Sunday, October 31, 2010

Garden Experiment Pays Off with Sweet Potato Harvest

Although much of my experience at the SACG has been one experiment after another, I have also experimented in other ways. Sometimes, I try planting something way outside my comfort level (i.e., seedlings purchased at a nursery or seeds purchased through a catalog with lots of handy directions). Generally, the most adventurous I've been in the garden is to plant a new variety of bean, tomato or flower. However, this year, I tried something really wild. I planted sweet potatoes.

Last year, Jeannie and Beth both asked me for help planting sweet potatoes. I'd never planted them before and was already getting crazy by planting regular potatoes for the first time. I'd never considered planting sweet potatoes and didn't know where to get the seed potatoes or anything.

Over the winter, I started reading blogs and other information on the internet and learned that sweet potatoes grow differently than regular potatoes. For one, they don't grow off seed potatoes. You can buy things called "slips" at some nurseries. Second, they are a tropical plant and are extremely sensitive to cold temperatures. Third, the potato is a root and not something growing off the roots, like regular potatoes.

One blog said that I could start a slip simply by buying a regular sweet potato at the grocery, but gardening sites advised against this. I chose to experiment anyway. Beth lacked my faith, and asked me to buy her a slip at a reputable nursery.

Beth harvested lots of sweet potatoes from two slips I purchased at DeMonye's Nursery near the airport. I harvested the sweet potatoes you can see in the picture. My way was less expensive.

According to the blog I read, you can do the following to grow sweet potatoes.

  1. Put a sweet potato in a mason jar filled 1/3 with water in your kitchen window or other reliable light source. Although it will take a while, the potato will form roots which will take over the jar.
  2. Leaves will begin to sprout from the sweet potato after a few weeks. When the leaves get big enough to form a stem and a couple of companion leaves off the same stem, snap it off at the base and put the base in some water. (I used a shot glass in my kitchen window).
  3. When the stem forms its own roots after just a couple of days, plant it in potting soil and put in a sunnier (or better lit) location that is protected from cold drafts. Sweet potatoes grow quickly, so don't skimp too much on the size of the container.
  4. When the plant gets at least six inches long, and the outdoor temperature is reliably above 50, plant in the ground. Mounding is recommended, but I did not do it this year. Our ground at the SACG is well tilled.
  5. Rumor has it that they need six months to grow. However, I planted mine around Memorial Day weekend and harvested them this weekend. I did ok.

I recommend putting a marker of some sort where you plant so that you know where to aim when you water. The roots grow underneath and the vines spread, so it can be difficult to know where to focus your efforts.

I planted mine with zucchini and squash, so they did not get much sun until the squash bugs killed all of my squash plants by the end of July. Unlike regular potatoes which grow vertically, the sweet potato vines spread along the ground. If the weather cooperates (with rain), they will form roots at various locations along the vine (and form additional sweet potatoes). I only planted two slips in my plot this year and harvested all of the potatoes in the picture (and one more which is not pictured). I found this to be fabulous considering how little sun and rain they received until August and how little rain we've received since August (i.e., 2 inches).

My single root potato was the source of many slips and I finally just pitched it into my compost bin (where it continued to grow like crazy). I started 2 slips for my SACG plot and at least one slip each for Nykkel, Priest, Martha, Jeannie and my backyard. Each planted slip yielded at least 3 sweet potatoes if planted earlier enough and received enough sun.

This was an easy and fun gardening experiment. I've read it will work in most climates. One of the visitors to the SACG this year recommended starting slips off clippings from our garden, but my clipping has not rooted even though it's been in water for over a week.

Monday, October 18, 2010

SACG Harvest Celebration Brings Tidings for Next Year

On Saturday, the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden held its first (hopefully annual) harvest celebration in the early afternoon. Jeff and Mari organized the event, which brought several regular gardeners, some new neighborhood children and some potential new gardeners. Mari's husband John helped her set up. We had donuts, punch, carrots, freshly harvested cherry tomatoes and dips. Betty used the opportunity to do some weeding in her plot (as did I). Rayna has started harvesting and drying gourds. Jeff brought his daughter and some new neighborhood kids stopped by for refreshments (which is good because every single youth who helped us in April has already moved away). We were joined by a neighbor from Seymour Avenue who wants to garden with us next year. Frank and Barb missed the event because of a feline emergency, but stopped by afterwards. Beth and Mike were kept away at the last minute by a fender bender on I-71 (those pesky drivers on their cell phone who failed to maintain assured clear distance behind Beth can be thanked for that). Another neighbor stopped by afterward to inquire about joining us next year (now that we've shown we have a freakishly productive garden for the last two years).

We swapped gardening stories and how we found our individual way to the SACG. At the end, Jeff and Mari presented me with a plaque. Wasn't that sweet?!

Afterwards, I began pulling tomato vines out of my own plot (because it will be too cool for tomatoes to properly ripen), eggplant vines harvested a crate of peppers (all of which are very small because of our drought).

Mark your calendars. We'll be cleaning out the garden and spreading compost on Saturday, November 13 beginning at 10 a.m. There will be refreshments and we'll be done by 1 or 2.

Friday, October 15, 2010

SACG Harvest Reception: Be There or Be Square

What are you doing this Saturday between 2 and 3? Why not stop by the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden for vittles, gardening stories, free produce and light-hearted ribbing? Jeff and Mari have organized a get-together for the greater Stoddart Avenue neighborhood at the SACG. This is, by no means, be a vegetarian gathering. We will have donuts and cider. I promise not to put anyone to work (but I'm not going to stop anyone from pulling weeds.J