May 2, 2009

Shhhhhh, Don't Scare the Sweet Potatoes....

Yes, I know. It was a crazy idea. But something got into me. I ordered sweet potatoes starts this year. OK now, everyone, think about sweet potatoes. No, not the dish everyone eats at Thanksgiving: bright orange mushy vegetable product topped with marshmallows that you make because your Great Aunt Myrtle used to make it and you inherited the family recipe. Even though you don't actually LIKE sweet potatoes.

Not THOSE sweet potatoes. Think further back. Where do they come from? Come on, admit it: they grow in the Deep South. Georgia. Mississippi. Louisiana. Places with long, hot, humid summers filled with bugs, snakes, and fast-growing vines. Populated by people sitting on front porches in the evenings, sipping Coca Cola or possibly moonshine, and fanning themselves with palm fronds. In the background you hear bullfrogs and strange tropical birdcalls and the vegetable garden is full of collard greens and okra and .... sweet potatoes. In fact, summers are so hot there that they have to grow their vegetable gardens in the winter.

OK, quickly now, how is that similar to Bend, Oregon? The answer is: not at all. Well, it's on the same continent. Short, not-very hot summers that are dry, sometimes frosty and damned short. Oh, and did I mention short? Nobody sits on the front porch after 5:00 pm here because it's too cold, most evenings, even in August. Maybe people drink Coca Cola here too, but more likely they're inside sipping tea or drinking a local microbrew. Background noises might include the 'brrraaaaaaaaappppp' of tree frogs or the crepuscular sighing of doves, and vegetable gardens are full of ........... well, there aren't all that many vegetable gardens, really, because most people have given up the idea and and taken up golf. But if they do, it's full of hardy greens, well-protected tomatoes and .......... sweet potatoes. Sweet potatoes?!

Which brings us back to the 2009 Arabella's Garden Impossible Dream list of 5 ridiculous crops, which includes sweet potatoes.

The poor dears arrived today, in a skinny little box, from Territorial Seeds, just over the mountains. Admittedly, they look pretty unprepossessing, if not nearly dead. But no. The leaflet that came with them assured me that Sweet Potatoes will produce my 'greatest gardening thrill ever'. It adds that my harvest of big 'jumbo' size (2-3 lbs) potatoes will be my 'most exciting garden experience ever'. Heck, no wonder I ordered them. I only wish I had ordered 2 dozen. And I'm pretty sure that if I manage to grow a sweet potato that is even close to 1 lb, I will be mightily amazed and definitely excited.

It goes on to say that my plants may appear wilted due to their enclosure during shipment, but that I should not be alarmed if such a condition exists. Sweet potatoes plants are 'very tough' (they brought their own little down coats?) and if planted 'properly' (preferably in another state?) and if 'favorable weather' exists (global warming can't come too soon for these babies), my plants will 'grow off good' and yield an abundant supply of delicious potatoes.

I am advised to 'set' plants as soon as possible after I receive them, unless there is a wind coming from the North. Hmm, that would be 99% of the time here. Oh well, maybe tomorrow will be calm.

I'm also assured that plants will succeed even if they are 'yellow, slimy and have an odor that is almost unbearable' --- ewwwwwwww. Luckily mine were only pale green and slightly wilted. Plants are 'tough and strong' and 'MOST' of them will survive if they are 'set' properly and have a 'good growing climate'. Ahem.

Well, stay tuned. I think this is a pretty serious example of Zonal Denial, a disease I had pretty much licked up until this year. Just in case my climate, weather, growing conditions, soil, average rainfall, (lack of) humidity, frost-free season and planting techniques aren't quite optimal, I am holding the plants overnight in a glass jar on the windowsill, surrounded by a small garden gnome, some lucky white rocks and a statue of an ancient Persian fairy. Maybe some of the good vibes will soak into the plants and get them off to a good start tomorrow.


  1. I will be waiting to see what happens- that is for sure. I love sweet potatoes! I've been wanting to try them, so it will be interesting to see yours in action! And if they can grow at Territorial Seed (hopefully Steve Solomon did some trials when he owned TS!) they should grow for you and me both! Happy gardening to you :)

  2. Tessa,

    Hey, if you want a couple of these babies to try in Portland, let me know. I'll ship 'em over to you. As we now know, they are 'tough' and 'strong' and will provide you, too, with the gardening thrill of a lifetime..........:)