It Feels Like Christmas Morning in the Sweet Potato Patch


| 10/11/2012 11:09:51 AM


Tags: organic gardening, CSA, sweet potatoes, drip irrigation, Cam Mather,

Remember that feeling on Christmas morning when you were a kid, unwrapping those presents with such great anticipation? I still get it, even with the gifts that I purchase for myself months before Christmas, because with the gradual loss of brain function of my 52 year-old brain, I’ve often forgotten what I bought but I know it’s going to be great, because I bought it!

Well, that’s how I spent a recent day, unwrapping the biggest success of the gardening season, our sweet potatoes.

I have grown sweet potatoes for about 4 years now. I followed the lead of local author and sweet potato expert Ken Allan and local greenhouse grower Brian Burt. I have had mixed success. I always get some amazing sweet potatoes, but the quality of them really varied. Last year the majority of them were sub par, too big, gnarly, cracked, too small, and basically not the shape that a sweet potato should be. I’ve never been the type of person to try and live up to societal norms, but in the case of sweet potatoes, I want them to look the way most people are used to seeing them. Call it male pride. ( And before anyone accuses me of being hung up on aesthetics, the gnarly potatoes are very difficult to clean or peel, and so there is a practical reason for wanting good-looking potatoes!)

So this year since I was running a CSA I decided that if I was going to grow them I was going to do it right. So I spent some money. I bought a 100 ft roll of 6 ml plastic that my friend Heidi helped me to scope out at the local hardware store. Yes it’s made from petroleum, yes it’s bad for the planet, but I think that by buying the 6 ml thickness I can get 4 or 5 years out of it, and if I compare that to how much diesel would be used to haul sweet potatoes from the south of the U.S. for the 5 years I’ll be growing them locally, then I figure I’m still way ahead of the game. I also used more plastic to put a drip irrigation line down each row. I believe many of the problems I’ve had with cosmetic cracking and crazy shapes have been moisture related.

Sweet potatoes are a funny crop. Most vegetables you can monitor as the season goes on, but sweet potatoes are a big mystery. The beautiful vines on top grew like crazy. But the sweet potatoes are under ground and tend to form later in the season. They are actually tuberous roots, so the plant has sent out all these long roots and some of them expand and become the fleshy thing we eat.

A couple of weeks ago I dug my arm into the soil and rooted around and grabbed a couple of samples and they were great, so things looked promising, just like those gifts under the tree on Christmas. But there are still no guarantees.




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