Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Garden lesson of the week: Sweet Potato Knotting

Root vegetables always feel like lottery tickets to me*. It's hard to know how much you have until the end. Well last week I decided to cheat a little and check to see how our sweet potatoes are doing. After a minute or two of moving vines and digging carefully, I found the first sweet potato of the season.
Although it was encouraging to know something was growing underneath our sweet potato vines, I had hoped they would be slightly larger than this.

At the Saturday workday, I mentioned my worries to the garden members and Raul had a good suggestion. He said that you can tie the sweet potato vines into a knot to encourage the plants to send energy down to the potatoes. I was not familiar with this practice but it seemed like a great idea. Below is a picture of the bed about a week before we tied up the vines:As you can see from the picture above, all the vines had grown together into a nice evenly spaced canopy of leaves. This meant we rarely had to worry about weeds in the sweet potato patch. The patch was also healthy looking and looked great all through the summer. Unfortunately, it was time to change all that. As you could guess, knotting the vines into bundles wasn't going to be easy or particularly pretty.

I should have taken step by step pictures of our methods, but I was far too covered in dirt. So you'll have to use your imagination and don't worry, this is not an exact science. The first step was to untangle all the vines from one of the plants and straighten them into one line. Try to get all the sweet potato vines from one base to be similar to a string with one end attached to the ground. Then, you make as many loops as you can with the base of your "string." At the end, your vine should look something like this, but the face is the end of your vine. Now grab the cobra by the face and push it into the middle of your bundle. In the end, our patch looked like this.
And here is a close-up of one of the knots:

Now the plant is probably thinking: "Ouch! Why did you do that?!" Oh, sorry that's what a person would be thinking. A plant would probably be "thinking" that there is less sunlight and less room for growth. Therefore, either winter is coming or there is too much competition from other plants. So for the plant, it's time to resort to it's backup survival strategy: "Flee and hide". And for a sweet potato, that means putting it's energy below ground and wait for better times. Hopefully those better times will be when we harvest the garden bed and have many large sweet potatoes for roasting, boiling, baking, steaming, frying, mashing and maybe even grilling.

Thanks to Raul for the lesson and thanks to you all for reading it.

Happy gardening!

*For reference, the chances are almost always better with root vegetables compared to gambling.