This section is from the book "The Potato: A Compilation of Information from Every Available Source", by Eugene H. Grubb, W. S. Guilford. Also available from Amazon: The Potato: A Compilation Of Information From Every Available Source.
Avery frequent question asked by amateurs and others is, "What is the best potato?" The answer is that there is no universally "best" potato, but that certain varieties have proved best for certain conditions, and as conditions change, or the varieties change, further changes must be made.
There are hundreds of varieties of potatoes, a large number of them good under certain conditions. This must be determined by experiment and test in the locality in question.
The origin of a number of the leading varieties, showing shape and relative size, is shown on the accompanying " Pharo's Potato Chart." The time of maturity is also shown, EE meaning Extra Early; E, Early; Med., Medium, and L, Late.
Practical results seem to indicate that when potatoes are grown under favorable conditions (such as the mountain districts of Colorado, Idaho, and other parts of the West), and when cultural methods are good, they do not "run out" and deteriorate.
Lack of care in selecting seed true to type, use of small whole seed and small cut seed, and storage under conditions that lessen vitality, tend to weaken the plant and the strength and size of root system, all of which result in lessened vitality and an inferior "run out" product.
It is generally considered that seed grown at high altitudes or well north is superior to lower altitude or southern seed. One reason for this is that the frost checks late growth and the tubers do not fully mature. Partially matured seed keeps better and makes stronger growing plants that are less liable to disease.
The potato is not propagated commercially from a seed, but from a cutting from the tuber, the tuber being an enlargement of an underground stem. Potatoes grown from the true seed ball of the potato do not reproduce true to type.
An interesting discussion of seed and varieties is contained in "Potatoes," a lecture delivered by Arthur W. Sutton before the Royal Horticultural Society and reprinted by permission from that body and Mr. Sutton. An extract follows:
There is a misunderstanding arising from the fact that 'seed potatoes' and 'potato seed' are sometimes regarded as synonymous terms. 'Seed potatoes' are grown from perfectly true and reliable stocks, the crops being carefully examined year after year with the special object of insuring the perpetuation, unmixed, of any given variety. Frequently the tubers of an ordinary crop, which are too small for market, are kept back for planting, and dignified with the title 'Seed Potatoes.'
I need scarcely remind you that potatoes are mere enlargements of underground stems, shortened and thickened, in which starch is stored up in smaller or larger proportion according to the characteristics of the several varieties. Like other underground stems, the tubers possess buds or eyes, from which, by fresh shoots, the pliant is capable of redevelopment; and although the tubers may be preserved through the winter for planting again in the following spring they are neither more nor less than portions of the plant which died down and apparently ceased to exist in the previous autumn. Hence the life of a single potato plant may be prolonged year after year until through weakness or deterioration it comes to an end.
A chart showing origin of potato varieties. The letters following the names refer to time of ripening: EE - Extra Earlv: E - Earlv: Med. - Medium: L - Late (Use a strong glass to show names of varieties).
A Burbank potato. Illustration autographed by Mr. Burbank to show his approval of the type. Of it he says: "I find it is the best photograph of the variety and really represents it the best (as it usually grows in good soil) of any I have seen. It certainly meets with my approval".
Potato seed, on the other hand, is totally distinct in every way, being the seeds formed in the potato berries which some, though not all, varieties of potatoes bear freely. A berry may contain from 100 to 300 seeds, the average of five berries examined being 232, and as the parent plant appears able to control but slightly the distinctive character of its progeny, and as all the different seeds from one potato berry may produce plants differing from one another, not only in form, but many of them in color also, it is here we find the great possibilities for improving the race by selection of the better seedlings. Even if no cross-fertilization of flowers was attempted, great improvement might be made by the selection of the most promising seedlings during the first few years of their existence; but where judicious crossing of the best known varieties is undertaken, we can in a great measure combine in some of the resulting seedlings the merits of both male and female parents, although even then no two seedlings from the same berry may be exactly alike.
Those who attempt to raise seedling potatoes must possess abundant patience. Like many other species which are not habitually multiplied by seed, the potato has a remarkable tendency to revert to the wild form. It may be necessary to cultivate 100 or even 1,000 seedlings before finding one which is really worthy of a place among the better varieties already existing. M. Vilmorin says that in France the raising of seed potatoes has been proceeded with in a somewhat haphazard manner; whereas, in England, on the other hand, a more systematic method has been followed, richness in starch, excellence in flavor, power of resisting disease, with little tendency to develop haulm (top), being the characteristics we on this side of the channel generally seek. Unfortunately, he says, they are not always able to profit in France by progress realized in England, because the French have a marked preference for potatoes with yellow flesh; whereas in England, for many years past, there has been a preference for white-fleshed potatoes. On this account even the celebrated Magnum Bonum, which my house had the honor of introducing in 1876, after having enjoyed a brief popularity in the Paris markets, has been almost abandoned as a table variety on account of the flesh being too pale in color. M. Vilmorin remarks that in Germany considerable attention has been given to the raising of seed potatoes, and more particularly with the object of obtaining varieties which are specially adapted for the production of alcohol and starch."
Improvement in the potato comes from a search for the ideal. The Irish Farming World says:
The potato wanted should possess the following essentials:
(1) It should be a heavy cropper.
(2) It should have good table qualities.
(3) It should be a good disease resister.
Or, in other words, 'the three R's' of the ideal potato are: Reproductiveness, Relish, Robustness."
Standard Early Varieties: upper left-hand corner shows Early-Ohio; upper right-hand corner shows Early Rose; lower left-hand corner shows Irish Cobbler; lower right-hand corner shows Triumph. The Irish Cobbler is not as yet raised extensively in Wisconsin, but is a standard early variety of the East. - From University of Wisconsin Agricultural Experiment Station Bulletin.
Standard Late Varieties: Upper left-hand corner shows Burbank; upper right-hand corner shows Green Mountain; lower left-hand corner shows Rural New Yorker; lower right-hand corner shows Peerless. These varieties represent typical commercial types. The Green Mountain is not raised commercially in Wisconsin, but is one of the leading late varieties of the East. - From University of Wisconsin Agricultural Experiment Station Bulletin.
It must always be remembered that varieties moved from one locality to another, especially with radical changes of conditions such as European varieties brought to America, must be acclimated before the best results can be expected. It is possible that excellent sorts imported from England have been discarded before they have become thoroughly adapted to our conditions.
In Europe potatoes are classed as "soft" and "hard," depending on their texture and keeping quality. When cut seed of the "soft" varieties is used it is apt to decay rapidly.
The experts in the United States Department of Agriculture are doing a great work in breeding and hybridizing potatoes. In 1910 Prof L.C. Corbett of the Bureau of Horticulture, who is in charge of the Experimental Farm at Arlington, near Washington, was growing 40,000 plants - the results of cross-pollinizing almost every known variety. Careful records are kept of every plant. In the experimental potato field over one half million tubers were produced.
This work gives promise of wonderful results for the American potato grower in new varieties that will be greater yielders of a higher class product, stronger growers, and more disease resistant.
The varieties of potatoes in highest favor differ in almost every locality, as has been already noted. In order to give an idea of the varieties being tried, with some views as to their value, quotations will be made from several sources. This information will be of comparative value, only, to the individual grower, and must be used more for the purpose of deciding what might be well to try than to follow the suggestions blindly.