Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Sweet Potatoes Have Arrived

I almost forgot that I ordered sweet potato slips from R. H. Shumway's several weeks ago. It's not exactly my first choice in catalog. Sandhill Preservation Center has a much better variety of sweet potatoes (and that's an understatement), but it turns out they've had a bad crop and wouldn't be able to ship any slips to me until late May at the earliest. That's a bit late for me since things are already good and warm in my neck of the woods.

So Shumway's it was. I ordered their Sweet Potato Heirloom Collection which has six slips each of five varieties. Hmm, actually their website says it should only be four slips of each. Well, I got six slips each, so that's cool. There's White Yam and Nancy Hall, which are both white sweet potatoes, Porto Rico and Vardaman are orange potatoes with shorter vines than most (and Vardaman's vines are a neat purple color instead of the usual green), and then Beuregard is a regular long-vined orange rooted potato. That should be a good selection to start with. Maybe next year will be better for Sandhill and I can try ordering some other varieties from them.

Sweet potatoes aren't even related to "regular" potatoes. Sweet potatoes are in the species Ipomoea batatas; same genus as morning glories (and the vines look very similar), while "regular" potatoes are Solanum tuberosum in the nightshade family along with tomatoes, eggplants, and chile peppers. Interestingly enough, I think I. batatas were actually the first plant to carry the name "potato" ("batata" became "potato" somewhere along the line), which means sweet potatoes should really be the default potato, and S. tuberosum needs a better name to distinguish it. I don't like "Irish potato" because they aren't from Ireland, but South America, and I don't like "white potato" because some sweet potatoes are white, and not all S. tuberosum potatoes are white. Yams are something entirely different as well, an African native of the genus Dioscorea. I guess that makes "sweet potato" a better common name for I. batatas than "yam".

Now you can see why botanists prefer Latin names.

What is a sweet potato "slip"? Well, it's pretty much a rooted cutting of a sweet potato vine. I got mind wrapped in wax paper with some sphagnum moss in a box with breathing holes labeled "live plants".

There's Porto Rico unwrapped and White Yam next to it still in it's wax paper and rubber band. Now I have a problem. I don't really have anywhere to plant my sweet potatoes in the garden yet! I made the mistake of planting squash in the remaining empty spaces (I told you I forgot about the sweet potatoes on the way), so now I have to wait until some of my cold weather crops, like the garlic or carrots or regular potatoes, are harvested. Some of the garlic looks like it might be done soon, but in the meantime I couldn't leave my sweet potatoes in their little wrappers.
I ended up planting them in pots so they can sit tight and wait until space in the garden opens up. I hope they don't mind. The slips are pretty tall and spindly. When I plant them in the garden I'll put them in good and deep so they'll grow roots (some of which may become big fat sweet potatoes) along the buried stems.

Speaking of freeing up some garden room, I harvested one bunch of my I'itoi's Onions that I got from Native Seeds tonight. They're multiplier onions that are supposed to do better in hot climates than other onions. I got them because the catalog said they have a "shallot-like flavor" and shallots are EXPENSIVE at the grocery store, so I was hoping I had a good substitute with these. I got 10 sets but only 5 survived the brutal summer, and then those expanded into big clumps. Now their tops are dying back, so I thought I'd try digging up a bunch. I was disappointed to find them looking a lot more scallion-like than shallot-like. Maybe this fall I should get some actual shallots and try them out. I'm going to let this clump dry out and "cure" and see how they taste. They sure did multiply a lot! That clump of onions there came from just one little set the size of a garlic clove. Even if they do turn out to be more like scallions they're probably still worth growing for how tough and prolific they are.

I wonder if I can squeeze in some sweet potato plants once I dig up the rest of my multiplier onions.

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