Tag Archives: home vegetable gardening

Organic Home Vegetable Gardens: Balance

There are a few basic principles which guide successful organic gardeners, and they are simple enough that a child can learn them easily, incidentally, getting your children involved can be another great benefit. Organic gardening principles are pretty simple and basic, in fact, they boil down to one thing: Balancing the elements. Balance is the key to many areas of life, we have to do it every day. We balance such things as work with family life, or relaxation and exercise, and how well we do that determines how well we get along in life. Gardening is no exception to this principle.

Balance in soil fertility and plant material

Balance in soil fertility is important for the healthy growth not only of the plants themselves, but also the soil microbes necessary for the continuation of proper soil structure and fertility. Organic growing involves the recycling of decaying plant material for soil structure and nutrients. Proper balance between the nitrogen needed for microbes to break down the decaying plant matter and the decaying plant matter itself must be maintained to continue the cycle.

Balance in variety

Variety in the insect world is needed. Insects that pollinate plants should be present in sufficient abundance pollinate the garden. Insects that eat other insects such as ladybugs, spiders, and the praying mantis perform pest control work. Some plant types ward off bugs with natural insecticides and repellents, and some, like sweet potatoes, even keep other plants and weeds away. Having a diverse selection makes success more likely.

Balance in varieties

Having the proper plant varieties, at the proper time, and in the proper places goes a long way toward the balance needed for successful organic produce production. Weak plants invite insects and disease, and plants grown out of season, or in an other situations that compromise their health will be susceptible.

Balance in soil moisture

Having the proper balance in soil moisture will aid in avoiding disease, fungus, and insects. Planting moisture loving plants at the bottom of a slope is much better than planting them at the top where water is likely to run off quickly. Moisture loving plants will languish in dry areas, and drought tolerant plants will usually suffer where there is a high level of water. Place your plants accordingly.

Balance in light

Light is important to plant growth and health. There are sun loving plants, and shade loving plants, and they should be placed accordingly. There is a good deal of variety in vegetables, so you can probably find something that will produce in almost every available spot that you choose to plant.

Balancing these factors is the key to organic home vegetable gardening. Proper balance of these elements will ward of disease, fungus, and insects, and provide optimum growing conditions for your garden plants. As in everyday life, balance is the difference between success and failure.

Curing And Storing Sweet Potatoes

Curing sweet potatoes

What is curing?
When sweet potatoes are dug, they usually have some abrasions and cuts. It is important to let these “cure” or “heal”. That is an over simplification though. The curing process helps to encourage the natural changes which produce sugars in this root crop.

For most home gardeners this is the process of air drying them until the abrasions are covered with a dry layer. If you can, spread them out thinly on a rack or some supported screen or nylon mesh, and allow them to be shaded and cured in the breeze. This seems to be the best method. To do this, you may need a covered area such as a back porch, a carport, or some other covering to keep out the rain and sun.

Curing also refers to the process by which the starches in the plants turn to sugars. As the potatoes cure, they will become sweeter to the taste. This part of the curing process requires 4 to 8 weeks, which may be impractical for many home owners. Proper storage will allow the curing to continue. Slatted boxes, or drying racks which allow continued ventilation will be sufficient in most cases.

Curing on large farms

Curing on most larger farms may take place in a building built specially for this purpose. Such curing houses aim to keep the potatoes at around 85 to 90 degrees with humidity kept around 85% to speed up the healing and sugar conversion. The amount of time recommended varies from one report to another, but usually it is between 4 and 8 weeks. This sort of curing process and schedule is beyond the scope of many home gardeners. Air drying and immediate storage thereafter works very well. See also More About Curing

Storing sweet potatoes

Sweet potatoes should be stored in a dark, cool, dry space, with reasonable ventilation. Temperatures should be maintained around 55 degrees if possible. Well cured and stored potatoes will keep at least until the next seasons potatoes are dug if they are stored properly and not allowed to freeze. Frozen sweet potatoes should be disposed of quickly, they will begin a fairly rapid rotting process. Any which have been frozen can still be fed to farm animals without any consequences to the animals.

Do not enclose them in air tight containers. Be certain that air can flow around them. Mesh bags for small quantities, slatted racks, or slatted boxes of the type used to transport the potatoes should do the trick. If properly cured, and properly stored, they will last at least until the next season, and much longer. They tend to become less crunch, and more springy during longer storage, but unless they freeze, rot, or are otherwise damaged, they will still be good to eat.

Choosing “seed” potatoes.

You can save potatoes for seed. Choose medium to small potatoes, which are not overly stringy. Like any form of selective breeding, you want to not only choose the best ones, but the ones from the best “hills.” You should look for these when you are digging them. Choose hills that have several, or almost all prime specimens. If a hill has four or five, high quality potatoes, it is probably a good genetic source for you to propagate. Of course you will want to take them from more than one parent plant, to insure a little genetic diversity. Cure and keep these, as you would all the others, but keep them labeled so they won’t be eaten! See also: Growing Sweet Potato Slips

Sweet potatoes are high in protein, beta carotene, and many other healthy nutrients. The vines can be fed to farm animals, and have a high level of protein as well.

Sweet potatoes and children

Sweet potatoes can be fun to grow and fun to eat. This entire process is a great educational tool for children, from propagation to the table.

If you set a sweet potato in a glass of water, it will sprout at the eyes, and produce a nice decorative piece for your window sill. It is also a good way to show children a little something they don’t get to see in nature. There are several varieties of sweet potatoes sold in the landscape business, as decorative vines, and they can make attractive window sill decorations for inside the home as well.

The sweet potato can aid in explaining plant growth and propagation, the process of genetic selection, the process of how plants make sugar, and good nutrition. There are many more ways to pass on knowledge through this object lesson. I am sure you can find them.

Eating sweet potatoes can be fun, this is my favorite recipe: Cooking Sweet Potatoes
For More detailed information check into these sweet potato books:

Sweet Potato: An Untapped Food Resource


Sweet Potato: A Handbook for the Practical Grower [ 1921 ]

Sweet Potato: Post Harvest Aspects in Food, Feed and Industry (Food Science and Technology)

Sweet potato culture. Giving full instructions from starting the plants to harvesting and storing the crop

Growing Sweet Potato Slips

Need a building for your home farming storage?
Growing Sweet Potato Slips

Sweet potato slips

Sweet potato slips are the rooted plant used to “set out” sweet potatoes for a crop. There are several ways to get these “slips”, but the most common among farmers is the method explained below.

Growing sweet potato slips is a mystery to many people, and at one time, seemed to have “well guarded secret” status. It isn’t all that complicated, and it can be very rewarding, in many ways!

Materials for starting sweet potato slips

  • A growing area. You will need a raised bed 4 to 6 feet wide, and a length that you will determine by the number of plants you want to produce. A bushel will need about 10 or 12 square feet of bed space. An acre of sweet potatoes can yield up to 300 bushels if properly fertilized and irrigated, which will probably be a little more than a home gardener will want to produce. It usually takes 5 or 6 bushels to produce slips for an acre of potatoes, so you will want to scale it down according to your needs.
  • Sweet potatoes 1 to 3 inches, and having no rotten or diseased areas on them.
  • Enough roofing felt or black plastic to cover the bed.
  • Enough sand to cover your entire bed about 2 inches deep.

Tools for starting sweet potato slips

  • Whatever you want to use to cover and smooth the bed. A shovel and rake will work.
  • Whatever you choose to cut the felt or plastic to the proper dimensions. A knife or scissors will do the trick.

Proper timing for starting sweet potato slips

This, I am going to leave up to the reader to discover. We live in such a vast area, that there are several zones, and each one will be slightly different. There are many good resources on the internet, and your county extension agent will be able to help you make that determination. In general, after the plants are transplanted it seems to take about three months for them to reach maturity. That will be a good place to start your calculations. Figure backward about ninety days or more from the date of your first killing frost, and add extra time for the slips to propagate, and that should give you a good starting date. A note of caution here. I have seen a field of sweet potatoes reach maturity during an unusually rainy period, never to be dug. When the winter came and passed, and spring rolled around, the field and surrounding area had the distinct odor of a pig pen for months! Please, just get them out of the ground somehow.

Method for “bedding out” sweet potatoes

  • We will be laying the sweet potatoes out, keeping them separated by an inch or two.
  • The felt or black plastic is for providing top heat to encourage the plants to sprout.

The process for starting sweet potato slips

  • Lay the sweet potatoes out on the bed, separate from each other. space them evenly over the bed.
  • Cover them with about two inches of sand or good soil.
  • Water them moderately.
  • Cover them with the felt or plastic.
  • Anchor the plastic or felt along the edges and ends, and a few places in the center by using the sand, or you can use large grass staples if they will hold.
  • Water the plant bed periodically if needed, cover can be removed after the plants start to emerge, and if weather conditions allow. If you expect severe cold, leave it in place.
  • Plants should be pulled when the reach about 8 inches. By the time they reach that stage, they should have a pretty good compliment of roots. They will not all mature at the same time.

Follow up

Plant them out by hand, or ride on a potato setter. If you have never done this you should give it a try for a few days at a time! (Not Really)

Digging the potatoes is the fun part, (Not) after you get them out of the ground, store them with lots of good ventilation for a while so they can “cure.” Store them in a cool, dry well ventilated place. See also: Curing And Storing Sweet Potatoes

Seed potatoes for sweet potato slips

You can save “seed potatoes” for sweet potatoes from the crop for next years planting. Choose some from several “hills” that have several high quality potatoes, and store in a well ventilated box or bag, in a dark room with moderate temperature. Do not wash before storage.

For More detailed information check into these sweet potato books:

Sweet Potato Culture for Profit. a Full Account of the Origin, History and Botanical Characteristics of the Sweet Potato

Sweet Potato: An Untapped Food Resource

The Sweet Potato: A Handbook for the Practical Grower [ 1921 ]

Sweet Potato: Post Harvest Aspects in Food, Feed and Industry (Food Science and Technology)

Sweet potato culture. Giving full instructions from starting the plants to harvesting and storing the crop