Monday, October 14, 2013

Sweet Potatoes -- "Sweet Memories"

Several weeks ago, working in the garden we harvested our sweet potato crop. Above you can see, it was enough to share between, Deberah, Jerry and I, as well as, several other families. Previously, we had dug some for a few family dinners. While digging, I was reminded of "sweet memories."

The sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas) vine is a perennial summer crop grown all over the world. The fruit ranges in colors from red, orange, yellow, brown, purple and beige. This root vegetable was first domesticated in Central and South America thousands of years ago and spread to other tropical warm climates and eventually made it's way to Europe, Asian countries, North America (including Hawaii) by sea, birds and explorers.

The sweet potato prefers hot or warm weather, unlike the regular (Irish) potato that needs the cooler early spring or fall growing seasons seen in our region. Also, these two types of taters are not related at all.

After the first frost, we bought one flat of "Bonnie" plants called "Beauregard" sweet potato, tilled a row until the soil was fine, trenched the row 6 or 8 inches, then planted each 12 inches apart, while soaking the roots with water. After the vines began to grow, we broad casted organic fertilizer over the plants. Rows should be spaced 3 feet apart but as you see above one row was all we needed.

The fruit matures in approximately 95 days and continues to grow until frost or longer depending on the temperature. Once the vines begin to yellow, you should harvest (we always dig a few to check earlier).

Amazingly, the Ipomoea genus of the sweet potato is a cousin of the morning glory. It's heart shaped vine and short lived flower has also been cultivated today as an ornamental plant used in yard and garden landscaping.

Sweet potatoes are filled with beneficial nutrients and fiber to include vitamins A, C, B6, iron calcium, magnesium and plenty of potassium. The leaves and shoots are also edible and used in recipes in some cultures.

After the harvest, sweet potatoes need to sit and cure (unless used or processed, as they can be frozen). Dry for 10 to 14 days in a dark spot (like a basement) or somewhere around 75 degrees. If properly cured they can last up to 6 months.

Just a bit of sweet potato trivia, currently in the U.S., North Carolina leads all states with 38.5% production, followed by California, Louisiana and Mississippi.

Growing up, my "sweetest memories" of this nutritious root called sweet potato was associated with holidays, brown sugar, pecan topping, hot butter, melted marsh mellows that my mother made into casseroles, pies, pancakes, french fries, fried pies and whole, as a baked side!

Until Next Time..........

Happy Gardening 2013!

Posted by Wilma Smith

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