I have been a home gardener off and on for years. My gardens have ranged in size from a few feet to almost a quarter of an acre. This year we have a small plot that is more for my 5 years olds’ entertainment then to stock a pantry for the winter. It is a family garden that will help provide us with fresh organic food and really isn’t that whole the point. Family time with a 5-year-old does not need fancy toys just plain out-door fun. The fun starts with digging in the dirt, looking for worms, counting plants, looking for blooms and watering with a tiny watering can. It is all part of the wonderful learning that happens in a garden. Lucky for me, I have good friends who like to share their love of gardening. This year they wanted to share their sweet potato slips with Christopher. I was not really planing to have a garden with sweet potatoes this year but boy am I glad that Tom took a look at these wonderful plants and said “Yea, we can make room.”
So without much of a plan this was what Christopher, Tom and I thought we wanted in a garden this year.We have planted 10 tomato plants, 13 pepper plants of 4 different verities, a bunch of beets, pickling cucumbers, pumpkins, water melon, cantaloupe, parsnips, green beans and those surprise sweet potatoes. Every thing but the parsnips and green beans fit in our little space. We limited the number of seeds and plants so we could grow many things and not a lot of any one thing. Toms family is famous for growing a garden twice this size for just green beans and another three times this big for potatoes. We on the other hand want to not only freeze some of this fresh produce, but let Christopher learn about a lot of different plants so he will be able to grow some for himself in the future. The wonderful thing we will get to teach Christopher about sweet potatoes is that as long as you have one sweet potato you have the ability to raise at least 15 to 20 more plants the following spring. Like the eyes that grow on a russet or yukon gold potato you can reproduce many plants from one potato. My Friends Ken and Sylvia started a couple of sweet potatoes by saving nice healthy unblemished potatoes from the previous year. They then take the potatoes that they have stored in the cellar and run three nails about 1/2 way through the root to suspended in a jar of rain water. As you can see the root is half in the water and half out of the top of a canning jar. They let them sit in a sunny window for the next three months and this is what they get. This is a photo of what is left after they had removed about 15 shoots for Christopher and a few for another friend. The plant will continue to send out more shoots over the next month and they will plant them in their garden.
Sweet potatoes are wonderful for children to raise because they are super easy to grow, they are bug and disease resistant. They are a plant the roots and leave them alone kind of project. Then the fun really begins when he will be able to dig up his own sweet potato and eat it for dinner that evening. The wait is about 90 days or until the first frost. We planted our sweet potatoes in my opinion to close together. Ken recommends at least 12 inches apart and mine as you can see from the photo have been in the ground about 30 days and they are about 10 inches a part and I would have planted them more like 16 inches apart but they seem ok at this point. The vines will grow a couple of feet each way and get bushy as the summer passes. The time to harvest is when the leaves begin to yellow and or you have a good frost. Then dig away with a four tine garden fork and let the kids load up a wagon or several baskets.
Once you have the potatoes you have to make plans to store them. Most people store them in a root cellar or basement. I actually plan to can most of the extras we have but will store a few for fall use. Before storing the potatoes they need time to cure and get a leathery skin to protect them from the bumps and dings of storage, this takes about 10 to 14 days at about 75-80 degrees. I will place the unwashed roots in a cardboard box on our back porch for about a week and turn them so the air reaches all of the roots before wrapping them in news paper and putting them in our cool, dark basement for the winter. At the end of summer I am going to do a post about canning these wonderful nutritious vegetables and how we make sweet potato casserole made from our own garden grown veggies . In the mean time Christopher and I will be tilling dirt around these guys as they grow. I am not sure if I should mulch them yet as we have had a very wet ( almost soggy) start to summer and I am afraid if I try to keep more moisture in the ground we will just kill the plants from too much water. Time will tell if we need more water or not. Lets just see what Christopher learns when we get this little project finished up.
My wife is going to be jealous of Tom’s tiller. If I’m not mistaken, that’s a Troy-Bilt Horse. She had the smaller version of that (Pony) and she absolutely loved it and, even at her small size, she could run it with one hand like he is doing in the picture.
The tiller engine died, and it was so old that nobody makes a replacement engine. I bought one that I thought I could make work. I got it to run forward well, but not very well in reverse and she really needs reverse for her small space sometimes. Plus the shape of the engine was very different and the weight and balance were all off.
We gave that machine to a friend (who doesn’t need reverse) and we bought a Simplicity tiller. It works well, she does like it, but there’s no one-handing that machine.