Sweet Potatoes

I’ll be perfectly honest with you, except for an occasional sweetpotato pie, and of course the candied sweetpotatoes during the holidays. I very rarely ate sweetpotatoes.  Well then one day I had French fried sweetpotatoes and now I am a big fan of them. They are fat and cholesterol free, very low in sodium, a good source of fiber and  high in vitamins A and C. They are super easy to grow. Even for us northern gardeners. They are fairly pest and disease resistant, and they will stand up to the heat in  the southern states. There are many varieties to choose from; both flesh and skin can be white,red and even purple! Some varieties mature quickly (90 days), some take a long time (150 days)- most need around 110 to 120 days. To grow sweetpotatoes you have to start with baby plants, known as slips. Don’t stick the whole potato in the ground like you do for regular potatoes. You can order slips through the mail, ask a local sweetpotato grower for some, or start your own. Your slips should be planted in the garden right around the last frost date in spring. So before that date arrives, pick a spot in the garden that has the driest loosest soil ( sweetpotatoes really like sandy soil) and build a raised bed to help the soil warm up. This is especially important in northern regions. You want soil temperatures as close to 75° F (23° C) as possible. If  you don’t want to build a raised bed, then you could instead build a ridge or mound and plant the slips in that. Sweetpotatoes do best in average soil. The do not need much nitrogen, in fact too much will cause them to grow all leaves and no potatoes. Compost made entirely from decayed vegetation (rather than animal manure) is best. But they do like a little extra potassium. A little bit of wood ash and they’ll do just fine. It’s easy to grow your own slips (the plant you grow sweet potatoes from) and you get a lot of them from just a few sweetpotatoes. Look for a smooth, bright skinned potato without any knots or blemishes. Start your sweetpotatoes about six weeks before you intend to plant. Put your sweetpotato in a jar with the tiny purple eyes pointing upward. Poke toothpicks in a ring around the center and then lower the bottom end of the sweetpotato into some water. The toothpicks rest on the mouth of the jar and keep the sweetpotato from going all the way into the water. Set the jar in a window and keep the water at the same level. You can even do this at the end of your harvest and get a beautiful houseplant with rich green vines. All you have to do in the spring is take cuttings from the vines and plant them directly out in the garden. Cool, huh? 

When the time comes to plant your slips into the garden, use one hand to hold the potato and grab a hold of the slip with the other and yank with a twisting motion. Hard. Don’t worry they’re tough little guys. Then just plant them in the garden and keep them well watered for the first few days and they’ll root in no time. If your soil is slow to warm in the spring, try covering it with some clear plastic, it’ll cook the weeds too. When its time to plant don’t remove the plastic, just cut a slit and make a depression in the dirt to allow water to collect on the plastic and run right back to the plant. Put your slips in the middle of the depression and seal off the slit with some sand. Try putting a clear plastic row cover over the plants supported by hoops. The air temperature gets around 100° F ( 37° C) and the soil temperature approaches 90° F ( 32° C), which is exactly what sweetpotatoes like. Another advantage to the plastic mulch is that it keeps the sweetpotato  vine from putting down new roots where it touches the ground. But if you don’t mulch, be sure to hoe under the vines so all that plants energy goes into making tubers and not into extra roots. Give your sweetpotatoes lots of room to roam. 18 to 24 inches apart in rows with about 3 feet on each side. You can intercrop with an early corn or other vegetable that will be out of the way by the time your sweetpotatoes need the room. Or you can grow a bush variety of sweetpotato, these plants only need about half the space as the regular type. If your soil drains very slowly, or you don’t have this kind of room, you can grow your slip in a bag of potting soil. Just make sure to put some holes in the bottom, and prop it up so it won’t fall over. Sweet potatoes need about 3/4 of an inch of water per week, but there is no need for additional fertilizer. In fact they are amazingly drought tolerant. Just sit back and watch them grow!

Sweetpotatoes should be dug up before the first fall frost. If an early frost should get you, then dig them immediately as they tend to rot in cool soil. When you dig them,  let them sit in the sun for an hour or two, and then move them to a plastic bag, put them in a warm, dark place and let them cure for about 10 days. Don’t seal the bag, just fold it over. Once they have cured, they need to go into a cool ( but not less than 50°F) basement or root cellar, wrapped in newspaper.

They can also be canned by washing the potatoes and boiling or steaming until partially soft (15 to 20 minutes). Remove skins. Cut medium potatoes, if needed, so that  pieces are uniform in size. Caution: Do not mash or puree pieces. Fill jars, leaving 1-inch headspace. Add 1 teaspoon salt per quart to the jar, if desired. Cover with your choice of fresh boiling water or syrup, leaving 1-inch headspace. They will need to be pressure canned according to the directions that came with your canner. Or you can freeze them by cooking until almost tender in water, in steam, in a pressure cooker or in the oven. Let stand at room temperature until cool. Peel sweet potatoes; cut in halves, slice or mash. To prevent darkening, dip whole sweet potatoes or slices for 5 seconds in a solution of ½ cup lemon juice to 1 quart water. To keep mashed sweet potatoes from darkening, mix 2 tablespoons orange or lemon juice with each quart of mashed sweet potatoes. Pack into containers, leaving ½-inch head space. Seal and freeze.

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If you have the space, establish a garden bed just for your child. Help them prepare the soil and plant their seeds or plants. Allow them to make their own choices (no matter what they are) but keep in mind that children love fragrance, color (the brighter the better!), and texture. Some good plants are lamb's ears which are soft and woolly, nasturtiums for color and ease of planting, and almost any of the herbs such as the mints or lemon balm, for their wonderful scents. If they are planting seeds, steer them towards flowers and vegetables that grow quickly. Children like to see the fruits of their labor as soon as possible.

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Cabbage Worms & Cabbage Lopers

The worms are around 3 cm long and velvety green. The lopers are green and move like inchworms. The adults of worms are white small butterflies the lay their eggs on the leaves of plants like cole crops, radishes and turnips. The adults of the loper are brown in color They appear in the garden in late spring and are active until mid fall. They hide in the crinkly curling leaves of vegetables. They are hard to spot on the leaves but they do leave dark green droppings on the leaves. They leave

holes in the leaves so you know that they are present They make large ragged holes in the leaves of affected plants. They don't take very long to destroy a plant.

Control

1) Hand pick

They are not easy to see on green plants, red cabbage however is an easy one. Sometimes they're hiding inside the tender broccoli leaves. Look for signs they are there and then you will find them

2) Use row covers

Make them out of light permeable material. There is some that you can buy called Remay.

3) Make an organic spray

4) Bacillus Thuringiensis (look for the one that has ‘kurstaki’ after the name)

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Herbs

Mugwort

may be grow from seeds sown directly in the garden in spring. Thin to about 12 inches part. Likes sun, but will take light shade. Plants grow quickly. You can take

cuttings in the fall or divide the roots in spring or fall. Be careful, as it can become invasive. Also called felon herb, St Johns herb or wort, moxa.

Orache

sow directly in the spring in a sunny area. Can be grown in rows or broadcast in small patches. Pinch out growing tips once and harvest shoots before the plant flowers.

Will self sow prolifically. Also called red mountain spinach.

Borage

sow in early spring for flowers the same year, or in late summer to produce larger biennial plants that flower the following summer. Grow in well drained soil in full sun.

Plants will self seed readily. Also called burage, bugloss, bee bread, and bee plant.

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Companion planting tip

Potatoes like to be planted next to broad beans, cabbages, cauliflower, corn, lettuce, onions, peas, petunias, marigolds and radishes. But they hate to be around apples, pumpkin, tomatoes and sunflowers.

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Brandie

“In friendship's fragrant garden, There are flowers of every hue. Each with its own fair beauty, And its gift of joy for you.”

 

 

 
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