Whenever the temperature climbs up near 100 or over, you can hear everyone in Sonoma saying, “Well, at least it’s a DRY heat.” Having melted on a sidewalk in Shanghai, I can tell you humidity isn’t pleasant. But now I’ve found, it does have its uses. Especially if you are gardening. It all started when I developed a passion for the idea of growing sweet potatoes. Sure, I can buy organic ones, but apparently, you haven’t tasted a sweet potato until you’ve had one that’s been properly cured — which few commercial sweet potatoes are. According to this article from Louisiana State University’s Ag Center, to be at their best, sweet potatoes need to be cured for at least eight weeks at precisely the right temperatures. According to other sources, us Yankees and Westerners have probably never really tasted a properly cured sweet potato. I’ve lived and traveled in the South, but don’t have a sense memory of sweet potatoes, so I can’t tell you if I’m one of the select few who know what a real sweet potato tastes like. So, of course, I became determined to grow my own and cure them properly (probably with the help of Cousin John who just loves this sort of long, involved food processing.)
My sweet potato dream died on the vine. I went to every organic gardening store and seed bank in Sonoma (there are a lot!) and no one had sweet potato slips to sell. Not only that, they said they would NEVER have sweet potato slips to sell. As my favorite gardening lady at the excellent Sonoma Mission Gardens told me: “Sweet potatoes are Southern girls. They like the humidity to keep their complexions dewy. And they don’t transplant well off the plantation.” (Did I mention that my favorite Sonoma Mission Gardens lady is herself a Southerner? You’ll recognize her by her huge sun hat. Seek her out. She’s the best.)
So now we’ve established that I’m seeking the Melanie Wilkes of vegetables and trying to take her away from Twelve Oaks. And that gardening stores do have their limits. As an enthusiastically amateur and completely clueless gardener, I’ve found that most garden stores will sell me the most improbable vegetables, vegetables that someone with my skillset should never be able to grow. Sonoma Mission Gardens even let me walk away with cauliflower starts which are only for the brave and the expert. (Mine thrived, probably due to nothing I did.) But they are drawing a hard line in the sand when it comes to sweet potatoes.
So no sweet potatoes for me. Unless I can figure out a way to do a Southern routed sweet potato safari. But even then, California’s restrictive ag laws wouldn’t let me
smuggle import slips. Should I find an approved California source for slips, my experts tell me, my sweet potatoes would never make it in Sonoma’s dry heat.
So will all my Southern friends please eat a properly cured sweet potato for me and report back if this is a quest worth pursuing. And no gloating please. One Facebook friend from Memphis felt the need to tell me that they just throw sweet potatoes on the driveway and they take root. Thanks!
Meanwhile, I’ll just sit here and wait for you in my searing dry heat. Heat that is so dry, we can’t even properly compost around here until the rainy season. In summer, our compost dehydrates. Unless you water it thoroughly every day, which seems wasteful and extravagant in a semi-arid state that is constantly teetering on the edge of drought.
Yup. Pity me in my sweet potato-less state.