Visitors to the Pakenham Library may have noticed two livestock water troughs at the side of the library overflowing with green vegetation. There are some beautiful pepper plants laden with green and yellow treasure but what is the rest of the vegetation all about?
This morning I went out with Pakenham Library Assistant Sheila Robertson to see what was going on under the surface. After a bit of digging and pulling we were rewarded with a bin-full of pretty impressive sweet potatoes.
This is a bit of a gardening experiment in Pakenham. Livestock water troughs were purchased at Five Span Feed and Seed, placed at three visible sites in Pakenham, filled with soil, and planted with vegetables. Signs have been affixed promoting the Lanark County Food Bank. While these troughs will not produce a huge volume of food, it is a fascinating experiment to see how well the plants produce. These tanks are having a fair amount of interest from gardeners with very small growing areas or those who find bending to garden is no longer feasible.
The water tanks measure approximately six feet in length, two feet in width and two feet in height. The tanks were placed on four-by-four-inch pieces of cedar so that they can be readily moved. The tanks have a drainage hole near the bottom of one side – the plug was removed so excess water can drain off. A few inches of crushed stone were spread in the bottom of the tanks and then covered with heavy duty landscape fabric. A mixture of black earth and composted manure was then added on top. In light of the relatively small size of the troughs, bagged material was used.
The Pakenham Library agreed to two troughs in a side parking area, installed a soaker hose and took very good care of the plants.
The variety of sweet potato is called Georgia Jet. The key to successful growing of sweet potatoes locally is choosing a variety that will produce a good crop during our short summer. DO NOT try to grow slips 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 of hot weather available to us. Georgia Jet is by far the best variety that I have found for the local climate, having excellent taste and producing many medium and large sized tubers.
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 may be ordered from the very helpful folks at the Five-Span Feed Store in Pakenham. Place your order in March for Georgia Jet slips grown by a local market gardener. I have also grown my own slips placing my carefully-stored tubers in water or moist peat moss 4 to 6 weeks before slips are required for the garden. I plant sweet potatoes at the end of May about two feet apart on a raised bed and cover the bed with straw which prevents the vines from rooting at every node (where the leaves join the stem). The objective is a central group of large tubers rather than pencil-thin tubers at every node.
The yield depends on many factors – for sweet potatoes the amount of sun and heat we receive is probably the most important – as you might imagine the soil gets quite warm in these tin cans.
It has been recommended to me that sweet potatoes should not be eaten right after harvesting them; it is suggested that waiting at least a couple of weeks will allow some of the starches to turn to sugars and the sweet potatoes will be much tastier. I can certainly attest that the taste of freshly dug sweet potatoes is pretty bland.
Once the tubers are dug, they should be cured right away. Curing requires a space that can be maintained at about 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 (much warmer than the storage requirements for regular potatoes). A properly cured and stored tuber can be stored for a year or more and can be used to start next year’s crop.
The Hunger Stop (Lanark County Food Bank) serves Beckwith, Carleton Place and Mississippi Mills – the town of Pakenham is at the northern edge of the territory. The Hunger Stop has long been concerned that it is invisible in the smaller towns and is not reaching those in need, such as isolated seniors. One of the important reasons for this garden development in Pakenham is to raise the profile of the Hunger Stop to ensure that no one in the community goes hungry. If you find that you are going hungry or know of someone that is, or wish to make a donation, please call the Hunger Stop at 613-257-8546.