Get dirty, have fun and grow more food with great gardening tips from real-life gardeners.
Last week as I was preparing to plant our Roselle, Hibiscus sabdariffa, Mother Earth News editor Cheryl Long shared this comment from a reader, “there was an article about hibiscus flower tea lowering blood pressure. I followed the recipe and after 1 month my BP is normal! Even with meds I remained at 155/98 and have had trips to the ER over it, but now it is 117/71, normal!” At the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange farm, we love growing our day length neutral strain of Thai Red Roselle for a refreshing summer drink, a delicious cranberry like jam or sauce and tangy leaves to add to summer salads as well as its blood pressure lowering properties. You can read my article to learn how to grow your own Roselle.
Our new certified sweet potato grower Clif Slade stopped by the farm today to drop off All Purple and Porto Rico sweet potato slips for our first shipment. Clif used to be an extension agent in Surrey County for many years, and he was full of useful tips on growing these fabulous plants. I’ve always known it was important to wait for the soil to be warm enough before planting, but how warm? And how do you measure?
Cliff says his daddy always planted sweet potatoes on Memorial Day weekend, but a more scientific way is to test first with a soil thermometer. When the soil has been 65 degrees for a week, it’s warm enough (testing every day at 10 am.)
For every week earlier that you plant your sweet potatoes, you can lose 100 bushels per week. Sweet potatoes can yield 500 bushels per acre, but that’s reduced to 400 bushels if you plant a week too early, 300 bushels a week earlier, and so on (other things being equal, like fertility, inputs, and moisture.)
Cliff also reminded us that mature sweet potatoes don’t do well with cold soil. If frost hits, get them out of the ground right away! Harvest that same day and cure them in a warm place (80-90 degrees if you can get it that warm) with high humidity (80 or 90%).
Another root we’re planting right now is sunchokes. Also called Jerusalem artichokes, they’re tubers of a sunflower-relative. Raw, they’re crisp like water chestnuts. They have become popular in recent times because the sugars in these sweet roots are inulin, a form that doesn’t spike your glycemic index. I think these perennials are the easiest-to-grow edible root in our gardens. They have really low fertility requirements, and they’re happy and disease-free through heat and drought.
Sunchokes are ready for harvest around November. In milder areas, you can store them in the ground and harvest as needed all winter. In the north people usually harvest before hard freezes and store in a root cellar. Just be sure that by May you’ve got your sunchokes re-planted at your desired spacing. This will ensure the plants make nice big roots for next year’s harvest.
We’re trying to spread the news about yacon, a sweet, edible high-yielding tuber from the Andes, that’s a relative of sunchokes, but much sweeter. We peel them and eat them raw, out of hand like a fruit, but they’re also excellent sliced in salads. Served this way, we’ve had people mistake them for pears. Both yacon and Jerusalem Atichokes contain inulin which helps keep blood sugar stable, so they’re great for people who have diabetes.
We got our seedstock from food writer and Mother Earth News contributing editor William Woys Weaver as well as seed saver Michael Youngs, who grows these subtropical plants in upstate New York – they’re not photo-period sensitive. They store exceptionally well: Michael takes them to work as a snack all winter. Simply harvest yacon in the fall before frost, and we find they’ll keep until spring. Yacon makes two kinds of tubers – an inner ring of small roots that should be saved for planting, and deeper down in the soil the larger edible roots (each one 6 to 12 inches long!) We are hoping for a large enough crop of both the Violet skinned, orange fleshed Marada from William Woys Weaver and the crisp sweet White yacon from Mike Youngs to offer in our 2013 catalog. Who says you can’t have your yacon and eat it too?
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