Samwise Gamgee said it best to Sméagol, “Po-ta-toes. The Gaffer’s delight, and rare good ballast for an empty belly. But you won’t find any so you needn’t look. But be good Sméagol and fetch me some herbs, and I’ll think better of you. What’s more, if you turn over a new leaf, and keep it turned, I’ll cook you some taters one of these days. I will: fried fish and chips served by S. Gamgee.” The idea of potatoes to Sméagol, also known as Gollum, was rather disgusting. He would rather have his fish now and let Sam keep his “nasty chips.”
In J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, Samwise Gamgee was Frodo Baggins’ gardener and best friend. He traveled with Frodo across Middle Earth to help destroy the “One Ring”. The specific dialogue above comes from The Two Towers. But throughout the Lord of the Rings trilogy, many conversations with Sam include gardening, cooking food, and longing for the Shire. Throughout literature, it is common to read about gardens or gardening. Nonetheless, they can help inspire us and add a fun dimension to our gardens. Throughout this gardening article series, “Floral Fables”, join us on an adventure to learn about gardening through the lens of popular fiction.
Globally, potatoes have a storied history. Originally cultivated by the Incan Empire nearly 10,000 years ago, Spanish Conquistadors introduced these tuberous delicacies to Europe. Their popularity flourished, even among nobles like King Louis XIV, because they are easy to grow, very nutritious, and highly versatile for cooking. In fact, Sam states in 2002 The Two Towers film, “boil em, mash em, stick em in a stew.”
Due to their success, they have become a major agricultural commodity throughout the United States. Producing 420 million cwt, or 47 billion pounds, in 2020, potatoes are the United States’ leading vegetable crop. The majority are used for making French fries, potato chips, dehydrated potatoes, animal feed, seed potatoes (for next year’s planting), and fresh markets. Of course, Idaho is “Lord of the Spuds” when it comes to US potato production, but Florida has a potato industry too. In 2020 Florida produced approximately 600 million pounds of potatoes on 21,000 acres.
They are not difficult to grow which makes them a great addition to our vegetable gardens. They also serve as a great garden addition to get kids more interested in growing their own vegetables. Potatoes have a small planting window in our calendar year, but the best time to plant potatoes is right around Valentine’s Day. To remember, I always say, “Nothing says ‘I love you,’ like planting a potato.”
Florida’s heat limits the types of varieties of potatoes we can grow (not including sweet potatoes). Nonetheless, there are still great varieties worth planting. The only russet potato that can be planted with success is the ‘Russett Norkotah’. Other varieties include white-skinned potatoes (Yukon Gold, LaChipper, and Sebago) and red-skinned potatoes (Red LaSoda and LaRouge). My personal favorite varieties include the Yukon Gold and Red LaSoda. Nonetheless, there are 1000s of potato varieties available that come in many different shapes, sizes, and colors that are always worth experimenting with.
Planting & Care
Potatoes need good drainage and ample space. Therefore, in Nassau County, I recommend planting potatoes in a raised bed or large container. If planting in rows, apply 7.5 pounds per 100 feet of 10-0-10 at planting and another side dress with another 7.5 pounds in 3-4 weeks. Some phosphorous may be required if a soil test indicates a deficiency. Since we plant potatoes in February you may need to cover your plants to protect them from frosts and be on the lookout for caterpillars – they love to munch potato vines.
Lastly, your potatoes should be ready to harvest approximately 80-115 days after planting. Carefully dig them up and remove them from the root system. Discard any “green potatoes” that haven’t developed yet. If you plan on storing your potatoes, harvest them after plant maturation or 2-3 weeks after the plant has died. If the plant hasn’t died, you can cut the tops off and then wait 2-3 weeks to harvest. Mature potatoes can store much longer.
Potatoes are highly versatile plants for our gardens. So whether you “boil em, mash em, stick em in a stew,” you are certain to make Samwise proud.