Growing Sweet Potatoes
This is the first year I’ve grown sweet potatoes, so it will be a while longer before I can report the results.
In keeping with my edible landscape, I looked for something to grow as a summer border. This isn’t easy in Florida, where we must grow most vegetables in winter. The bush, bunching-type sweet potatoes seemed like a possibility. These varieties have names like Bunch Porto Ricans and Vardeman, which are the varieties I chose.
· They are very pretty; the new leaves being a lovely shade of purple.
· They have a nice mounding shape.
· They stay fairly well contained, at least so far, unlike the vining varieties.
· I’m not concerned about our summer heat. They should like that just fine. How well they hold up to our high humidity is yet to e seen.
· They are not troubled much by insects.
Although I am new to growing sweet potatoes, apparently, it is tradition. My mother tells me that her Uncle Andrew used to be among the top sweet potato farmers in the country. Growing up in Alabama she recalls that back in the 1930s he sold slips for a penny each. As a child her brother and she walked in front of their daddy to move the vines back to their rows so that he could plow.
I purchased my rooted slips from George’s Plant Farm. This family farm in Tennessee, like my Great-Uncle Andrew’s a couple of generations earlier, specializes in sweet potatoes. Note: They have finished shipping for 2008.
Mama says that Uncle Andrew planted sweet potatoes when the moon was new. When you mail-order, you want to plant right away. The same day they arrive, if at all possible. Preferably in the evening, so that the plants can settle in before facing the full blast of the hot sun. While they may look a bit wilted when they first arrive, this isn’t a problem. They perk up after a good watering.
My only concern was that rodents like to nibble on the developing tubers. If you grow sweet potatoes, it’s probably a good idea to have cats. Unfortunately, Kali and Reason are strictly indoor cats. With our abundance of birds and other wildlife, I’m not letting them out, not even to prove their skill as mousers.
So, I am doing the next best thing. Whenever I give the cats a good brushing, I toss the shedded fur around the sweet potatoes. I’m not sure this strategy will work, but it shouldn’t hurt. So far, so good.
…If this doesn’t work, I can always use jalapenos. If you grow jalapenos you can simply break open a couple and shake the seeds around wherever you wish to deter squirrels or mice. You can also make a simple spray by soaking the hot peppers in a little water.
Sweet Potatoes grow in a wide range of conditions and are not at all difficult to grow. Plant in full sun, in improved garden soil that is raised to form a bit of a hill. Water if conditions become dry, particularly when first establishing the plants. Fertilize with a balanced fertilizer, whatever you use on nearby plants should be fine.
I’ll let you know how this works out in the fall.
Recipe Sweet Potato Biscuits
This is a favorite winter recipe around our house.
1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
2 or 3 tablespoons brown sugar, depending on your preference.
1 teaspoon cinnamon Add a pinch more if you like cinnamon.
2 ½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons chilled butter
¾ cup chilled cooked sweet potato
1/3 cup buttermilk
Heat oven to 425 degrees
Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl.
Cut in the butter as you normally do with pastry.
Add chilled sweet potatoes and buttermilk.
Use clean hands to form into dough.
I never roll out biscuits. I form them by hand, but do whichever way you prefer.
Bake at 425 for about 22 minutes.
Makes 8 or 9 large biscuits.
To cook the sweet potatoes, simply wash and wrap a couple extra in foil and put in the oven while baking something else. You can do this the day before since you want them chilled for the biscuits.
Some may prefer unsalted butter. Regular or unsalted is fine, adjust the amount of added salt according to taste. You could also experiment with the spices. Add a pinch of nutmeg, maybe.
I like to serve sweet potato biscuits with ham.