As you know, I planted my sweet potatoes a few days ago. Since I didn’t have any photos at the time, I thought that I would show you some now, and discuss how I set up this garden.
As you can see, this is a long, thin garden that is edged with plastic fencing. It is only about 2.5-feet wide, so that I can reach across it without straining. There is a small path between this bed and the corn, which you can just see at the top-left of the photo.
To build this garden, my brother-in-law was kind enough to cut up the sod and turn it over so that the roots of the sod were exposed. The garden sat that way for several weeks, until I had time to finish building the bed.
When I finally got around to finishing this bed, turned over the soil with a garden fork. As I turned over the soil, I incorporated lots of old leaves (from last Fall), some organic slow release fertilizer and a bag of cotton bur compost.
After preparing the bed, I planted my sweet potato slips. Since they were growing in damp potting soil (since they had arrived from the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange), the slips had developed some nice new roots. I separated the slips and planted them so that only the portion of the plants with leaves were exposed.
This year, I am growing two new varieties, Bunch Porto Rico and Sweetie Pie. According to the SESE website:
110 Days. Bunch Porto Rico is a great variety for folks with not a lot of space for a plant known for its sprawl. Short compact vines produce roots with a copper-colored skin and a light red flesh. Popular for baking.
A brand-new variety selected by Doug Jones at Piedmont Biofarm in North Carolina. Orange fleshed, heart-shaped leaves. The Sweetie Pie produced plentiful, hefty roots in poor-quality clay soil where other varieties faltered. Sweetie Pies are a great choice for sweet potato pie bakers!
To finish off the bed, I spread a thick layer of the cotton bur compost over all of the soil, followed by an application of Sluggo. I then added a fence, using some of the plastic fencing that I saved from last year. I hope that the fencing will keep out the rabbits. Last year, it was kind of sad because the rabbits at all of the leaves off of the vines. I guess that was pretty hard on the plants, since last year’s sweet potato harvest was very small.
You may notice that there are a lot of wood stakes around my garden. In addition to holding up fencing, I used them to keep hoses from running over the plants in the garden beds. I can’t tell you how many plants have gotten damaged by a hose.
Over time, I have found that, even though I plan my gardens so that I can rotate my crops, I prefer a polyculture sort of planting. Thus, I have a variety of plants growing in the same bed. Since I happened to have a few more corn plants in a flat, I stuck them in with the sweet potatoes. I also added a few clumps of dill seedlings that happened to have lying around. Though I don’t eat the dill, due to allergies, they are a great insectiary plant, and will attract bees and other beneficial insects.
This weekend, I will spray beneficial nematodes, which I purchase from Peaceful Valley, plant sunflowers among the sweet potatoes, and sheet mulch the garden paths. The beneficial nematodes are part of my integrated pest management (IPM) plan. Here is the scoop about beneficial nematodes from GrowOrganic.com (aka Peaceful valley):
Insect parasitic nematodes are not to be confused with pest nematodes that attack plants. These beneficial nematodes attack the larval stages of soil-dwelling pests, leaving the plants alone. The parasitic nematodes enter their prey through body openings and release bacteria that kills their host within 48 hours. The nematodes can then reproduce inside the pest. Nematodes are recommended for use whenever pest larvae or grubs are present, generally during the spring and fall months. If adult insects are present, their eggs will be hatching soon. As a treatment for Japanese Beetles, parasitic nematodes take effect more quickly than Milky Spore, but annual re-applications are required.
Keep in mind, more than one application may be necessary. Steinernema carpocapsae are best suited to cooler climates, and are most effective against mobile pests such as termites, fleas, webworms, sod webworm and more. Steinernema feltiae are similar to Steinernema carpocapsae except they are best suited to warmer climates. Heterohabditis bacteriophora are adapted to all climates, and are most effective against sedentary pests, such as grubs, root weevils, ants, juvenile and queen, termites and more. For the best treatment of ants or termites and for general soil born pests, a combination of nematodes is recommended.
For more information on growing sweet potatoes, check out Southern Exposure Seed Exchange’s sweet potato growing guide. This guide covers how to grow, harvest, cure and store your sweet potatoes.