Having all the sweet potatoes slips I need signals the end of main planting season. Now I must decide what to do with the “mother” that has produced all the sweet potato slips.
Sweet potatoes are not one of my favorite foods. I grow them because I have read that they are one of the most productive of nutrients per square foot. Further, they are satisfying to grow: seeing the rapid sprouting of new slips from the “mother”, watching the running of the vines and then lifting the orange or purple tubers in early October (we are in zone 6 at 1500 feet in western Virginia). The June 10 late planting date approaches. The tub of moss and vermiculite that I buried the tubers in proved a good incubator for all the new plants I need. I have the two dozen or so plants potted for myself, plus more to sell at the local Gift & Thrift of Harrisonburg.
Sweet potato slips may be purchased at the local hardware store and some greenhouses or ordered from a number of sources. Common varieties available are Beauregard, Centennial, Georgia Jet and Porto Rico. The Sand Hill Preservation Center carries many more, listing white, purple, yellow, orange, short vine, long season and other types of sweet potatoes. I have been growing a split leaf variety of sweet grown and preserved for many years (she didn’t know how many) by Esther Shank, compiler of Mennonite Country-Style Recipes. I got the sweet potato slips from her when we worked together at the Gift & Thrift store. To try to identify the Shank heirloom, I have worked through the Sand Hill online catalog and located six split leaf sweets of the right vine length, season length, and with orange skin and flesh. I can say they are a tasty sweet potato that keeps well. Not as large as Beauregard, perhaps, but sufficiently productive to keep us in sweet potatoes until May.
Ending the first planting season
Sprouts are still emerging from the sweet. How do I give thanks for the mother tuber’s productivity of slips but by finishing the job and moving on to the potting? I had buried the sweet in vermiculite and moss producing good “dirt roots”. So why, one might ask, is potting necessary? I have relatively limited space, so I have a form of double cropping. . As peas—planted in the middle of my four-foot wide beds—are declining, I push aside the mulch nearer the edges and set in the sweet potato plants. Planting is usually two weeks later than if I had enough space to plant peas and sweet potatoes in separate beds. So, the potted sweets have good roots when set in the ground and take off with little stress. This year we were traveling until March 6, so did not get our peas in the ground early, so there is even more overlap.
Corn’s up, the snap peas are reaching the top of the fence, pole limas show the first signs of “running”, green beans look ready to send out blossoms, first tomatoes are swelling, peppers have blossoms and cabbages are big enough to cut. It’s the lull before produce starts becoming the “burden” we love. The heat this week will wilt the lettuce, send the arugula and mustard to flower and turn the spinach bitter. We will still have Swiss chard, though, and maybe the “summer” lettuce can be shaded and watered enough to show its superiority to store-bought.
This year I don’t have someone else to give the mother to. Why do I find difficult slicing the “Original Sweet Potato” in pieces? Partly because there are still a number of new sprouts showing on the tuber. Terminating the mother, even more than giving her away, sets the end to the main planting season. Then, too, I enjoy the starting of plants and of the garden, more than the maintaining. This “pioneering” inclination of mine is an annoyance to my gardening partner. She would like to see me equally engaged in the watering, weeding and harvesting aspects of gardening.
Giving thanks to God for the soil, the rain and strength to plant. Looking forward (with a non-ground hog summer) to a bountiful sweet potato harvest.