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Organic Gardening

Get dirty, have fun and grow more food with great gardening tips from real-life gardeners.

Be Self Sufficient with Sweet Potatoes; Harden off Your Tomatoes

The unusually warm weather in March followed by a wet and cool April reinforces the wisdom of waiting until the weather is settled and the ground thoroughly warm before planting hot weather crops in the garden.  The first warm spell after May Day is usually when we plant our sweet potato slips and transplant main crop of tomatoes here in Central Virginia. 

sweet potatoes seedlings in the green house 

Sweet potatoes need a long warm period to produce abundantly, but even folks up north can grow this nutritious crop. It’s also an ideal storage crop for those looking to be food self-sufficient.  Each plant can yield more than a pound of sweet potatoes that will store well for 6-12 months without refrigeration. Most gardeners start with slips (young plants) purchased from a local garden center or reputable mail order source. Your new slips may not have roots, but don’t worry, they’ll grow roots once they’re in the ground. The new Southern Exposure Sweet Potato growing guide tells you all about how to grow, cure and store sweet potatoes in the Southeast.

Before you transplant those big tomato seedling that you have been holding off on putting in the ground until this unseasonable cool weather passes, make sure to take the time to harden them off. Because they've been pampered, they need to be introduced slowly to the elements of wind and intense sun.

tomato seedlingsamy sugar gem tomato  

First you will put plants outdoors only for short periods of time, perhaps for a couple of hours. You'll want to set them in a semi-shaded area of the yard. Gradually, you will increase the time plants are kept outdoors; which gradually increases their sun exposure. After 6 to 8 days, your plants will be ready for the outdoor life.

As part of acclimating the plants to the outdoors, you also will cut back on watering. This will allow plants to toughen and will prepare them for being transplanted. Now you are on your way to the having big juicy tomatoes early in the season.

While you are waiting for that first vine ripened tomato, try this recipe with your early cabbage.

raw meal early jersey wakefield cabbage 

Spicy Cabbage                                                

10 cups shredded green cabbage
3 cups shredded purple cabbage                                                                               
1 cup of minced purple onion                                                                        
1 tablespoon garlic powder                                               
1 tablespoon onion powder                                                          
1/2 cup rice vinegar                                                              
3 fresh jalapeno peppers, diced small                                    
¼ cup shredded carrot                                              
½ cup olive oil     

Mix all the ingredients, marinate about 30 minutes before serving, stirring frequently.

Thanks for stopping by and we hope you’ll come back often to see what we’re growing and cooking.


Ira Wallace lives and gardens at Acorn Community Farm home of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange where she coordinates variety selection and seed growers. Southern Exposure offers 700+varieties of Non-GMO, open pollinated and organic seeds. Ira is also a co-organizer of the Heritage Harvest Festival at Monticello. She serves on the board of the Organic Seed Alliance and is a frequent presenter at the Mother Earth News Fairs and many other events throughout the Southeast. Her first book the "The Timber Press Guide to Vegetable Gardening in the Southeast" will be available in 2013