Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Sweet Potato Bonanza!

Our friends Cam and Michelle (Cam Mather is author of “The All You Can Eat Gardening Handbook”, the best gardening book of all time!), have grown sweet potatoes for the last couple of years and we have been insanely jealous of this ability.  I whined and begged and Cam finally relented to share his secrets last year – he gave me some vines from his plants to keep in the house through the winter and gave me the name of the Sweet Potato Bible – “Sweet Potatoes for the Home Garden with Special Techniques for Northern Growers” by Ken Allan.  Thank you Cam and thank you Ken!

Slips planted in plastic in June 2010
Sweet potatoes require a fair bit of planning to grow in the North here in Ontario – the soil must be warmed with plastic sheeting starting in April and the potatoes do not grow from tubers the way regular potatoes grow.  They only grow from slips which come from keeping vines through the winter or letting slips grow from the tubers from last years’ harvest and cutting and rooting them in the spring. 

Despite the work involved to get them into the ground, once they are in there is little work involved.  They are a tropical plant so love the heat and we had plenty of that this summer.  The vines spread over a large area and the vine produces a very pretty lavender/purple flower.  This is the same bed  - 6 plants in September before harvest.

So, the results?  We could not wait any longer and dug up four plants last Thursday.  What a huge crop!  One of the largest ones was 14” in diameter!  Unfortunately, a mouse had been nibbling on it for probably an extended time so only half of it was left.  But we got at least 7-8 sweet potatoes from each plant and filled our huge harvest basket with them and we still had another 8-10 plants to dig up. 

Today we dug up another 6 plants and found even bigger potatoes - 15" diameter width and 19" diameter length wise and about 4 pounds.  We have probably dug up about 50 pounds from the 10 plants.

The Big One
It is a bit like an archeology dig because the sweet potatoes are not always right under the plant - in fact we found many right outside the beds and many feet from the the original plant.  You also do not want to scratch them up too much so it is best to use hands where possible.

A grouping of sweet potatoes around a plant
Once you dig up sweet potatoes they need to be cured if you want to store them and again this is a bit of work – they need to be kept at 85-90F with 80-90% humidity for 5-7 days.  Not easy to figure that out in September in Ontario.  We have converted a large appliance box with a small space heater inserted into the side into our curing shack.  By adding a jug of water and keeping the sweet potatoes in paper bags we hope to retain the humidity required to cure them for storage through the winter.

The second harvest
Sweet potatoes, by the way, are a super food and should be incorporated into everyone’s diet as often as possible.  We love them in Sweet Potato Salsa and one of the easiest ways to enjoy them is to make mashed potatoes half with regular and half with sweet – they end up to be a gorgeous golden colour.  Perfect for the Thanksgiving table.