The Powerful Spud
Last Friday was Valentine’s Day, so, like always, I end up singing “The Power of Love” by Huey Lewis and the News. As an extension agent, Valentine’s Day also serves as an excellent reminder to plant potatoes in North Florida. “The Power of Love” quickly becomes “The Power of Spuds”.
Potatoes are an important agricultural commodity in Florida. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), in 2018 Florida’s potatoes valued a little less than $90 million and sweet potatoes valued $34 million. That has a combined value of $124 million and equates to nearly 6,324,000,000 pounds. That is a lot of potatoes.
Brief History of Potatoes
Although Idaho reigns as the US’ potato producing champion, this tuber is a major global crop with an amazing history. Many of us initially think of the Irish Potato Famine of the 19th century when considering the versatile tuber’s history. But moving backward in time, the potato we recognize today was originally cultivated by the Incan Empire near modern-day Bolivia and Peru around 10,000 years ago. Spanish Conquistadors, while in the search for the Incan city of lost gold, Paititi, initially brought potatoes back to Europe.
Potatoes became a staple with colonializing nations because of their ability to store during voyages and their high nutrient content. Popularized among the public during King Louis XIV’s reign; King Louis grew potatoes under guard and Marie Antoinette popularized wearing its flowers in hair. Over time its agricultural production exploded in popularity because it is easy to grow, it is very nutritious and has culinary versatility.
Potatoes in Florida’s Backyard Gardens
People commonly refer to the potato as a “Gateway to Gardening”. Therefore, if you have children, grandchildren, or anyone that you would like to get interested in gardening, these tasty tubers are a great first step. Many young children easily connect with potatoes because of their unadulterated love of French fries, mashed potatoes, potato chips, etc.
There are many types of potatoes that you may grow in Florida. The common russets do not grow as well because of our environmental conditions. We categorize potatoes in two different categories: White and Red-Skinned varieties. White-skinned varieties include LaChipper, Sebago, and Yukon Gold. Red-skinned varieties include Red LaSoda and LaRouge. This is not an exhaustive list either, there are many exotic varieties that come in many shapes, sizes, and colors. Our biggest recommendation for selection relates to time to maturity. Any potato planted in Florida should mature early, otherwise, it is more susceptible to disease and pest.
If you are interested in learning the specifics of growing potatoes in your garden, view the University of Florida’s EDIS publication “Growing Potatoes in the Florida Home Garden“.
Potatoes are an incredibly diverse and powerful crop in Florida and the world. It has a colorful and culturally ingrained history. Packed with nutrients, protein, and carbohydrates, the humble spud packs a healthy punch and is easily grown in the garden. There is no better way to celebrate Valentine’s Day than by planting potatoes with your loved ones: That’s the Power of Spuds.