year, how are you supposed to keep the tubers alive while they’re waiting for their next turn in the fields? If you’re a big operation you could move the potatoes to a new field, but if you don’t have much land, you probably simply have to buy new potatoes after the hiatus.

Potato seed simplifies the matter. Not only can you rotate potatoes in and out of a small field, but you can store them just as well for any other reason in a handy, compact form that survives for years. This point had not occurred to me until I started personally trying to help manage the logistics of tuber storage. Imagine if some disaster befell your stored tubers. If that’s all you had, a disaster. If on the other hand you had potato seeds backed up in tough air-tight packaging, it would be like having insurance on your potatoes.

Potato seeds are not only easier to store, but easier to transport than tubers. These facts also cut down dramatically on storage and shipping costs.

Potato field

Potato field nestled in the upper Skagit Valley

Is it worth mentioning a fringe-benefit of seed?

Potatoes that produce seed necessarily produce flowers, unlike most commercial varieties that are virtually sterile. Potato “vines” that bloom are surprisingly ornamental.

What about the drawbacks of seed? It turns out they are fairly negligible compared to the benefits. One of the first one that comes up is not really even a drawback, it’s just a deviation from expectations. People expect potatoes to be clones.

The problem is that being a clone does not guarantee that the variety will remain the same year after year after year; after a while it will be full of viruses and will need to be de-virused.

Another problem is that keeping varieties static is not entirely a blessing. Diseases undergo natural selection for overcoming our weapons against them. Crops that don’t undergo selective forces start to lose the arms race against disease.  Even after you devirus very old varieties you notice they still seem to be disease-prone.

If you think about it many crops are seed-raised and out-breeding. People don’t expect squashes for example to be perfectly uniform. Sometimes they tolerate and even make good use of accidental crosses. So if you grow potatoes from seed you just expect some variation, and do some roguing out. You lose predictability and uniformity but gain the opportunity to select for top quality and vigor.

What about the greater effort needed to raise the seedlings? The only significant drawback here is the infrastructure needed to shelter them. The good news is that relative to the size of the crop they don’t need a huge amount of greenhouse or windowsill space, and they don’t need it for a long time. The time factor isn’t a particularly big deal since they catch up to tuber divisions surprisingly fast. Seed to tubers in a single growing season. The time added to the production cycle is more than compensated by making it possible to grow out faster than by division of tubers.

Tubers have their place, which is why we carry them. Sometimes predictability is an over-riding consideration. Many people will not have the time, facility, or patience for growing out seeds. But the people who buy tubers Tom has raised recently from seed gain some of the benefits of seed-grown potatoes, without having had to raise seedlings.

In the future we might offer a product that combines some of the benefits of seed and tubers: mini-tubers raised from seed. Even easier than full-sized tubers because no need for dividing, with the vigor of seedlings. Not quite the compactness of seed, but you’ll get more plants than from the same weight of full-sized tubers.

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