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Pioneer crops – growing potatoes

Tino Carnevale

Tino Carnevale

October 31, 2012

I saw my first year in the patch primarily as an exciting experiment rather than an exercise in conventional food production. It was more an opportunity to see what my garden could do and to see what types of crops would perform the best. It was also the perfect chance to trial different gardening techniques to my heart’s content, as well as test my budgeting skills. Because this was the very first garden which I could pretty much do anything to, I thought I could perhaps grow a bit as a gardener as well.

I suppose one problem with moving to a new garden is that there can suddenly be nothing to eat. We had most of the herbs covered, there were a number of pots of rosemary, thyme, oregano, sage and even some chervil. As is always true, the sooner you plant something, the sooner you can start appreciating it. Specifically, eating it. There was something really odd about having to buy the basics like spring onions, silverbeet and parsley. Joi frequently voiced her annoyance to having to buy leafy greens. The first actual crop in the garden was a happy accident. I had come home from the primary school I teach at where we were planting radish and started to dig a test hole to see what type of soil I was dealing with. I reached into my pocket and some of the leftover seed from school happened to land on the turned soil. Barely three weeks later we harvested our first crop. As it happened, the completion of the patch for planting coincided with the end of an extremely cold winter and the start of a wet and warm spring.

I was like a gardener possessed, racing around in a hailstorm of seed. By mornings end, radish, lettuce and broad beans as well as French and Borlotti beans, silver beet and various types of onions were all in the ground. That left me with the afternoon to plant spuds.


The potato bed

Any vegetable that tastes great fried, baked, boiled and roasted or that can be mashed, chipped, filled or can be used to make alcohol and even electricity earn a place of honour in my garden. Give a person a bag of hot chips and you’ll feed them for a day but plant a spud with them and you will feed them for a year. When it comes to potatoes for the kitchen I have always loved Pink eyes and Dutch creams but as I said before I saw these first crops as experimental, so I proceeded to go out and get as many different varieties as I could get my grubby little hands on and tried them out.

Potato varieties

Russian Bananas ready for the oven, with olive oil and fresh rosemary

Russian Banana

An early season fingerling variety, long and slim with a yellow skin and flesh. This performed very well as it produced a large amount of tubers per plant. They were the first variety ready for harvest; the fact that they were so quick meant that I could plant another crop and double the yield for the season. They are a beautifully looking potato with a great flavour that is exceptional baked.


This variety was developed in New South Wales and it is a mid season potato with medium sized, smooth round tubers. This for me was the real stand out, it is a real pleasure to harvest and they stored very well. I think traditionally they are a chipper but the flavour and texture makes it our new favourite for mash.

Red Norland

By all accounts an early maturing variety but mine weren’t ready till the middle of the season, nor did they develop that real russet to the skin that they are named for. This I will put down to my soil though and try again next season. They didn’t produce an exceptional number of potatoes but all were of a good size. The smooth white flesh makes a good mash but their flavour was not terribly memorable.

Pink fir apples

This is another early maturing fingerling variety and if the name is anything to go by it is a true pomme de terre. They are certainly very pink and form some interestingly shaped tubers of varying sizes. I have found this can mean if you are rotating your crops they have the potential to escape harvesting and make their way into all your beds. The skin has a slightly bitter flavour but it peels off very easily after boiling.

Purple Congos

A purple variety as its name suggests, although it does contain white rings inside the flesh. I cannot comment on the flavour of this potato as I replanted what was produced this season so that I can build up my seed stock. What I can comment on is the small amount of tubers that each plant grew, it doesn’t appear to be a staple crop.


This is a truly purple potato, each tuber is like a dark piece of amethyst. I also replanted the crop for seed, but I have grown and enjoyed this variety in the past. They have a good flavour but they are worth growing just for the look on your friends face when you serve them up purple mash.

Tassie pride – pink eyes

Tassie pride – Pink eyes

We also had the usual suspects like Dutch creams, pink eyes and the all-rounder the Kennebec. Although we harvested a good amount of potatoes I believe we can get a bigger crop with the addition of more water through growing periods. The season was not what I regard as a good one for potatoes although it was worthwhile trialing the different varieties. It has given me a clearer idea of what varieties do better in our garden. What it really taught me was that my soil requires more cultivation, much more organic matter and the removal of more of the ever-present rocks.

Next – The Pioneer Crops 2 – Tomatoes

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11 years ago

I am a spud addict as well. Living in Tassies north got me excited about planting out spuds when we moved to our inherited 4 acres in the sticks BUT nature decided to give us rocks…LOTS of rocks…so we are having to build up our garden beds to facilitate growing space. Cheers for the very interesting spuddy post and the endemic hints and tips. We are hoping to turn our property into an edible food forest with wildlife corridors with the prospect of trying to grow as much food for our own consumption and for sharing with others as possible. We are just starting to dabble in seed swaps and are changing our horticultural liens to permaculture to effect the change that we are after on our ancient and brittle soil here. Cheers for the wonderful post. We too had a very small yield from our purple congos so we aren’t bothering to grow them again.

Tammy Schmitt
11 years ago

I don’t have room for potatoes in my garden beds so I grew sweet potatoes in pots. They were very easy to grow, didn’t take much room, and produced a large batch of the sweet spuds. Hooray! I do love all the potatoes you were able to grow. Yum. :o)

Barbara Minahan
Barbara Minahan
8 years ago
Reply to  Tammy Schmitt

Hi Tammy, I would like to grow sweet potatoes but have never seen certified seed potatoes in any nursery, I live in NW Tas. Where do you get your seed potatoes and was the method very different from normal potatoes?

Julie Thomson
11 years ago

That rocky old yard you moved into has undergone an amazing transformation, Tino and now you are weaving your magic all over again. Love the spud post and wondering what type would grow best here in the muggy semi tropics? I am thinking of buying some of those bags to plant them in rather than in the garden bed. Don’t think I can bear all that soil heaping. I love kipflers, and pink eyes, but any that fry up into golden crisp chips are pretty OK here. Hope you are well.