Mother Nature has thrown a few curve balls at us this spring but after a couple of days of sunshine on the weekend inside planting and planning for the outdoor gardening is building momentum.
This gardener’s fancy of course turned to Sweet Potatoes.
Sweet potatoes (Ipomoea batatas) are members of the morning glory family. Their blooms are virtually identical to those of their climbing cousins. Sweet potatoes produce dense vigorous vines up to two metres in length above ground and large tuberous roots below ground. The tubers are one of the world’s most important food crops, are easily digested and contain vitamins B and C. Fresh leaves can also be eaten raw in salads or cooked like spinach.
The KEY to successful growing of sweet potatoes in this area is choosing a variety that will produce a good crop during our short summers. DO NOT try to grow shoots from a tuber purchased from a supermarket. The varieties found there generally require 120 days to produce a crop compared to the 90 or so days available to the local gardener. Georgia Jet is by far the best variety that I have found for the local climate, having excellent taste and producing many large sized tubers. In fact I have had yields that have exceeded those from regular potatoes such as Yukon Gold – over a pound of tuber from a square foot of garden real estate.
Unlike regular potatoes where the tuber is planted in the garden, Sweet Potatoes are started by planting either shoots (called slips) or vine cuttings in the garden. Slips can be purchased by mail order (one Canadian source is Mapple Farms) or can be grown by placing tubers in water or moist peat moss six or seven weeks before slips are required for the garden.
I plant the slips in the garden on Victoria Day (or later depending on weather) in raised beds placing the plants a half metre or so apart. Sweet potatoes are relatively undemanding, preferring a warm, loose well drained soil. They grow quickly and require a couple of centimetres of rain a week. Covering the bed with 10 cm of mulch such as straw will eliminate weeds and conserve moisture.
In my experience, sweet potatoes have been little bothered by disease or by insects. Aphids, flea beetles and Golden Tortoise beetles may cause cosmetic damage by feeding on leaves. Rabbits, groundhogs and deer are another matter. I have had the best results by planting the sweet potatoes in an open field where animals have little place to hide.
Tubers should be dug by mid-September and should be cured right away. Curing requires a space that can be maintained at 30 to 32 C with high humidity for a week. This allows the skin to toughen and slows down the rate at which the tubers will dry out. Tubers can then be stored at temperatures between 13 and 18 C. A properly cured tuber can be stored for a year or more and can be used to start next year’s crop.
The taste of Sweet Potatoes straight from the garden is relatively bland but improves the longer that they are stored.
The very helpful folks at the Five-Span Feed Store in Pakenham are able to obtain Georgia Jet slips grown by a local market gardener. These will be grown in a four inch pot and will be available in early June but they must be ordered soon! They have ordered 100 (and have already sold 30). If you want a large quantity better let them know soon.
Growing and selling Sweet Potato slips is not a great get rich scheme – it is relatively easy to produce a good crop in this area and them save some of the tubers for starting slips the next year – in fact that is exactly what I am doing! I used some of the smaller tubers that I had grown last summer and had saved over the winter. I laid them in the soilless seedling mix in Styrofoam boxes as shown in the following photo and will keep them moist – slips will appear along the sides of the tubers – dozens if you are lucky.
A Neighbourhood Tomato Reminder
Alright…this is absolutely the last reminder! The Neighbourhood Tomato Community Gardening folks are looking for your input. An on-line survey has been created to learn what resources existing and prospective members are willing to commit to community gardening, both individual allotment gardens and community collaborative gardening. As well interest in creating new community gardening locations needs to be assessed as the existing garden plots in our community gardens have all been allocated.
We accomplished a lot last year. It will be difficult to even match what we did. But there are many opportunities as people are looking to grow their own fresh, local healthy food. Please consider volunteering and help make a difference in the community this year. Here’s the link. Have a look and please fill it in…
….and if you know of a relative, neighbour or friend who is unlikely to see this survey but may have a garden or some skills to share, please make them aware of this survey and help them to get in touch.
Some of the accomplishments in 2015 included:
- Potlucks and community celebrations that included a pot-luck at the Old Town Hall with most of our local municipal politicians in attendance and a wonderful summer potluck in conjunction with bicycle month that took over Mill Street
- A series of workshops held jointly with the Almonte Library.
- Twice weekly hands-on opportunities to learn about vegetable gardening
- Putting the final touches on the community garden in Augusta Park which included a large shed, a path through the garden that connects with the bridge and the street, water service to the garden, beds planted and pathways mulched, soil and compost added to some of the beds, and a large berm created to surround the garden planted with edible shrubs.
- An enlarged garden behind the library, including a collaborative gardening area, with an enthusiastic group of gardeners.
- We provided promotional assistance and support to community gardening programs in Carleton Place and Carp
- And over 4,000 pounds in 2015 was donated to the Food Bank during the Great 2015 Veggie Grow-off.