Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Full Wolf Moon

I had trouble choosing the best name for this moon out of the traditional names of Ice Moon, Wolf Moon, or Old Moon. Sometimes we have ice in January, but not today. I went with Wolf Moon, since I like wolves, and it reminds me of how the tribe that used to live here, the Tonkawa, considered themselves to be descendants of wolves. Sadly, both the wolves and the Wolf People are no longer here. The Tonkawa were moved to a reservation in Oklahoma, and wolves are being reintroduced to Arizona and New Mexico, but there are no plans to bring any to Texas.

I moved my sweet potato cuttings from the garage to the windowsill where it's warmer, despite the risk of a kitty deciding it would be fun to knock them off. They didn't seem to be doing well in the chilly garage. I could also try growing slips from the roots I still have and see which method is easier.

This strange creature is "Sweetie", a sweet potato my weird fiancee dug out of the compost pile. I put it there with the other damaged, deformed, or really small roots when I harvested my sweet potatoes. Daniel thought it was cute and looked like some kind of curled-up creature, complete with nose and tail. He drew a face on it to complete the picture and had it living in the kitchen. Well, it turned out to like the warm kitchen, and started growing sprouts around the "nose". I decided I might as well keep it to grow slips from. I'm not sure which variety it is, but since it's orange it's either Porto Rico or Vardaman, and the sprouts are purple so far, so it's probably Vardaman. It will become more clear as the leaves grow, since those two varieties have very different looking leaves.
I potted up Sweetie and put him by a window with some houseplants for company. This will be a good way to compare growing sweet potatoes from slips or from cuttings. I'm not too worried about using a deformed potato to propagate my next crop from. I initially discarded the small or misshapen or damaged ones just because I didn't feel like bothering with eating them. Since sweet potatoes are propagated vegetatively, all plants from a certain variety should be clones of each other. Therefore, any differences between them would be due to environment and not genetics. This particular potato probably got curled up because it grew against a rock or something, not because anything is inherently wrong with it.

This is also why, when growing regular potatoes, you can eat the biggest ones and save the smallest ones to replant. Theoretically, the small ones and big ones of the same variety should all be genetically identical.

I've started moving some of my nightshades into individual pots, after starting them out in communal pots. I do this around when they start getting their first set of true leaves. By then it should be clear which ones are going to make it and are worth giving extra room. I have them out on the back porch right now to get some natural light. Last week was cold and rainy, but it's supposed to be sunny and warmer for a while, so I'll leave them out there until the next time it freezes.
Last moon, the jalapenos were still hanging on, but now it looks like they're done for. A few more hard freezes saw to that. I'm going to go ahead and pull them out and till up that bed some time this week.
The lettuce and endive is filling out nicely and is almost big enough to start picking for some winter salads. It's too hot in the summer to grow lettuce. It gets bitter and bolts, so lettuce salads are winter thing if you're eating seasonally.
The other greens like collards and chard are growing slowly due to the cold. I really should have planted them earlier so I'd have something from the garden to eat right now.
The shell peas are disappointing. They don't look so good, and have only set a couple of pods so far. The vines seem weak and stunted. Even though I got this packet of pea seeds for free, it's turning out to really not be worth it. I'm sticking with Tall Telephone from now on. That's a nice, robust variety that gave me a good crop last year. That's the shell pea that I'll compare all other shell peas to.

The Dwarf Grey Sugar peas look better, though they haven't started to flower or produce pods yet. At least the vines are looking healthy, so once they do set a crop, it should be a good one. This is the only snow pea I've ever grown, but it's always done well, giving me a good crop by spring.
The beets and carrots are also growing slowly in the cold weather. Carrot seedlings are so tiny!
The turnips are a little farther along, and have sped up their growth since we got some good rain and then some sun. The rutabagas really aren't doing well at all, though. Looks like I'll only end up with a few this year.
Looks like I won't have very many onions either. I still haven't gotten the hang of growing onions. I certainly won't have enough to save seed, since onions can have some inbreeding depression. It's hard to find seed for short-day open-pollinated onions, too.
The superstars of the garden right now are the fava beans. They're just growing away, no sign of any pests or problems of any kind. I think I'll mostly let this batch go to seed, maybe eating a few just to see how they taste, but I want to grow a whole lot more fava beans next winter. Not only are they growing like crazy when not much else is happening in the garden, but they fix nitrogen too.
Finally, in the garage my cushaw squash are turning yellow. I think that means they're ripening further in storage. I've still only managed to eat three of them, so I'm considering trying to unload some on my friends and family. I put the nicest, biggest ones on top of the garage refrigerator. Those are the ones I'm going to save seed from, so I'm keeping those.

They're also getting sweeter in storage. I really wonder why cushaw squash seem to have such a bad reputation. For example, the Seed Savers Exchange public catalog only carries one variety, Tennessee Sweet Potato, and it says it has poor eating quality and is best used for decorations. Sandhill Preservation Center has a similar opinion. Even though they carry more varieties, they say they are best used as livestock feed.

The ones I've grown do have a very stringy texture, especially compared to butternut or acorn squash. This might be off-putting if your recipe calls for cubes of squash, but the stringiness doesn't matter if the squash is pureed, like for baked goods. Aside from the texture thing, the last squash I cut open, roasted and pureed was quite sweet in flavor, and had a rich orange color to the flesh. Not at all pale and bland like I've seen cushaws described.

I wonder if it's a climate thing. Weirdly enough, most seed companies are based up north. Maybe a cushaw grown in the Midwest or Northeast doesn't have enough heat or a long enough growing season to develop to its full potential. This is probably a good example of why you should keep climate in mind when reading other people's opinions on plant varieties.

Anyway, I'm sold on cushaws now and plan on trying some more varieties in the future. Maybe there are some out there that are less stringy, which is really my only complaint (if I leave out the complaint that they're too productive, which isn't really something worth complaining about).


  1. hi!
    i couldn't get rutabagas to do anything this year either, but I've never tried before so maybe it's beginner's ignorance on my part.
    I'll have to get some cushaw seeds. those look good, and i have given up fighting against vine borers. It's not worth it to use up all that garden space on something that just dies before the fruit is edible.
    I'm trying to grow slips from the sweet potatoes I grew over the summer. I just put them in pots, we'll see if they sprout... I continue to be amazed when a plant actually emerges from something that I bury underground.
    I'm not sure if you are like this, but I couldn't let go of summer and kept my tomatoes and okra in the ground till the first killing frost, which means I didn't plant my fall crops till mid november... now they are growing sooo slowly....ugh


  2. Yes, I did the same thing as you, waiting until my summer crops were dead before planting fall crops. Now other people are already harvesting while my plants are still tiny. I need to figure out a way around that.

    I've started giving cushaws away. We would have gotten about 10 more if it hadn't been for the borers. Once they killed all my other squash, they went for the cushaws, and killed some sections of vine, and even bored into some of the fruits themselves, but they didn't get them all.

  3. did you grow any c. moschatas? like... butternut, etc ? They have a solid vine, and are meant to be somewhat resistant to the borers. I grew some this past year with varied success. The borers definitely attacked them, but I did get a few squash. I had to do the whole 'cut them out of the vine' trick every couple of days.

  4. I tried growing Tromboncino on the back fence, but the borers got them too (perhaps combined with a heat wave). I'm giving them another chance this year. Growing them on the fence might have made life harder for them, because when you do that, they can't send out roots from the nodes.

  5. Hmm. yeah...
    I am going to try growing under cover this year I think. ATTRA says it's an effective way to get the plants old enough to start bearing. My uncle (an entomologist) grows them under cover, covering and uncovering the squash to coincide with a brief window where pollinators are out buzzing around but the borer moths are sleeping. He also injects each vine with Bt and scrapes he eggs off of the petioles. I don't like squash THAT much....

    Hey how are your sweet potato vines?

  6. I heard somewhere that neem oil is an effective organic control for SVB (and a lot of other things). I think I'll try that this year instead of bothering with covers.

    My sweet potato vines aren't doing that great. I might not be keeping them wet enough, since I have them in terra cotta pots and those dry out quickly (but I got them for free from someone who didn't want them anymore). I already started trying to sprout some roots too in case the cuttings don't make it.

  7. Hi Amanda,
    It will be interesting to see your little experiment that compares leftover vines from 2010 vs. "sprouted" seed roots. I guess you have seen some of the reasons why sprouted seed roots are the preferred method of propagation in our latitudes. You have probably looked this up already, but for most cultivars, 60F is considered the base temperature and anything lower results in no growth or worse (as per taters in the garage observation). We tend to observe "curled" storage roots when young (10-20 days) adventitious roots "curl" around due to obstacles in growth (such as in a small pot). If these roots successfully become initiated, these will will growth in diameter in that position. Good luck with your 2011 crop.

  8. Arthur, I've already giving up on my rooted sweet potato vine cuttings. They just sort of sat there, while the sprouts coming up from my roots are healthy and vigorous.

    Also, a kitty DID end up knocking them off, just like I thought would happen.

    I'm also surprised to find that some of the sweet potatoes I missed during harvest are now sprouting up out of the ground. I thought freezes killed them, but I guess we didn't have enough freezing weather to freeze the ground down very far. I'm now transplanting some of them to this year's sweet potato bed in addition to the ones I'm sprouting inside.