Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Growing Sweet Potatoes & Yams

I have been trying may hand at growing yams for two seasons now, from slips that I grew on myself.

The first year, I had great success and many slips, while last year I had minimal success and only a very few slips.

I did, however, have semi decent success growing them. Was able to get just enough tubers from each slip to keep me intrigued and want to keep on trying ; )

This year I found a farmer fella who actually grows a couple dozen varieties and sells the slips. Happiness!

As this farmer fella lives on the opposite side of the country, I thought it prudent to trial several varieties to see which ones fare best here on the island.

Pic from the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

These are the ones that I ended up choosing this year ...  (The variety information blurbs come from two different sources.) 

Ginseng Red- An early producing heirloom with pinkish brown skin and golden flesh. Bush habit and attractive, deeply serrated, ivy-like leaves.

Heirloom Variety. An unusual variety that offers a “bush” habit, but with attractive deeply serrated ivy-like leaves. An early producing heritage var. with golden yellow flesh and pale pink/tan skin. This one was the prettiest and largest of all varieties trialed.

Beauregard- Selected from the current standard commercial variety. Auburn skin and orange flesh.

The standard variety grown by commercial growers. Vining. Very reliable producers as they offer above average yields. Tubers offer deep auburn (?pink) skin and orange/yellow, slightly dryish flesh. Can’t you already see these mashed, on your plate with a dab of butter? Yum! Mid season producer.  

Superior- A copper-skinned, moist, orange-fleshed type with striking ivy-like foliage. Most appreciated by Great Lakes region growers. 

Georgia Jet- Noted for earliness and yield among the orange fleshed strains.

These are supposed to be very popular in Canada, I am told. A leader in earliness, producing huge yields orange colored flesh tubers. Pink Skin, orange flesh, moist. A bush forming variety. Very prolific & heavy cropper. For the gardener with a 100 day frost free growing season.  

Frazier White- White and very sweet. Bulks up well, especially easy to harvest.

Heirloom Variety. Vining. The only white skinned, sweet white fleshed variety of our collection! Said to “bulk up” well and harvest easy. (…digging for them is like finding candy in a straw pile !)  

Tainung 65- Light pink skin, creamy interior. Large tuber potential. Its purple stems and bronze leaves also make decorative houseplants or hanging baskets.

A variety from Taiwan (I’m told) with pink skin and (creamy) gold flesh. Produces mid-season with good results. Plants offer some eye candy with purple stems and bronze leaves. Vines are much longer than “Georgia Jets“. Excellent taste. Pretty enough for a pot close to the back door! Just make sure it is large enough! Needs lots of moisture! 105 days  Well! This one was my heaviest and largest producer for 2014 and 2016!

Pic from outlawgarden.com

Planting and care till harvest... 

Yams and sweet potatoes need about 100 days of growing in good warm soil, so should be planted in the warmest spot in your garden. Make sure the spot is weed free, with loose and friable soil. Plant when the night time air temps are consistently 10°C.

To attract more heat and suppress weeds, the planting spot can be covered with plastic or landscape fabric with a planting hole cut into it. Plant 1.5 to 2 feet apart.

Alternately, they can be grown in really big pots.

Sweet potatoes are not heavy feeders, but do benefit from a bit of phosphorous and potassium. Dust the planting spot with bonemeal and kelp or seaweed meal. Avoid too much nitrogen or you will end up with spindly tubers.

Sweet potatoes do not get hilled like regular potatoes do. They grow just beneath the soil level and make lovely vines above ground. Do not allow these vines to root into the ground so that all the plant energy goes into producing big tubers instead of fat, juicy ones.

Create a bit of a depression (a bowl to plant into) to hold water. Dig a hole into this depression and pop the slip into the hole, leaving just the top few leaves showing. This depression helps with the watering, holds more water and slowly seeps into the soil to help get a deep soak.

If you are planting on a bright, sunny day, shade the slip for a few days to help acclimate it and prevent sunburn. An easy way is to cover it with a plant pot that has had the bottom cut out of it.

Sweet potatoes are drought tolerant but grow best when watered deeply once or twice a week.

The plant will seem to grow very slowly at first, as it puts it's energy into rooting in, but by mid-summer, the vines will take off with great growth!

Tubers are ready to harvest when the vines have turned black by frost or when the night time temps start to fall below 10°C.

To cure the sweet potatoes for storage, place in a humid, warm spot for a couple of weeks. Ideally, mid 20's Celsius temperature, with a tray of water under the tubers for humidity. Do not wash tubers until cooking time.

The varying shapes of foliage on the assorted varieties. 

I hope you will pick up one or two of my well-rooted slips to grow in your garden and help me with my trial. Your feedback will be invaluable!

Happy Gardening! 

Monday, 15 May 2017

Ramblings In The Garden For The Month of May

Our month of May is proving to be much different than those in years past. So very cold and grey yet this year, hard to know exactly what to plant.

I just looked back on my post from last year ... by this time I apparently had most of my beds planted up, was just waiting for the hot weather veggies to go in.... This year, I only have two beds planted up! Oh dear! 

So then... what exactly can you plant? 

Tomatoes.... sort of... 

Determinate paste (aka Roma style) tomatoes

Tomatoes need the soil to be warm when you plant them, so a few consistent nights of +10°C is needed before you start to harden them off to pop them into the ground. Mine are outside hardening off as we speak.. but the days need to be warmer before I actually plant them. 

Make sure to harden off your plants, to acclimate them slowly to the higher light and cooler air before you plant. I put mine in a part sun/part shade location for 2 or 3 days and then go ahead and plant. 

If tomatoes get too cold, the foliage will turn purple. This is a phosphorous deficiency and is caused by soil that is too cold for the plant so that the plant is unable to uptake the phosphorous. A deficiency like this will set plant back drastically, so is almost better to toss out a purple leafed plant than to try to resurrect it.  

Plant a good variety of colours, shapes and sizes for making great salads. Wow your friends!

The others veggies.. 

Carrot seeds take from 10 to 21 days to germinate and need to be kept soaked daily till they do. Do not forget to water all your newly sown seeds!

1. Your cool weather veggies should be loving this weather that we are having. No early bolting this year! So, still time to plant and grow your cauliflower, broccoli, kale, radishes, lettuce, spinach, etc.. with no fear of bolting. 

2. Onions, from sets, seeds, or seedlings. See HERE! for more onion planting information.

3. Root crops of all kinds... beets, rutabagas, kohlrabi, turnips, radishes. They love this weather and will grow fast with all the moisture we are getting.

Kentucky Blue Pole Beans, one of the favourites that I must have in the garden annually 

4. Beans. All kinds, all colours. Bush beans, pole beans, drying beans, they can all go in now.

5. Celery, potatoes, kale, leeks, peas, lettuce, spinach, greens of all kinds... will thrive in this weather.

6. The heat lovers are still a bit tentative at this point. Usually we are able to sow seeds/transplants for squash, pumpkins, cucumbers, red malabar spinach, cucamelons, corn, sunflowers, etc.. all the heat lovers at this time. However, this year, I would hold off a wee bit longer! The soil needs to be warmer for them to germinate and thrive.

7. Flowers and companion plants! Plant away! Add your marigolds, calendula, zinnias and more to the garden. Herbs, too, all except the basil, which hates the cool and wet weather.

Happy Gardening! 

Planting Onions From Seed or Seedling

Why grow onions from seed or seedling rather than sets?

First of all, those mesh bags of onion sets always seemed so iffy to me. You get to choose from a limited variety, onions simply called yellow, white, red, or multiplier. No idea of what onion it actually is, where, or how it was grown. Likely not organically!

Secondly, onions grown from seed are more disease resistant, and grow bigger, better and faster, too. I found this out after breaking my wrist, one spring long ago, being unable to drive to the shops. Tossed some seeds straight into the garden beds and had the best crop of onions I had ever grown. I have never gone back to sets since! 

When you grow from seed, you have a great selection of varieties to choose from, all sorts of whites and reds and yellows.

A couple of my favourites are Tropeana Lunga and Lunga di Firenze, long torpedo shaped onions that are mild and sweet in flavour.

Walla Walla onions are always a big hit here on the west coast, too. Though they are not good storage onions, we can sow the seeds right into the garden bed several times a year, for fresh eating pretty much year round, including an over-winter sowing for new onions in spring.  

To grow your own seedlings, sow the seeds in flats or six packs in January or February, ideally with bottom heat. Onion seeds do not last long in storage, so is best to order new, fresh ones each year.

You should see the tops popping through in about a week's time. 

Once or twice during the growing phase, snip back the tops so they are 1 to 2 inches tall. This will help them to size up faster. 

Feed with liquid seaweed or kelp every couple of weeks. They will be ready to go into a cold frame in March or April, and then into the garden beds in late April or May.   

Seeds can also be sown directly into the garden beds in early spring, and will thrive just fine, growing bigger and better than the sets ever do. 

How to plant those seedlings? 

Onions are heavy feeders, so start with great soil, rich in nutrients. Make sure the soil is loose and well draining.

Make 2 inch deep furrows in rows that are 6 to 8 inches apart. This makes it easy to weed between the rows throughout the growing season. The Winged Weeder is fabulous for this purpose, best hoe ever.

I dust the furrows with a wee bit of blood and bone meal.

Cut the tops of each seedling down to about 1.5 inches tall 

Gently separate the seedlings.

Cut the top green growth to about 1.5 inches tall, to promote faster rooting in

Place in the furrows, 4 to 6 inches apart. I grow mine close together so that I get lots of good sized onions, but if you are growing larger onions, space them 6 inches apart.

Push the sides of the furrow together around each seedling, making sure not to bury it too deeply.
Covering just the red (or white) part of the onion, to where the green tops start.

Water in well.

 Two weeks later, they are making new tops

You will know that your onions are well rooted in when the tops start to grow up tall again. In about two weeks time, yous should see lots of lovely new growth.

Side dress with manure during the growing season to give them that much needed, extra boost of nutrients.

Onions do not compete well with weeds for nutrients, so run your hoe between the rows every week or two. 

Water once a week throughout the growing season, slowing down on watering as they get closer to the finished stage. 

If the soil is too high around your bulbs as they start to size up, brush away the soil so that just the bottom part of the bulb is in the soil. They should look like they do in the picture above. 

As the tops begin to fold over at the neck, they are nearing harvest time. Do not water at this time, let them sit dry until most all of the necks have bent over. 

Then lift the onions, place in a shaded area to cure, with great air flow. It will take 3 or 4 weeks to fully cure the bulbs.  

Onion with thick bull necks will not cure, so clean those up and use them up as you can your homemade pasta or pizza sauces. They can also be stored in the crisper for a few weeks, or chopped and frozen to be used at a later date.        

Clean off the tops, or make them into braids. 

Store in a dry, cool pantry to be used as needed. Not all onions are good storage onions, some varieties, like the Walla Walla, will only keep for a few months. 

Onions store well in baskets, apparently I bought this basket from Homsense for $12.99 ; )

 Beautiful Cippolini onions, cured and ready for the pantry. 

For your own better crop of onions, try growing from seed or seedling this year, too! 

Happy Growing! 

Moving Thyme

Sadly, the Nitty Gritty Potager blog is no more... but the good news is that I can now be found at my new blog called the Olde Thyme F...