Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Sweet potatoes

One of the best parts of this year's Harvest Festival for us at the Derwood demo garden (besides having enough mouse melons to hand out to everyone who wanted one - hurray!) was what a great sweet potato harvest we had. Actually, that's nearly always the best part, though since this year was not a great potato year (no blight, but corn borers) we particularly appreciated seeing all those lovely red tubers (Georgia Jet variety) coming out of the ground. Especially when MG Barbara Knapp, who has the technique and patience to manage it, got a whole clump out at once still attached to the vine:

(Barbara's photo) It weighed eight pounds! Our largest sweet potato this year weighed two and a half pounds, which is only half Barbara's record of five, but really quite large enough.

We love digging for an audience, especially those kids who are curious about where their favorite foods come from. And actually we don't mind at all explaining all day long that potatoes and sweet potatoes are from entirely different plant families, and that they grow differently, and are planted at different times of the year, potatoes in March from pieces of guaranteed disease-free seed potato (please do not use store-bought) in a trench gradually filled in with soil over growing plants which will die back in the summer, and sweet potatoes in late May or whenever it's warm from plant slips on top of a loose bed of soil from which those lovely vines will spread out until frost. And yes, you can eat sweet potato stems and leaves (we just learned about the stems this time around from our visitors).

Here's Barbara showing off her viney garden:

(photo: Katherine Lambert) No, those are zinnias over to the left, but sweet potatoes have nice flowers too. You can't really see it in the middle of the vines, but the original slips were planted inside a cage of hardware cloth buried several inches in the ground to keep out mice and voles. And lo, when we dug up the tubers that had grown just outside the cage, they had been chewed partially away. I think our resident chipmunks were having a feast as well, even inside the cage. But it does a good job keeping out most furry pests. Insects are not much of a problem.

The cage was an oval about five feet long, and the whole garden area is about eight by ten feet for six plants, but if you've got less space you can still grow a plant or two and get a nice harvest in the fall. You can grow sweet potatoes in a pot! And they're pretty. Nice groundcover, if temporary.

Barbara says have a sweet potato. You know you want to.

Fish pepper harvest

Fish peppers are a gorgeous addition to either a vegetable garden or an ornamental bed, with their variegated foliage and multi-colored fruit, and as an African-American heirloom of the Chesapeake region, they're a real local specialty as well.

We grew them not too successfully in the Derwood demo garden this year (I foolishly tucked both seedling plants into places where they'd get as little sun as possible. Hey, the next-door plants were shorter then...) but those I had in my home garden did wonderfully. Anticipating cold weather, I got in the harvest, some of which looked like this:

Then I put most of the peppers (which are in the middle range of hotness, by the way) in the food dehydrator and let it run. Good for clearing the sinuses! Here's the end product:

And much more where that came from! Enough to keep us warm all winter, whether it's fish or something else that needs heating up.

The Fall 2009 issue of Washington Gardener has an interview with heirloom gardener Michael Twitty in which he extols the virtues of fish peppers, and much more. Really beautiful in your garden, and delicious too.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Grow It, Decorate It, Eat It


Nature gives us wonderful decorations in each season! Autumn is ushered in with chrysanthemums and cornstalks but the ornaments are pumpkins and gourds. I love them in all their varieties. I especially like moonshine pumpkins. These white pumpkins are a perfect representation of the harvest moon. I look at them and my mind conjures up a witch with her black cat riding her broomstick across the moonlit Halloween sky while my children below scurry door-to-door in their scary trick-or-treat costumes. And after it is all over, the pumpkins are baked into delicious pies and breads for the Thanksgiving holiday. Pumpkins and gourds are a great addition to every garden.




No, I did not grow all of these. They are courtesy of the University of Maryland variety trials at the Western Maryland Research and Education Center.