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.
Kentucky is freakishly low in humidity right now. Just wrong. The cherry tomato plant mixed in with annuals out front is producing ripe tomatoes. The ones in the actual garden not ready yet.
We haven’t tried sweet potatoes, but I am not a fan. One of those things I wish I liked, like beer. Broccoli is over and done, cabbage nearly finished, garlic and onions harvested. Cucumbers and zucchini cannot die fast enough.
There are some potatoes planted,green stuff starting to die back I am told. Harvest may happen soon. Oh, and green beans were planted late and had to be watered more than once.
Not supposed to have to water a garden. It really does seem to defeat the purpose.
There has been a vegetable stand set up a couple hundred feet from our mailbox. Delicious South Carolina peaches-Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.
At 8 a.m. this morning, the humidity was so high, I didn’t want to be outside, so I went back in. At 8:30, Dear Daughter and I moved the little chickens’ pen into the part of the garden we didn’t plant for spring, so the Jaerhons could cut down the grass and weeds for fall planting. At 9:30, a damn copperhead bit Britta the Smooth Dachs Terrier on the snout and I’ve spent the rest of the day at the vet hospital dealing with that. If you want to try and plant sweet potatoes, just leave one in a kitchen drawer until it gets greeny and throws off shoots. Then plant the entire potato and see what happens. Try this about June or so when it’s nice and hot. It might work. Might not, but stranger things have happened. I’ve never bought sweet potato slips, but I’ve dug a lot of sweet potatoes in my life. Good luck.
I’m moving from Los Angeles, avg. annual rainfall about 13″, to Sonoma, avg. annual rainfall 30″ — and you’re saying it’s dry there and on the verge of drought?? The reason I’m moving is for more rain and less heat. Do the statistics lie? Say it ain’t so!
The California Sweet Potato Council may be of some help:
UC Davis has some help as well:
Sand Hill may be a good source for organic slips:
Don’t give up. Anything can grow in California. Stick with it. I look forward to a successful post next season.
Debra, it depends where you are. Although we are still considered “semi-arid”, many parts of Sonoma County get a lot of summer fog. Unfortunately, we at Flying Terrier Farms are just outside of the Carneros region which pulls fog up from San Francisco and San Pablo Bay.
In a typical year, there is no rain from March to November. But from November to March we usually get a deluge. However, the last two years have been very rainy and cool. Which played havoc with the grapes. I’d much rather have it hot and dry in the summer as the native plants depend on that.
And thanks Maybelline. Maybe my sweet potato dream doesn’t have to die.
It is insanely humid in this southern locale – but, alas, we are not growing any sweet potatoes. Lots of other stuff though, including corn – yes, on our tiny suburban lot my crazy husband grows corn.
Hope you’ve been well 🙂
I have hoed sweet potatoes in Mississippi in July. Not fun. And one of the few foods I didn’t like as a child were sweet potatoes so I didn’t taste any that were served (if any were). However, I had the great pleasure of living most of my life on the South Side of Chicago which is an annex of the Mississippi Delta (the Black version). As a result I had sweet potatoes cooked by a 200-year-old black man in a soul food place at 79nd & Wabash. They along with the greens, smothered pork chops and chicken fricassee were, as Tony the Tiger says, “Grrrr-ate!”
I like the new look.
A 200 year old Black man? Thanks for the thumbs up on the new look which is very much still in progress. I was hoping no one was looking while I struggled with it.
He looked 200, which is what you want in a Soul Food cook, or in a Chop Suey joint cook. That should have been 79th.
*Grow your own slips.*
I take Red Garnet sweet potatoes from the store and lay them on their side (whole) in an inch of water in late winter indoors in my grow closet where I start my tomato and pepper seedlings under lights. Roots from the slips will grow into the water. When the slips are about 10 inches tall I transplant them into the garden and/or pots.