If you’re looking for a vegetable that produces big yields in small spaces, there could be no better choice than potatoes. Under the right conditions, you can get 20 pounds of tubers from one square yard of garden.
And whether baked, boiled, mashed or fried, who doesn’t like a potato?
In north Florida, February is the perfect time to plant potatoes. The planting window is from about mid January to early March. In central Florida, they should be planted before mid February. In the warmer southern part of the state, potatoes are generally grown in the fall.
Recommended varieties for Florida are Red Pontiac, Sebago, Atlantic, Red La Soda and Superior. I have also had very good results with Yukon Gold and some of the fingerling potato varieties.
Potatoes like soil rich in organic material. Prepare your potato bed by digging deeply and mixing in some well rotted compost. Potatoes prefer full sun and a slightly acidic soil. If the soil is too alkaline, say pH 7 or higher, scab can result (corky patches on the tubers). If you have added lime to your soil, you may want to take a soil sample to your extension office and have the pH checked before planting your potato crop.
Seed potatoes are planted whole or cut in pieces that weigh about 1.5 to 2 ounces and contain at least a couple of eyes. I like to set them in a warm place and let them begin to sprout before planting.
Many gardeners believe it is a good idea to cure cut pieces for a day or two before planting them to reduce their chances of rotting in the ground or contracting disease.
Don’t use potatoes from the grocery store. They are probably sprayed with a growth inhibitor. And they may carry diseases. Most seed potatoes from seed companies come treated with a fungicide and are disease free.
To plant, dig out trenches about four inches wide by four inches deep and work some fertilizer in the bottom. Place seed potatoes about every eight to 12 inches and cover them with soil. Seed potatoes should be spaced in rows at least 36 inches apart. If the potatoes have been cut in pieces, place the cut side down.
As your potato plants grow, use a hoe to pull up soil around them (called “hilling”). This is necessarily because potato tubers near the surface may become exposed to light. Light causes the tubers to develop a green color, which is somewhat toxic. Hilling also helps to keep the tubers cool and maintain even moisture. Hilling begins when the plants are about four or five inches tall.
Early potatoes, such as Yukon Gold, mature in as early as 60 days. Mid-season potatoes mature in about 80 days and late-season potatoes need 90 days or more to reach maturity.
New (small-sized) potatoes are harvested when the plants are in bloom. For full-sized potatoes, harvest 2-3 weeks after the vines die back (this helps to toughen the skin so they will store better). Clean off the dirt from your potatoes by brushing them with your hand. Don’t use a brush because it can damage the skin. After that, place your potatoes in a shady area for several hours to further harden the skin.