QUESTION: What is an heirloom potato? I don’t understand what it means, and I saw some in a catalog. – Julie S
GARDENING CHANNEL REPLIES: An heirloom potato has three different potential meanings, which are very similar in concept but differ a little bit in the details. So it sort of depends on who you ask as far as the precise details. The first meaning is a potato variety which was established 100 years ago and hasn’t been altered genetically since.
The second definition of an heirloom potato is a variety which hasn’t been altered in 50 years. This is why Yukon Gold potatoes are technically an heirloom variety.
Yukon Golds are a newer variety, in comparison to many heirlooms, which became popular in the 1980s. However, they originated in the 1960s. Though a newer option, it comes in at the fifty-year mark and is considered an heirloom variety by many.
Another definition of heirloom potato is a potato variety that was developed during or before 1951. Hybrid plants weren’t common before this time, so most potato plants were grown without changing their genetic make-up.
However, most potato varieties we consider heirloom were developed in the 1800’s. This was the time when many potatoes were decimated due to potato blight.
Therefore, botanists went to South America to find potato plants in their original growing environment. From there, new potato varieties were established to be durable against many pests and diseases which were harming potato crops during this time.
Many heirloom varieties made their way to the United States from other countries, and some were created in university laboratories.
The varieties we recognize as heirloom today are the genetic base for the newer varieties we currently grow.
Heirloom potatoes are thought to be potatoes which have never been genetically altered. Yet, this isn’t always the case.
However, they haven’t been changed genetically for many years. Though heirloom potatoes aren’t considered as hardy as some of the newer varieties today, they are a piece of gardening history and are thought to have better flavor than some of the newer varieties of potatoes.
Plus, you can save some of your potatoes from your heirloom harvest as seed potatoes, and they should produce the exact same variety in future years. This doesn’t always happen with newer, genetically altered potatoes.
Whether you’d like to grow heirloom potatoes for their taste, to save money on your potato crop in future years, or you have an appreciation for history, you should give it a try.
These are some of the advantages to growing your own vegetables. You can produce as wide of a variety as your imagination, gardening method, and planting zone will allow.