Sweet Potato Experiment

First, Happy Father’s Day to all you dads out there.

In my infinite quest to plant as many edibles in my little gardening space as possible I’ll stick a plant wherever I think it might grow.  Any nook or cranny is fair game.  Every possible space must be filled with something growing.  If something is taking up ground space, it needs to be pretty or productive. 

That brings me to how the sweet potatoes got planted in the composter.

The composter wasn’t producing compost fast enough.  It’s really hard to get in there and turn the ingredients, and I’ve had a quicker turnaround mixing ingredients in large plastic bins in the garage. 

So….if not a functional composter, how about a nice, big planter?  I loaded the bottom of the composter with grass clippings and yard waste and put about six or eight inches of potting mix on top of that and planted the sweet potatoes.

Well, maybe the composter works better than I thought because…well, just look.

As you can see, the sweet potato plants are growing, and the soil line is shrinking.   I’m going to have to say this little experiment is probably going to be a failure.  But I’m sure it’s too late to re-transplant the sweet potato plants to a different spot without damaging the plant, so what I’m going to do is keep putting some of my yard waste in the container and see what happens.  Maybe I’ll have nice big sweet potatoes, or maybe I’ll have ugly scabby potatoes, or maybe I’ll have no potatoes.

While searching the internet, I found this article (1936 bulletin on growing sweet potatoes ).   It’s from way back when, and it gives a lot of detailed info about growing sweet potatoes and lots of interesting recipes, including one for sweet potato flour.  Who’da thunk it?

The sweet potato slips were compliments of my master gardening friend, Gregory Bratton.  He’s busy, busy, busy this year with lots of community gardens he’s working on, plus his own personal mini farm at 910 West 71st Street.  He told me recently that Erika Allen, daughter of Will Allen of Growing Power, has asked him to work on an upcoming city farm project, South Chicago Farm and Park at Altgeld Gardens.  Congratulations, Gregory.

Along with the sweet potato slips, Gregory gave me a few other plants which are doing just fine.

Sugar Baby watermelons interplanted with lettuce and onions at the top of the squash cold frame.

Russian Kale


The honeydew melon has finally found its sweet spot and has started growing.

In other happenings, I’ve staked the corn that got blown over the other day by the wind.  It’s really weird to see corn tasselling at two, three and four feet instead of giant humongous stalks of corn like EG grows.  And my poor peas.  They’re still leaning to the side and I don’t know what to do for them.  I guess when the wind was blowing the tendrils started tightening onto whatever they could, which was each other, and now they’re a tangled mess for the top two feet of growth above the trellis.

That’s it for today.  I want to get the house clean, try to catch up on some of the many things I’ve been putting off, and then take a break.

Happy Gardening!!!

Late Leafy Lettuce if I’m Lucky

I went outside with the intention to just pot up the parsley plants. Figure I’ll do a little bit at a time since I’ve got all this work-work to get done. I ended up being outside I don’t even want to say how long.

I potted three of the parsley plants after picking quite a bit from all the plants. I still have one in the ground. I’ve got to check if they’re frost tolerant or not. I know the sage, rosemary and chives are perennials and will be okay.

I ended up poking around in the sweet potatoes and finding two scraggly looking but very tasty sweet potatoes. I sprinkled a little bone meal on the ground, scratched it in, watered it in, and finally put the plastic on the empty squares in front and in back of the sweet potato plants. Since the potatoes in the plastic bin did so well and the surface was covered, I’m hoping it will work here. Plus the black plastic will warm the soil. And if you think about it, with the plants in the bin, you’ve got the sun shinning right on the bin warming up the whole root area. Another reason for growing them in the bins next year.

I also drastically pruned the tomato plants and pulled up a few that had none or only a few tomatoes on them. With the vacated space, I planted some lettuce seeds. I guess I’m finding the enthusiasm to try the hoop house or a version thereof. I’m thinking it’s still warm enough for the lettuce seeds to germinate. And the package says it only takes 30 days to get harvestable leaves, so I’m giving it a shot.

I finally picked the turnip greens. It took almost two hours to wash, pick and blanch them.

I’ll have some space where the cucumbers are pretty soon because they’re beginning to die out. 09-02-08 (10)

I can start some lettuce inside now and transplant in a couple weeks and do the hoop house thing on this box too. Even though the collards are frost tolerant, I’m sure they’ll last longer with the protection.

I made the trellis for the cucumbers with some bamboo poles I got from a FreeCycler (love that FreeCycle). In their previous life the poles were part of a bamboo curtain or room divider. I was able to make five ladder type trellises like the one in the blue container. For the cucumber trellis I put one on each side of the raised bed box and then laid two poles across the top. Instant trellis. I spray painted the poles black so they could blend in better.

09-02-08 (13)

Got to get back to the work-work.

Happy Gardening!!!!

Sweet Potato Plant Prolific Producer

I made a spur of the moment decision to see how the potatoes were growing in the self-watering container. For the white potatoes, there was still lots of green foliage, but I only got two large potatoes and two gumball sized potatoes. The large potatoes were literally on the floor of the bin which I stopped filling halfway.

The sweet potato I’d say was a success.09-18-08 (2)

These came from one plant growing in the self-watering container that started life sharing space with two watermelons and a cherry tomato. The water melons got pulled a couple/few weeks ago, and the cherry tomato plant a little while after that. I didn’t pinch the leaves or allow the stems to root. The largest potato was directly under the plant.

You’re supposed to cure the potatoes by leaving them in 80-85 degree temperature for about 10 days to toughen up the skin and allow the starches to convert to sugars. You do this so you can store the potatoes. But since I had so few, I sprayed them with a quick squirt of no-stick spray and baked them. Delicious. Even that little skinny one on the right was good. And they were sweet. I didn’t add any butter or sugar or cinnamon or vanilla or milk (which is what I would normally add if I wasn’t trying to cut calories) and they were still sweet.

I still have the sweet potatoes growing in the raised bed to look forward to. Hopefully I’ll be able to restrain myself from digging them up earlier than I have to (which is before they get hit by frost).

I’ll definitely do the sweet potatoes in the self-watering container next year and put at least four plants in the bin.

Just as an experiment I saved some of the vines to put in pots indoors to see if they’ll grow. Another winter project to to keep my fingers in the dirt.

Happy Gardening!!!!

Found a Potato Growing with the Tomato

DSCN1571 While I refuse to dig around in my white potatoes until they start to die (which they are showing minimal signs of doing now after growing four full months), I did stick my hand into the soil around my sweet potatoes . I was so excited when I felt an actual potato down there. It’s growing directly under the original slip that I planted. It’s really small, only a couple of inches in diameter, and I can’t tell how long it is because I don’t want to mess anything up by digging around too much, but yea!!!!.

The sweet potato plant is sharing space in a self-watering container with a very tall cherry tomato. It’s hard to see, but the sweet potato is the plant growing up the left side of the porch railing against the building. Up until a few days ago, it also shared space with two watermelon plants which produced only one baby sized melon per plant.

Sweet potatoes grow from slips, not seeds or cut up chunks of potatoes like white potatoes. In fact, no part of the actual potato is used. A slip is grown from the surface of the mother potato either by suspending the tuber in water or half burying it in soil.

I’ve never tried the soil method, but back in March I grew my own slips using a potato I bought from the grocery store. Sweet potato sprouting_03-08 Sweet Potatoe slips in water - 3-29-08 At first I just put the potato in the cup and waited for it to start sprouting, and waited, and waited, and waited, and waited. Then when I stuck the skewers in the sides and suspended it, that’s when it started growing. The second picture is some of the slips I had in the window thinking they’d get more light than on top of the refrigerator, but in the end I don’t think it really made a difference.

As long as I kept the potato in water it continued to send up slips. I got more than 50 from that one plant. I planted the slips in a few different spots just to see how well they’ll do in different locations in the garden.

I had enough slips for myself, my mother-in-law, and our friend Sidney. I also started the slips way too early. I ended up putting some of the slips into little Dixie cups when the roots started growing. I read that water roots are different from soil roots, so I gave it a try. I planted the potted up slips in the raised bed and just one slip in the container and a few here and there in the yard. By the time I planted them, the slips were over a foot tall.

It took a minute for them to start growing because they had to put on more root growth, but once they started, they really grew. 06-30-08 (17)The slips were planted the early part of May, and this was taken at the end of June when the plant started to vine. The heart shaped leaves are from the sweet potatoe. You can see it’s beginning to grow up onto the porch.

Here are the potatoes in my raised bed today. DSCN1574It was hard to keep the growth contained to four square feet. I just kept folding them back into their space.

I removed the broccoli that was in the squares in front of the sweet potatoes. I was trying to figure what to replace the square with, but what I’m going to do instead is cover the area with cardboard to hopefully encourage more tubers to grow in that area. And since they’ll keep growing until the leaves start to yellow, I know I’ve got more time because the leaves are growing like crazy. I won’t cut them because I’ve read that reduces the ultimate size of the tubers, and I’m also careful not to let the plants root on the ground for the same reason. If a leaf node stays on the ground it will start to root there and eventually make more potatoes. And since you’re supposed to harvest when the tubers are 3 1/2 inches in diameter, I’ll wait on the container potatoes too, but they’ll all come out before the soil temps get below 50 because that will cause damage to the potato since sweet potatoes are sensitive to frost.

There are some leaves that have turned brown, but I think it’s more from dry soil than from the plant starting to die, but we will see.

Anyway, my curiosity got the best of me and I dug around one of the potatoes I stuck in the tomato bed, and guess what I found.DSCN1581 It’s only about 5 inches long, but double yea!!!! This one was planted later than the others, so I have hope for some decent sized potatoes.

I found out a little while ago from one of the posters at GardenWeb that the sweet potato leaves are edible. I tried some in a salad once and it didn’t really turn me on, but I saw this recipe that sounds kind of appetizing I think I’ll try.

Just as an aside, if you’re into the ornamental sweet potato vine, if a tuber forms under the plant, you can save it over the winter and make slips for it the same way you do for the edible sweet potato vine.  You get to save yourself a few dollars and have the satisfaction of knowing you did it yourself.

Can’t wait until harvest time.

Happy Gardening!!!

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