seed

Time to Plant Your Sweet Potato Slips

Summer is fast approaching (in Florida, anyway) which means it’s time to get your slips in the ground and growing.  They require a long growing season and they require warmth.  But they don’t grow from seed potatoes, rather the “slips” created from your sweet potatoes.  How does one create a sweet potato slip?

The technique is easy.  You simply cut your sweet potato in half, perch it upon the mouth of a jar or glass (suspended by toothpicks works well) submerging the bottom half in water.  Voila!

creating slips

Place in a sunny location and keep the water level high enough so that the bottom half remains wet and then watch your potato sprout.

After a while—times vary, but you can expect to wait days, even weeks in some cases—shoots (leaves) will form on the top of your potato.  You can gently remove these and place them in water, again half-submersed, and a tangle of roots will develop.

slip roots

When they reach a couple of inches in length, you simply transplant them to your garden and water them in.

Sweet potatoes like loose sandy soil and don’t need a lot of fertilizer or water, which makes them especially kind to the novice Florida gardener, such as myself.   You can amend the soil with some compost to add nutrients, but don’t worry if you can’t.  These girls are pretty hardy.

Depending on the variety, potatoes can be harvested from 100 – 140 days.   I planted my first crop in June and began harvesting in October but continued through December.  They don’t like the cold, so we cleared the remainder out and collected them for storage before the temps dipped too low.

As with any tender transplant, take care with your new rootings and they will grow fast and furious.   Wonderful news, because sweet potatoes are not only easy to grow, but they’re as healthy as it gets.  Roasted, mashed, baked or broiled, these babies will keep you healthy and happy and hoppin’ ready for a new crop come fall!

sweet potato slips ready for sprouts

Mine are on the shelf and ready for action.  The colorful one in the middle was a gift from my daughter. 🙂  She made it at one of those clay-fire-glaze studios.  Cute, isn’t it?

Shopping Season Begins

It’s time to buy your seeds!  If you haven’t been seed saving, that is.  Personally, I have beans coming out the wa-zoo which means I won’t be purchasing any of these babies. But I will be looking for some fresh bibb lettuce. While I know how to harvest lettuce seeds for seed-saving, I haven’t been making the time. Call me lazy, call me too eager for the next harvest, I’ve pulled most of my plants before they had a chance to flower (like this lovely lady below). Seeds will form in the flowers, whereby you can remove from the plant, hang it to dry in a bag making collecting the tiny seeds easy.

lettuce going to seed

Now, for those of you who are trying to save seeds, I completely understand how you could become so excited over your tomato crop making sauce–ketchup, salads, even canning the beauties–that you completely forgot to save a few ripe tomatoes for the purpose of saving seeds.  Yep. You plopped them right into the boiling water for skin removal without even thinking.  It happens.  It’s okay.  More Beefsteak tomato seeds are on my list, too. I mean, these guys are gorgeous, I can’t get enough of them!

seed shopping

But take heart.  You’re enjoying the thrill of gardening, reaping what you sow and cooking the dickens out of it.  Which is all good. However, keep in mind that when those seed catalogs arrive and you eagerly run to the mailbox (or jog), be careful. Ice tends to be slippery. You don’t want to break a hip or bruise a wrist–you’re going to need those limbs in good condition to begin the season!

Now, once you’re settled indoors, snug as a bug in a rug in front of a warm fire, pull out those gorgeous catalog pages filled with plump ripe fruits and vegetables, a colorful array of flowers and herbs, and look for heirloom seeds.  Not hybrid, not super-duper-extra-sweet or double the normal growth potential…

Uh, uh.  You want heirloom, preferably organic.  Why?

my salsa tomatoes

Because once you plant those hybrid seeds, the ones meant to overcome Mother Nature’s deficiencies (though don’t let her hear you say that out loud), you’ll be sorely disappointed next season when the seeds you saved don’t produce.  Hybrids aren’t natural and when you replant the seeds, your new crop of plants will not reproduce the original fruit, if they germinate at all.  Hybrid Better Boys will yield a bounty of produce, but next season?  These bad boys might only yield a crop of cherry-like tomatoes.  Se pasa. It happens.

So save yourself the heartache and only buy heirloom seeds.  And while you’re shopping, remember to only buy what you’ll actually eat. Otherwise you’ll end up with a rotted mess of unwanted produce. Plant seeds according to package instructions and keep moist.  Think of them as babies and treat them as such.

This spring I’m tripling my corn beds. Now that I know how to control those dastardly insects, I think I can reap a golden harvest this year. I’ll keep you posted. Until then…happy gardening!

Break Out the Catalogs

It’s time to buy your seeds!  If you haven’t been seed saving, that is.  Now mind you, for those of you who are saving seeds I completely understand how you could become so excited over your tomato crop making sauce and ketchup that you completely forgot to save a few ripe tomatoes for the purpose of saving seeds.  Yes, you plopped them right into the boiling water for skin removal without even thinking.  It happens.  It’s okay.  More Brandywine tomato seeds are on my list, too. I mean, I had such awesome luck with these guys this year I definitely need more.

seed shopping

But take heart!  You’re enjoying the thrill of gardening, reaping what you sow and cooking the dickens out of it.  For my raw food fans, the concept remains the same.  Chopping seeds in your Cuisinart isn’t helpful for seed saving so slow down…take a deep breath and think before you throw the switch. 🙂  I’m just sayin’…

Keep in mind when the seed catalogs arrive and you eagerly run to the mailbox (or jog—ice tends to be slippery) and pull out those gorgeous pages filled with plump ripe fruits and vegetables, a colorful array of flowers and herbs, you want to look for heirloom seeds.  Not hybrid, not super-duper-extra-sweet or double the normal growth potential…  Uh, uh.  You want heirloom and preferably organic.  Why?

my salsa tomatoes

Because once you plant those hybrid seeds, the ones meant to overcome Mother Nature’s deficiencies (don’t let her hear you say that out loud) and harvest the produce and save your seeds, you’ll be sorely disappointed next season.  Hybrids and the like aren’t natural and when you replant the seeds, your new crop of plants will not reproduce the original fruit if they germinate at all.  If you’re lucky, you may plant hybrid Better Boys one season—thrilled with the beasts of bounty they produce—but next season?  These bad boys might only yield a crop of cherry-like tomatoes.  It happens.

So save yourself the heartache and buy heirloom.  And remember to buy only what you’ll actually eat. Plant seeds according to package instructions and keep moist.  Think of them as babies and treat them as such.  This spring I’m putting corn back on my list. Now that I know how to control those dastardly insects, I think I can reap a golden harvest this year. Wish me luck!  Until then…happy gardening!

Cover Crops and Crop Covers

Ah, but the adventure in gardening never ceases!  While I usually associate cover crops with winter, covering your crops is a necessity for us Floridians during summer.  If you want to remain sane, that is, and don’t take kindly to heat exhaustion. Good God–it’s hot around theses parts in August!  Even the poor dogs are complaining. No stretch for our yellow Lab Cody-boy.  Dog never met an air-conditioner he didn’t absolutely adore. Or covet–depending on where he was sleeping that night. 🙂  Don’t ask. Long story.

Any-who, it’s hot. Too hot to garden, too hot to weed, too hot for anything but the pool. Maybe the beach if the trek through the sand weren’t so treacherous, searing the tender skin clear off the bottoms of my feet.  Ouch–but I don’t remember that being a problem as a kid!  Eh, nostalgia 101. 

Now, moving right along, what’s a gardener to do in the scorch of summertime?  She covers her crops, that’s what she does.  If she knows whats good for her, anyway.  Not only will this action keep the weeds at bay, but it will kill those pesky grubs and nematodes too.  Yep, you guessed it.  It’s our very own rendition of the sun-baked oven.  By covering the rows with black (or red) paper we can eliminate the bugs beneath the ground.  (If you plan to research the gem of advice, the proper term is “solarizing the soil.”)  Now, professional grade paper works way better than home gardener grade, but if you can’t lay your hands on the tough stuff, you may want to double up on the home-style version for the same effect:  trap the heat, heat the soil, fry the varmints and prepare for planting.  Isn’t this fun?

I do love a multi-tasker.  Makes the world go round with the ease and flow.  The kids and I have covered just about our entire garden with plain old weed cloth prevention paper and while it doesn’t look pretty (anchor pins don’t work well against summertime thunderstorms so we used anything we could to help weigh the paper down!), it is efficient at preventing weeds–a must in our garden if we plan to avoid mutiny.

Do make sure you perform all of this wonderfully productive work during the early morning or early evening hours, else you fry your brain in the process.  But what if you don’t live in Florida? And don’t have grubs and nematodes?

No nematodes or grubs?  Why, that’s not fair!  It’s not right!  Who are you that you should waltz through the growing season without these dastardly beasts?  Not to worry. Once I’ve had my throw down I’ll haul myself up, brush the dirt from my knees, wipe my hands clean and suggest you may be interested in some cover crops. They’re totally organic, great soil conditioners and even work to keep the weeds at bay.

What’s a cover crop?  Well now, you’ve come to the right place!  Cover crops are all kinds of things, from legumes to rye, brassicas to flowers, but more important–they all have a purpose.  Say you’re an organic gardener (of course you are) and you want to enrich your soil with organic matter.  One way to achieve this is by planting a bean crop, also known as “green manure,” because beans put nitrogen into the soil.  And plants LOVE nitrogen.  This concept is not only great for amending the soil, but it’s also key to the concept of crop rotation.  For a winter cover crop, try a heavy seeding of rye in your garden like you see here planted at the Blue Horizon Farm.  Not only will it improve your soil, but it’s cold tolerant ANd thick enough to provide great weed prevention.  Gotta love that! 

But cover crops can do more than improve soil and prevent weeds.  Planting mustard has shown to suppress fungal disease populations through the release of naturally occurring toxic chemicals during the degradation of glucosinolade compounds in their plant cell tissues while other crops are planted to lure pests away from your garden.  Sort of a pest-trap-planting, if you will. 

Isn’t this great? So whether you’re covering crops or growing crop cover–there’s something to keep everyone active no matter the time of year. Hip-hip-hooray!