Monday, 4 September 2017

The 2017 growing season

Just a quick update on how the sweet potatoes are fairing this year.

I tried growing slips as usual from tubers I grew last year. All produced a good number of slips with the exception of Burgundy. The tuber I'd saved just stubbornly refused to grow any shoots. It made a half-hearted attempt to put out some roots but even these were pretty feeble. As I've done previously, I wondered if I'd got the wrong end of the tuber in the water. So I turned it upside down and tried again, with no joy. So I'm afraid it's farewell to growing Burgundy sweet potatoes. They just don't like it here.

This year I put my mini polytunnels out on the allotment before I was ready to plant out each set of slips. Thought it might help to warm the soil for them. They were planted out during May.

The photo below was taken at the end of August.

From the bottom of the image up, the first row is Evangeline. These slips weren't particularly big when I planted them out and there isn't a huge amount of vine growth yet. Likewise with the next row up, which is Beauregard. Next comes Belle Vue followed by the very healthy rows of Bonita and Murasaki. Just about in view at the top of the image is Orleans.

So it looks again that the white tubered plants of Bonita and Murasaki are going to produced the best crop. I'll find out in a couple of months!

Already I'm thinking I might try and source a couple of new varieties to replace the poor performers. I don't know why, especially as they taste pretty much the same, but I still prefer the 'usual' coloured tubers....

Thursday, 20 April 2017

The 2016 Harvest

Better late than never? That's how the saying goes, doesn't it? As usual I've been meaning to do a post about the result of last year's harvest. And as usual, several months have gone by with no update.

I seem to have a spare half hour or so at 6.30am on a Friday morning, so here goes!

Last year's harvest was a HUGE improvement on the previous years and I think that was due to both starting the slips off earlier AND keeping the plants nice and warm in their polytunnels. The weather in 2016 wasn't particularly warm until later in the year so giving them that added warmth definitely helped. I guess there would only be one way to prove that and grow some plants without cover. Hmmm.... maybe that can be this year's experiment?!

Back to the harvest. I had a decent crop from each of the varieties, with the exception of Burgundy (again). The highest cropping varieties for me seem to be Bonita and Murasaki. Both produced over 2.5kg of tubers from five plants. Both are white fleshed sweet potatoes.

One thing that was hugely different this year was the amount of vine growth, with some of them trailing several metres!

The best cropping variety last year was one of the new ones Orleans. This produced over 3kg of tubers. Once again, Burgundy was quite pitiful with only about 600g of tubers from five plants and they were small ones at that.

It was good to see I had some decent sized tubers this year. There were plenty of skinny ones still but they are still quite useable.

Whilst I seem to have grown slips for each of the varieties for 2017, I may thin out the number next year and stick to the ones that I know are going to produce a harvest for me. I'll probably choose ones which look different too. For instance, I love the skin colour of Belle Vue which has a lighter orange colour to it.

And so on to 2017......

Thursday, 22 December 2016

2016 - And a New Plan

I had a new plan for growing my sweet potatoes this year; if I started growing the slips earlier then surely the plants would be bigger and stronger when it came to planting them out! If they were bigger and stronger then they would fend off frost attack better and just generally be ahead of where they were in 2015?

So instead of waiting until early 2016 before starting off my slip growing, I started them off towards the end of 2015, in November/December. I followed the same method as before, selecting a decent sized tuber and putting into a jar of water to encourage it to start growing roots and slips.

I had managed to save tubers from all of the varieties I grew in 2015 with the exception of Burgundy. The tubers I harvested from that variety were just too small to produce any growth.

The remaining tubers produced slips as expected and I potted on the first ones towards the end of December 2015.

I started planting out the plants towards the end of May this year. All the plants were bigger and more healthy looking than the previous years.

My other part of this year's plan was to cover the plants in plastic for the whole time they were planted out. Sweet potatoes need a long warm growing season. I can give them a long season but the warmth is something that can't be guaranteed in the UK so I bought a bunch of mini polytunnels from Marshalls Seeds, figuring that should keep them nice and warm all year and would also extend the growing season each end.

This year I've also been lucky enough to trial a few more varieties, one was Burgundy and the others were Orleans and Belle Vue. These all came from a wholesale grower in Ireland, Fiztgerald Nurseries, these were all planted out in June.

The new to me varieties:
Orleans - a light rose skin with orange flesh
Belle Vue - a light orange skin with orange flesh.

I was quite excited to try these new ones as well as have another chance to grow Burgundy which is supposed to have the best taste.


The 2015 Harvest

I had planted out my first Beauregard slips in the first week of May 2015, having assumed the risk of frost had passed. They were planted in open ground on my allotment. 

I was wrong. 

We had a patchy air frost the first week of June which obviously set the plants back a bit. I did think I was going to lose the plants for a time, but thankfully they survived.

At the end of June I planted out my remaining Beauregard slips together with the Evangeline plant from my friend, Jenny. The Murasaki, Bonita and Burgundy slips were planted out in the first week of July that year. They were all quite late going in the ground as Jenny had received them very late. All were planted in open ground on my allotment. 

It was a difficult growing year in 2015, with that late frost setting things back plus it was never particularly warm apart from one short period. So I had a feeling the sweet potato harvest wasn't going to be the best. As late summer turned to early autumn, it was clear the plants were still behind schedule so I covered them with plastic to make a polytunnel of sorts to give them a bit of warmth for longer

I dug the plants up towards the end of October 2015. The harvest wasn't the best, but it wasn't a complete disaster as I had tubers of each variety that could be used to grow slips for the following year. 

So here goes....the 2015 harvest!

Beauregard. The first plants yielded a few decent sized tubers but only about a kilo in total. 

The ones I planted a bit later were all skinny

The remaining plants from Jenny had little chance of success really as they arrived so late from Suttons Seeds.




And finally Burgundy which was a failure 

So what did I learn this year?

For starters sweet potatoes need their long growing season and they need warmth if the summer isn't a scorcher like 2014. So I think going forwards l'll cover them early on. Covering them will also protect them from a rogue late frost!


More Varieties!

In 2015 I swapped some of my homegrown Beauregard tubers with my friend, Jenny on twitter. She had ordered a few different varieties from another seed company, Suttons Seeds. She very kindly sent me one each of Evangeline, Murasaki, Bonita and Burgundy in exchange.

Each variety is slightly different.

Beauregard - this is a more traditional variety with regular red skin and orange flesh.
Evangeline - this has red skin and deep orange flesh
Murasaki - a purple skin with white flesh
Bonita - light tan skin with white flesh
Burgundy - deep red skin and deep orange flesh


How to Grow Your Own Slips

Having discovered you could grow your own sweet potato slips, I watched some 'how to' videos on YouTube and at the end of January 2015 I placed a couple of my homegrown tubers into two jars of water. These were Beauregard tubers I harvested from the plants I had grown in 2014.  

A couple of weeks later the first few signs of growth sprouting 

And gradually more and more growth, mainly shots but also a few roots 

When the growth is ideally about 6" long you simply break off the slip 

Placing the slip in water again encourages root growth 

The slips then need to be potted up before being planted out after the risk of frost has passed

I probably grew about 18 slips from those two tubers but what was noticeable was the slips were gradually smaller and less strong, so maybe a note to myself in the future to take a maximum of four or five slips per tuber. 

It must be noted however, that it is not usually possible to grow slips from sweet potatoes you have bought in the supermarket (not even organic ones) as they have usually been treated with a chemical called budnip, which as the name suggests prevents the tubers from sprouting; something that is essential in growing slips!


2014 - My First Year

Whilst they are called potatoes, sweet potatoes are from a different plant family than your regular spud; they are part of the ipomoea family. They have a vine like quality with foliage that spreads over the ground while the roots form tubers below the surface. And as they are from a different family, you don't grow them from a seed potato but rather from slips. Slips are new plants that are grown from a tuber

My first foray into growing sweet potatoes was by buying some slips from Marshalls Seeds in 2014. Most seeds companies only have one or two varieties and I purchased the most common variety, Beauregard.

I bought 5 slips for £10, so at £2 each they were fairly pricey.

I have to say though the resulting harvest was delicious! The tubers were mellow, smooth and sweet to the taste. I may only have harvested about 3kg from those five plants, but I was hooked!

And then my mind was blown by finding out you could grow your own slips!

And so my adventures began.....