The potato is one of America’s most popular vegetables. Americans eat an average of 125 pounds of potatoes per person each year. Solanum tuberosum, the scientific name for the potato, also called the Irish potato, is a cool season crop. It is grown commercially in Florida for both fresh market and chipping in the winter and spring months when the days are warm and the nights are cool. Commercial farms supply a majority of the “new” potatoes, which are small, immature potatoes with thinner skin than full-grown potatoes.
The potato is a good choice for most Florida gardens. When planted in the late winter or early spring (February-March 10), 100 pounds of seed should produce 10 bushels or more of potatoes. Use certified seed potatoes when n possible. Avoid table stock potatoes as planting stock, as you may get a poor variety or one that will not sprout. Each seed piece should be cut into a two ounce size and should have two or more eyes. The cut seed piece could be dusted with a fungicide such as Captan or sulfur to prevent seed piece decay. Fall planting is not advisable. For planting it is best to first make a raised bed about 6 inches high and 1-2 feet wide. If several rows are to be planted, place these rows 36-42 inches apart in the garden. Then open a seed furrow 3-4 inches deep down the center of the row. Place the seed pieces into the furrow at 8-12 inch intervals. Cover and water the freshly planted rows. When preparing the bed, make sure you have used liberal amounts of fertilizer. One quart of 10-10-10 fertilizer per 50 feet of row space. Side dress potatoes twice, three weeks apart with one pound of 10-10-10 per 50 feet of row space.
Potatoes are diverse in appearance, maturity and use, and are an excellent source of nutrition. In fact, potatoes have fewer calories and more nutrients that rice, pasta or bread. Potatoes can be boiled, baked and fried. Red and white skinned varieties are often preferred for boiling because they have a creamy texture and hold their shape when cooked.
Seed potatoes should be stored in a cook, dark place not a warm one. This helps prevent sprouting. However, if the storage temperature get too high, and sprouting does occur, just leave the sprouts alone don’t remove them.
Your best bet is to buy fresh seed pieces at a garden center. Then plant the seeds quickly in warm, moist soil not cool, dry soil. If you try to raise potatoes by planting seed pieces cut from stock potatoes you bought at the grocery store, we can almost guarantee that you’ll see symptoms of blind tuber development. Store potatoes are often treated with sprout inhibitors. In addition, this treatment can result in the blind tuber problem.
Ever think of growing a few potatoes plants in a bushel size container? Well, you can it’s easy and fun. You can be a potato grower in the smallest yard or just on the back patio or porch.
If the container doesn’t already have holes in it punch holes in the bottom of the container. You can use potting soil or mushroom compost as a soil media to grow the plants. Mix 4 ounces of hydrate lime and two tablespoons of plant food to the container soil. Put a 4 or 5 inch layer of soil in the container and lay a few seed pieces 6 to 8 inches apart, then top with 3 to 4 more inches of soil.
Keep the container in a warm, sunny place. As the plants grow, add more soil around the stems to give tubers room to expand, and keep the soil well watered. Potatoes can also be grown using old tires. The tires will add additional warmth early in the season, because they are black, the absorb heat. When the potatoes grows to the top of the tire, place another tire on top and add soil or mulch over the plants, 5 to 6 inches of growth out of the mix. Repeat up to 4 or 5 inches of growth out of the mix. Repeat up to 4 or 5 tires high.
Varieties recommended for North Florida are the round white such as Atlantic, Sebago, and Superior, and the round reds like Red LaSoda and Red Pontiac. Do not plant the long baking types as they grow poorly.
For more information on growing potatoes contact the Gulf County Extension Service at 639-3200 or visit our website: http://gulf.ifas.ufl.edu or www.http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu and see publication HS 933.