The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Sweet potato harvest

Small sweet potatoesI went out to dig the other 20% of the sweet potatoes Tuesday morning and came home with this measly wheelbarrow full.  And for the rest of the day, I pondered why Monday's beds yielded up dozens of mammoth tubers while Tuesday's beds gave me just a few skinny roots.

I considered planting date, since I put in a bed every week or so between mid May and late June, but my measly beds were planted near the beginning of that succession and even the latest-planted bed yielded up good-sized tubers.  Or maybe it was the type of fertilizer?  Nope, I gave all of our sweet potatoes the same chicken manure compost.

Clip off the leaves before digging sweet potatoesI had just read Steve Solomon's Gardening When it Counts when planting our sweet potatoes this year, so I spaced the slips nearly twice as far apart as last year (only four slips in an average sized bed.)  That planting method might explain why I had so many huge tubers, but since I used the same method on the measly beds, it doesn't explain the disproportionate yield between beds.

Finally, the simplest answer came to me --- location.  All of my hefty tubers came from the upper garden where we enjoy a slightly clayey loam, while the measly tubers came from the mule garden which is pure clay.  I was tricked into thinking the mule garden would be Dig test tubers to check for sweet potato ripenessokay for sweet potatoes since I've had good harvests from garlic, white potatoes, and carrots there, but my failure with onions in the mule garden clay and with all of the above in the back garden's even more clayey clay should have clued me in --- root crops just don't like clay.  Next year, I'll stick to the front garden for our sweet potatoes.

Check out my previous posts to learn more about when to harvest sweet potatoes and how to cure sweet potatoes.  Or, if you're really into planning ahead for next year, learn to make your own sweet potato slips!

Our homemade chicken waterer is great for the backyard chicken keeper who doesn't like filth.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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I would be interested to hear results of a taste test between the two batches of sweet potatoes. On the whole my experience has been that long skinny sweet potatoes have the best flavor while larger and rounder ones have less flavor and sometimes have a coarse texture.
Comment by Lisa Wed Sep 22 11:42:18 2010
What a fascinating observation! I notice the same thing with little fruits from real trees versus the big, highly fertilized fruits in the grocery store. I'll definitely have to do a taste test and see if you're right --- if so, it would be worth going for small tubers instead (which would be pretty easy by putting the plants closer together.)
Comment by anna Wed Sep 22 18:00:22 2010

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