Growing Potatoes in the Panhandle

Growing Potatoes in the Panhandle

The “new” or “Irish” potato is one of America’s most popular vegetables and a fine cool season crop choice for gardeners in the Panhandle.

The history of the potato is quite interesting. The potato was first domesticated in Peru between 3000 BC-2000 BC. Potatoes were first planted, where in states? Idaho, of course, as early as the 1830’s. By 1900, Idaho’s production exceeded one million bushels. Potatoes are diverse in appearance and uses. Potatoes are high in nutrition and have fewer calories than other starches such as rice, pasta and bread.

In Florida, potatoes can be planted in the winter or early spring. February 1st to March 10th is the prime planting range.  As a general production rule, 100 lbs. of seed potatoes will typically yield around ten bushels. Be sure to use only certified seed potatoes for best planting stock. These can be found at most garden centers. For best results, select varieties recommended for North Florida like ‘Atlantic’, ‘Sebago’, and ‘Superior’ (all round, white potatoes).  Also, ‘Red Lasorda’ and ‘Red Pontiac’ are viable round, red potatoes. Resist using potato stock bought from produce sections at grocery stores. Odds are, symptoms of a number of diseases will occur. For planting, each seed potato should be cut into smaller pieces, displaying two or more eyes. To prevent fungal pathogens, the most common culprit in potato production, use a light dusting of a fungicide to combating decay.

Figure 1. Red and white potatoes grown in Florida.

Credit: C. Hutchinson. UF/IFAS Extension

It’s best to plant seed potatoes in raised rows, where the height of the mound is 6 inches and the width is 1 to 2 feet. Row spacing should be at least 3 feet apart. The seed furrow should be 3-4 inches in depth, through the center of the row. Seed potatoes should be planted in 1 foot intervals. Cover, and water freshly planted rows. Fertilizing is key. One quart of 10-10-10 fertilizer for every 50 feet of row space is needed for the initial application. Through the season, for every 3 weeks, side dress the rows with a pound of 10-10-10 per 50 feet of row space.

Following these steps will ensure a productive potato crop. For more information please contact your local county extension office.

Supporting information for this article and further information can be found in the following the UF/IFAS EDIS publication: “Growing Potatoes in the Florida Home Garden” by Christian T. Christensen, Joel Reyes-Cabrera, Libby R. Rens, Jeffrey E. Pack, Lincoln Zotarelli, Chad Hutchinson, Wendy J. Dahl, Doug Gergela, and James M. White: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/HS/HS18300.pdf

UF/IFAS Extension is an Equal Opportunity Institution.

Get the Scoop on Raised Bed Gardening

Get the Scoop on Raised Bed Gardening

Raised beds are an excellent way to get started with gardening. Photo by Molly Jameson.

One of the biggest obstacles a vegetable gardener faces is how to supply crops with healthy soil that can support crop growth all season long. Many native soils in Florida are stripped of imperative nutrients that crops need to grow, are too compacted from vehicle and foot traffic, and are often too sandy to support soil life, which is very important for nutrient cycling, building soil structure, and combating pests and diseases.

One of the best ways a gardener can ensure a successful gardening experience is to build a raised bed garden. No matter your native soil type and existing conditions, raised bed gardens allow a framework for building nutrient rich soil that can supply crops with what they require to grow healthily and thrive.

Want to learn how to garden using raised beds? On February 5, from 6:00 to 7:30 p.m., UF/IFAS Extension Leon County is offering a Raised Bed Gardening 101 workshop as part of the Red Hills Small Farm Alliance’s Seven Days of Local Delights. This is a week-long annual celebration that includes educational workshops, restaurant partnerships, fundraisers, and more that supports the local food community and farmers in the Red Hills Region. This year, the Seven Days of Local Delights runs from Sunday, February 3 to Sunday, February 10.

A trellis can even be built right on the end of a raised bed. Photo by Molly Jameson.

At the Raised Bed Gardening 101 workshop, learn how to choose the best raised bed garden site location, basics of irrigation in raised beds, planting dates and plant spacing, the difference between treated and untreated lumber, how much and what type of soil to use, and other tips on growing food in your backyard.

There is no cost to attend, but please register on Eventbrite (https://sdldraisedbedgardening101.eventbrite.com). For more information, contact Molly Jameson at mjameson@ufl.edu.

Check out everything going on during the Seven Days of Local Delights at the Red Hills Small Farm Alliance website: https://www.redhillsfarmalliance.com/seven-days. If you are not in the Tallahassee area, check with your local extension office to see what gardening events they may have available and how you can support your local food community and farmers in your area.

A Weird Tomato!

A Weird Tomato!

Tomato with sprouts. Photo credit: Mary Salinas, UF/IFAS Extension.

What in the world is happening to the tomato in this photograph? Are those hostile parasitic plants taking over the tomato?

No, nothing so sinister. You are just seeing anxious new tomato plants sprouting from the seeds inside the tomato.

A naturally-occurring plant hormone normally prevents seed inside of fruit from sprouting too soon. But sometimes the piece of fruit is hanging around a bit longer than nature planned and the hormone that prevents the seed sprouting is depleted. So, the seeds start to sprout and look like squiggly white worms inside the tomato. With enough time, they pop through the skin and emerge as little tomato plants.

Halved tomato with interior sprouts. Photo credit: Mary Salinas, UF/IFAS Extension.

This phenomenon also commonly happens in pepper, citrus, apple, jackfruit, avocado and pear.

Yes, you can separate the little plants and plant them on their own if you would like.

For more information on growing tomatoes:

Tomatoes in the Florida Garden

Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide

 

Saying Goodbye to a Shrub

Saying Goodbye to a Shrub

Shrubs can serve many purposes in a landscape and have been used in both mass plantings and as accent features.  They can include plants that offer colorful blooms, food for pollinators, and screens for less than favorable views.

We tend to think that shrubs will be permanent feature in our landscapes, because many are hardy and adapted to our climate. Like any other plant you may choose for your yard, shrubs may not live forever and there are a wide variety of reasons a shrub may need replacement after years of solid performance.

Let’s use any example from my own yard of the Dwarf yaupon holly, Ilex vomitoria ‘Nana.’ Back in 2001, I planted three hollies, spaced with plenty of room to grow, in a border area of my landscape.  The plants grew well forming mounds about 3.5 feet high and 4 feet wide.  Since the ‘Nana’ holly is a naturally mounding shrub, it did not require pruning and once established, rainfall supplied needed water.

Yaupon holly with dieback

Yaupon holly with dieback after 17 years in a landscape. Photo by Beth Bolles, UF IFAS Extension Escambia County

Over the past year, several areas of branch dieback have developed in all plants.  After finally deciding that the dieback was unattractive enough to warrant plant removal, I began cutting the plants back.  I discovered dead interior branches, girdling roots, and some internal stem discoloration.  In other words, there are many factors that have led to poor plant performance.  Another issue is a large Loropetalum hedge (planted by my neighbor) that shades one side of the plant.

Girdling roots

Girdling roots often develop when rootballs have not been properly prepared during installation. Photo by Beth Bolles, UF IFAS Extension Escambia County

What could I have done to help these plants stay healthier for many more years?  I could have prepared the rootball better for planting by shaving off the edges or supplied a little fertilizer on occasion in my sandy soil.  These practices may have extended the life of the plants for several more years, but they may not have made a difference.  Sometimes shrubs decline and die.  I am accepting that not everything performs at an outstanding level in our climate.   Also, there is an end point for some of my favorite plants in the yard.  Some may outlive me while others thrive for a few years or a decade or so.

The bright side of loss of my Yaupon hollies is that I get to plan for a feature for the new year.  Maybe something for pollinators and birds to last the next 17 years.

Fatsia japonica Provides Gorgeous Winter Blooms

Fatsia japonica Provides Gorgeous Winter Blooms

Fatsia japonica, common name Japanese aralia, provides tropical texture to your landscape.  That coarse texture is attributed to its large (nearly a foot wide) leaves that are deeply lobed (maple leaf shaped).  This shade-loving plant performs well in moist (not soggy) locations.  Upright stems originate near ground level usually near the base of older stems.  The stems grow to about eight feet tall before bending toward the ground under their own weight.

Even though the foliage of this species is enough to make you want it in your own garden, you will absolutely fall in love with its blooms.  Upright clusters of showy, creamy white flowers begin to appear in fall.  These little snowballs provide wonderful color to your garden.  The shiny, black fruits appear in winter and are prominent for several weeks.  The fruit are know to attract birds to the landscape.

Fatsia japonica Blooming

A Fatsia japonica specimen in full bloom. Photo Credit: Matt Lollar, University of Florida/IFAS Extension

Fatsia japonica thrives in the shade in slightly acidic, nutrient-rich, moist soil.  Older stems become leggy and can be cut back to encourage branching.  In the right place, Fatsia japonica is low-maintenance and not typically bothered by pests.  It is also known to perform well in coastal landscapes.  It fits well in entryways, in containers, or in mass plantings spaced three feet apart.

 

It’s Never a Bad Time to Plant Arugula

It’s Never a Bad Time to Plant Arugula

Arugula is a pungent, peppery leafy green native to the Mediterranean. It is in the Brassica or crucifer family, which also contains vegetables such as broccoli, kale, radishes, and cabbage, but is perhaps less common in the edible garden landscape. Although arugula is typically considered a fall vegetable, it can be seeded all year long with a little bit of protection from extreme cold or heat.

Arugula is an easy green to grow and adds pungent, peppery flavor to salads, pizzas, and many other dishes. Photo by Turkey Hill Farm.

Matter of fact, you can plant arugula every few weeks year-round to enjoy young tender leaves anytime. Since arugula has a compact root system, sow seeds one to two inches apart, thin out young whole plants as they fill in, and add them to salads for some extra dinner pizazz. Once plants are four to six inches apart, begin to harvest just arugula leaves, leaving the plants to grow taller in height. Leaves make great toppings on a sandwich or pizza, can be tossed in pasta just before serving, or can be steamed, stir-fried, or pureed and added to a plethora of dishes.

Although arugula is not as flashy as many of its fall garden counterparts, it is often the easiest to manage and last to get pest and disease problems. While your lettuce is attacked by slugs, kale crawling with aphids, and cabbage chewed up by armyworms, arugula often shines unblemished. And in late fall and winter, arugula will only need cold protection if we have a hard freeze (temperatures below 28 degrees for more than four hours). In these cases, cover your plants with frost cloth, bed sheets, or simply buckets, if your arugula patch is small. Just remember to secure your cover to the ground, such as using bricks to pin the cloth, to prevent gaps for air to escape. If done correctly, you can raise air temperatures eight degrees.

From June to September it will be helpful to plant your arugula in partial shade or use shade cloth with 40 to 60 percent density to cut the intensity of the heat. Spring and summer planted arugula may go to seed faster than in fall or winter, but because it is such an easy plant to sow and manage, you can be planting your next round just as your previous crop begins to senesce.

Throughout the life cycle of arugula, you will notice changes in the intensity of the plant’s complex flavor. This is due to fluctuations in sulfur compounds called glucosinolates, which increase as the plant matures.

So be brave, clear some space in your garden plot, and give this spicy cabbage cousin a try!