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More Seed Starting Tips

Gail Cook has been a Master Gardener since 2003. She has worked at The Raincatcher’s Garden for many years and now has a new job with us. She is planting herb, flower and vegetable seeds. It’s a perfect job for her; she a nurturer. 

Gail, I heard you are doing a wonderful job with seed starting for the edible landscape. In December, I had the privilege of hearing from Jim about his seed starting methods.
I was wondering what equipment you use. Seed starting mats? Grow lights?Any tips you want to give our blog readers about seed starting. Do you mind letting me know of the potting mix you use? Do you purchase or make your own?

Hi Ann, How nice to hear from you!

Honestly, I’m in one of my happy places starting seeds and, with everyone’s help, we’re doing well with the seedlings. I don’t even have a back yard these days, just a long narrow brick patio with a bit of sun and a small utility deck with a 4-shelf zip-up greenhouse.

I have one warming mat and it does speed things up. To save time ( I can plant 72 seeds in minutes this way)and space, I’ve been starting most seeds in 72-count plug trays from amazon in clearance and seed starting mix from Walmart. There are 300 plugs germinating on my upstairs bathroom counter now. Then I pot them up in 4” pots right after germination.

I’m still working on mixing potting soil with perlite and/or vermiculite to get a lightweight soil because I haven’t found a brand I love yet. Northaven Gardens has a recommendation in a recent email that I plan to try when I can look it up. Some seeds go straight to the greenhouse once planted, depending on weather. It can be tricky to keep the soil at the just right level of moisture but we haven’t had a problem with damping off, even though they stay fairly wet with almost daily misting.

I’m also experimenting with diluted organic liquid  fertilizer after the 2nd set of leaves appear to get them to transplant size as quickly as possible. This requires patience. 

 The Raincatcher’s greenhouse is a huge help during colder weather, as are the other edible garden volunteers who check on the seedlings. I’ll come back to you on soil mixes. Don’t hesitate to remind me. Busy time at work just kicked in, another reason I enjoy the seeds.

Best, Gail

Gail Cook bringing borage seedlings to the Raincatcher’s greenhouse.

Gail writes again:

A couple more tips: Peat moss can be difficult to moisten so add water to the seed starting mix before filling pots. A bucket and your trowel are useful for mixing. 

When using a heat mat indoors or a greenhouse on warm days, monitor closely, preferably twice a day. The soil dries out very quickly and seedlings will fail to germinate or grow. Seedlings should be removed immediately from the heat map as they germinate, as they no longer need the warmer temperatures.

Gail’s Greenhouse

 

This little greenhouse is from Tuesday Morning  and is on it’s 4th winter. It is in a protected area and doesn’t get much direct sun. There are a few patches over tiny holes but it still works. I’ll probably buy another next year.

 My husband has started referring to the seedlings as our children because they are taking up so much of my time.                                                        

 

 

 

 

If you are feeling overwhelmed with all the information and purchase recommendations, Gail suggests starting with easy lettuce and greens for the first season. Simple can be better for beginners. Have fun!

Thank you, Gail.

Ann Lamb

 

Seed Starting Indoors

Jim Dempsey has been starting seeds indoors at Jim and Martha’s house for about 25 years.  Martha indulgently clears space, putting away her craft tables, so Jim can have room for this project every year. He grows tomatoes and peppers and several varieties of flowers from seed to get ahead of Mother Nature and have sturdy seedlings ready to transplant into the spring garden before it gets too hot.

And there’s also the issue of variety. Jim says you’ve never seen so many choices. He likes to order tomato seeds from Tomato Growers and flower seeds from Park Seed and Burpee. Along with Celebrity tomatoes, he selects a few heirloom tomatoes, cherry tomatoes and seeds of early varieties( those that mature within 52 days). Last year one of his successful selections, a yellow pear tomato, was so productive; he just got tired of picking them.

Jim with knitting needle for planting seeds, and journal and plant containers

Materials Needed:

Journal: Jim suggests keeping a journal so you have some idea of what works.  For instance, He realized he was starting seed too early and has now set his start date as February 1st for seeds for the spring garden.

Containers and seed tray

Seed Starting Mix: Jim uses Miracle-Gro potting soil which contains fertilizer. You can mix your own potting soil with a 50-50 combination of fine sphagnum peat moss and vermiculite and fertilize with  fertilizer diluted to 1/2 strength.

Seeds

Plastic wrap or plastic cover

Plant Labels-Always label your pots as you plant the seeds

Grow Light

Heated Seed Mat-Jim did not use a seed mat until 4 years ago when Dorothy, another Master Gardener, gave hers to him. He says it helps his tomato and pepper seeds germinate.

Getting Started:

Fill the cells or pots with moist germinating mix to about an inch below the top.  The soil mix should be moist not soggy.

Jim uses one of Martha’s knitting needles to make the holes for the seeds. Follow seed package directions for planting depth. He uses the blunt end of the knitting needle to tamp the seed down. Seed to soil contact is important.

He suggests one seed per cell when using fresh seeds. 3 seeds per cell for older seeds.

Cover the seed tray or flat with saran wrap or a plastic cover. This keeps the soil mix from drying out. Check it every day and add water to the plant tray from the bottom if the soil begins to change color which means it needs water.

Place the seed tray near a bright, sunny window and/or use a grow light.

The grow light should be placed close to the top of the cover or plastic wrap.

Jim’s seed flats with grow lights

It usually takes 7-10 days for the seeds to germinate. Take the plastic wrap off when the seedlings emerge.

Seeds germinate at varying temperatures.  Plan to use a seedling heat mat if needed.

Seedling Heat Mat

Transplant seedlings into 4 inch pots when you have your first two sets of true leaves.

Before placing your new seedlings in the garden they must be hardened off. Start by putting the new plants outside for a few hours in the shade. Then let them stay outside overnight and then for a few nights. The night temperature should be in the 50° range.


Thank you, Jim, for giving us your time tested instructions and personal tips for starting seeds indoors. You have inspired me to start tomatoes on my window sill!

In the next few days, Gail Cook who is starting seeds for the edible landscape will share with us.

Ann Lamb

Giant Red Mustard, Ornamental and Edible

The Dallas Arboretum chose Giant Red Mustard as a signature plant this year. It’s an ideal choice because it fits in with the aesthetics of the garden and the mantra of the Arboretum’s edible landscape, called A Tasteful Place. You see, Giant Red Mustard is an ornamental edible mustard.

The  maroon leaves blended perfectly with plantings of lorapetalum and palms, pansies and cardoon at the entrance to the Arboretum.

All over the grounds, pots were planted with the mustard as an accent. This planting below was especially beautiful with the sabal palm fronds framing it and the frilly chartreuse leaves of Mustard “Mizuna” at the base.

In the Arboretum’s edible garden, a long lane of mustard led your eye to the Dallas skyline. Do you see some of our downtown buildings in the distance?

It wouldn’t have been right to taste the leaves while strolling through the Arboretum; but now that I have bought some of these plants for my garden, I can vouch for their spicy taste.

Here is what Park Seeds says about this Giant Red Mustard:

“At last, a Mustard Green so showy it just may do for this nutritious family what Bright Lights did for Swiss Chard — put it in every garden and on every table of gardeners who love bold colors and fresh flavor in their veggies! Red Giant is a brilliant maroon with deep green midribs, so showy you may just have to plant two crops — one in the veggie patch and one along the walkway or in your annual border!

These leaves are slightly textured for a better bite and good holding power. The flavor is zesty and full, with a good bite that you just can’t find in store-bought mustard greens. Imagine Red Giant flanking your Pansies and cheery Mums in the fall garden, or nestling beside bold Ornamental Cabbage and Kale. Or put it in bright containers for an unforgettable patio or porch display!

And because you pick this mustard leaf by leaf for eating (instead of uprooting the entire plant, as you do for head lettuce), you can enjoy the fine display of color for many weeks! Frost just improves the flavor and color.

Sow seed outdoors in early spring or, for fall crops, 6 to 8 weeks before first fall frost. Space seedlings 1 to 2 inches apart in rows 15 inches apart.”

Giant Red Mustard will be in my garden next year. Will it be in yours?

Ann Lamb

Read about Raincatcher’s edible landscape:

Edible Landscaping, Here’s What You Plant

Orphaned No More-Our Incredible Edible Landscape Project

Learning To Plant Outside The Lines

and don’t forget to plan a trip to the Arboretum for Dallas Blooms February 29-April 12, 2020.

Propagation Primer with Master Gardener, Paula Spletter

Scented geraniums in the Edible Landscape before the freeze.

Our five pelargonium beds (scented geraniums) were beautiful. Brushing up against them or gently rubbing a leaf between your fingers, fragrant scents of everything from roses to peach and chocolate mint filled the air. But the weather forecast had prepared us. Below freezing temperatures were only days away and it was time to carefully dig them up for winter protection in our greenhouse.

Propagation class in session.

Paula Spletter to the rescue! Under her helpful guidance, each plant received a severe pruning leaving only one third of the plant intact for its winter location. Then the fun began. Over 200 stem cuttings were taken and repotted in preparation for a spring class at Raincatcher’s Garden of Midway Hills. Here are Paula’s basic tips for propagating scented geraniums:

Paula Spletter showing us the perfect stem cutting.

  1. Start with a healthy, well-hydrated “mother” plant.
  2. Cut tip-end stems just below two nodes. Each cutting should be about 2” to 3” long.
  3. Cut stems with a sharp, clean paring knife. Make a straight cut across (not at an angle) the stem.
  4. Use a dowel stick or the handle end of the knife to make a hole in the potting soil. (This will help to protect the fragile meristem when inserting.)
  5. Cuttings should be placed into a pot filled with a mixture of loose potting soil and compost.
  6. Label every pot. Sometimes things get accidently moved around and what looks like an old-fashioned rose scented geranium might instead be peach scented.
  7. Water lightly. Monitor the soil while cuttings are in the greenhouse. Pay careful attention to conditions that could affect the health of the plants:

*Temperature in the greenhouse should be 45˚ or higher. A heater is recommended for anything below this number.

*Soil should stay evenly moist; never too wet or completely dried out.

*Extremes in heat, cold, overwatering or underwatering could cause problems with mealy bugs or a fungus. Pay attention and adjust accordingly.

Scented geranium cuttings in our greenhouse labeled and ready for winter.

Watch for an announcement about our 2020 late spring/early summer class on the joys of growing scented geraniums in your garden. A tasting menu will inspire you to get started!

Linda Alexander

Pumpkins on Parade

Pumpkins and Sweet Potatoes

Two harvest-season jewels that have become an intrinsic part of classic autumn fare.

“For pottage and puddings and custards and pies,

Our pumpkins and parsnips are common supplies,

We have pumpkins at morning and pumpkins at noon,

If it were not for pumpkins, we should be undoon”.

This Pilgrim Verse from sometime around 1633 was the introduction to our pumpkin segment of the ‘Grow and Graze’ program last Tuesday. Seems that our Pilgrim forefathers were just as enchanted with pumpkins as we are today. Susan Thornbury helped us to understand the history and fascination with this much-loved fruit/vegetable.

*The early colonists ate pumpkins because they were available and they badly needed food.

*Pumpkins are Cucurbits, just like cucumbers and summer squash. They need warm soil, plenty of sunshine and regular watering. Additionally, they tend to be large plants that need room to grow.

*Timing is important when it comes to growing pumpkins. Many varieties take 100 days to mature. But even more important is soil temperature. Pumpkins want soil that is warm, but seeds will not come up if the soil is too hot. For our climate, that means the end of May to the first part of June is the ideal time to plant pumpkin seeds. It is advantageous to plant seeds since they sprout easily when their requirements are met.

*Pumpkins will perform best when planted in one to two feet of loose fertile soil with plenty of compost added to the mix. Raised beds are a preferred way to grow pumpkins in our area.

*Squash vine borers can be devasting to a pumpkin crop. Usually appearing in springtime, prevention is the best way to deal with the problem. Check under the leaves often for egg clusters. If found, smash them. Insecticidal soap can be used for prevention but use caution as it can be harmful to bees which are essential for pollinating the flowers.

*When selecting a pumpkin for outdoor decorating look for one that is blemish free with no soft spots or damage to the rind. A bit of stem looks nice and may help the pumpkin to last longer.

*For cooking, select a small 2 to 3-pound pie pumpkin. If purchasing canned pumpkin, look for the cans that say 100% pure pumpkin. Libby pumpkin is made from a variety that the company developed called Dickinson.

Autumn Bisque 

Ingredients

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

2 tablespoons butter, divided

1 ½ cups chopped onion

1 tablespoon minced garlic

¾ cup chopped carrots

¼ cup chopped celery

4 cups chicken broth, divided

2 cups sliced mushrooms

1 cup chopped leeks

3 cups fresh or canned pumpkin puree

1 (13.5-ounce) can coconut milk

½ teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 ½ teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon fresh chopped thyme

Garnish: toasted pumpkin seeds 

Directions

In a large stockpot over medium heat, melt 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 tablespoon butter. Add the onion, garlic, carrots, and celery and cook for 8 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender.

Add 2 cups chicken broth and simmer for 3 minutes; remove from heat and cool for 15 minutes. Pour the broth mixture into a food processor or blender, and blend until smooth; set aside.

In the same stockpot over medium heat, heat the remaining olive oil and butter. Add the mushrooms and leeks and cook for 6 minutes or until mushrooms begin to brown.

Add the remaining broth, vegetable-broth puree, pumpkin, coconut milk and red pepper flakes; simmer, covered, for 15 minutes. Stir in the salt, lemon juice and thyme; simmer for 10 minutes. Garnish with toasted pumpkin seeds, if desired.  

Yield: Makes 6 servings

Black-Eyed Pea-And-Sweet Potato Salad

Ingredients

2 medium-size sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed

1 purple onion, quartered and thinly sliced

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 teaspoon dried basil

1 teaspoon dried thyme

½ teaspoon ground cumin

½ teaspoon ground coriander

⅓ cup lime juice

½ cup mango chutney

3 (15.8-ounce) cans black-eyed peas, rinsed and drained

½ cup chopped fresh Italian parsley

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon pepper

Directions

Bring potato and water to cover to a boil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Cook 15 minutes or until potato is tender. Drain and set potato aside.

Sauté onion in hot oil in saucepan over medium heat 4 minutes or until tender. Add garlic and next 4 ingredients. Cook, stirring constantly, 1 to 2 minutes.

Stir together lime juice and chutney in a large bowl; add potato, onion mixture, peas and remaining ingredients, tossing gently to coat. Cover and chill at least 1 hour.

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

Linda Alexander

 

 

Recipes from our last Grow and Graze of 2019, Pumpkins and Sweet Potatoes

Harvest Salad with Bacon Vinaigrette

Ingredients

1 baking pumpkin, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1 ½-inch -thick slices

¼ cup melted butter

1 ½ teaspoons salt, divided

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided

¼ teaspoon garlic powder

1 cup extra-virgin olive oil

⅓ cup balsamic vinegar

8 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled

1 shallot, minced

6 cups salad greens

¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese

¼ cup toasted pecans

Directions

Preheat oven to 350˚F. Lightly grease a large baking sheet.

Place the pumpkin slices 1 inch apart on the prepared baking sheet. In a small bowl, whisk together the melted butter, ½ teaspoon salt, ½ teaspoon pepper, and garlic powder; evenly coat pumpkin slices with the butter mixture. Roast pumpkin for 20 minutes, or until tender.

Using a food processor, mix together the oil, vinegar, remaining salt, remaining pepper, bacon, and shallot until well blended.

In a large bowl, toss the salad greens with ¾ cup of the vinaigrette. Mound the greens on a serving plate, and top with roasted pumpkin. Drizzle the remaining vinaigrette over the pumpkin, and top with the Parmesan cheese and pecans.

Yield: Makes 6 servings

Curried Pumpkin Hummus

 

Ingredients

1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin

3 tablespoons tahini (sesame paste)

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 clove garlic, peeled

2 teaspoons olive oil

1 teaspoon curry

1 teaspoon cumin

½ teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon ground black pepper

¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper

Garnish: pepitas, (pumpkin seeds), paprika, olive oil, and fresh thyme 

Directions

In the work bowl of a food processor, combine pumpkin, tahini, lemon juice, garlic and olive oil. Pulse until smooth. Add curry, cumin, kosher salt, black pepper and cayenne pepper; pulse to combine. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours. Garnish with pepitas, paprika, olive oil and thyme, if desired. Serve immediately with toasted naan or pita chips or refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 5 days.  

Yield: Makes 10 servings

Pumpkin Chai Pots de Crème

Ingredients

1 cup whipping cream

1 cup whole milk

¼ cup firmly packed light brown sugar

6 large egg yolks

¼ cup granulated sugar

½ cup canned cooked pumpkin

⅓ cup strong brewed chai tea

2 teaspoons grated orange peel or Meyer lemon peel

1 teaspoon vanilla

Pumpkin seed brittle

Directions

Preheat oven to 325˚F (convection not recommended). In a 2-to3-quart pan over medium heat, stir cream, milk, and brown sugar until sugar is dissolved, 2 to 4 minutes. Remove from heat.

In a bowl, whisk egg yolks until light yellow. Add granulated sugar and whisk until blended. Gradually whisk a fourth of the hot cream mixture into the egg mixture. Then slowly whisk in remaining cream mixture and the pumpkin, chai, orange peel, and vanilla.

Divide mixture among six ramekins (¾ cup). Set in a 12- by 16-inch roasting pan at least 2 inches deep. Set pan in oven and pour in boiling water to halfway up sides of ramekins.

Bake until custards barely jiggle when gently shaken, 45 to 50 minutes. Lift ramekins out of water and let cool on racks for 30 minutes, then chill until cold, at least 1 hour. Cover when cold.

Shortly before serving garnish with shards of pumpkin seed brittle.

Yield: Makes 6 servings

Pumpkin Seed Brittle Recipe

Ingredients
1 cup sugar
1 cup Karo® light corn syrup
2 cups raw, shelled pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 tbsp baking soda
Butter for the baking sheets (about 2 tbsp)
Candy thermometer
Directions
Prepare cookie sheets and measure all ingredients before starting to cook. You will not have time to measure ingredients in between steps. Butter two cookie sheets and place on a heat-resistant surface. Combine pepper, cinnamon, salt and baking soda and reserve in a small bowl. Once the sugar mixture is ready, you have to work quickly, so keep these readily accessible. A wooden spoon is best for this recipe.
In a heavy 2-quart saucepan, combine sugar, syrup and pumpkin seeds and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. Clip the candy thermometer in place and continue to cook, stirring frequently to keep seeds from burning on the bottom of the pan. Watch carefully when mixture turns light amber and you can smell the sugar starting to caramelize.
When the temperature reaches 300 degrees F (150 degrees C), or a small amount of mixture dropped into very cold water separates into hard and brittle threads, work quickly. Add the spice/baking soda mixture and stir to combine (mixture will foam up). Pour the mixture immediately onto the two cookie sheets, put the pan aside, and spread with the wooden spoon to distribute the seeds and foaming syrup. Continue to spread until the syrup is no longer foaming. Some recipes say to use two forks to further thin and stretch the mixture, or if desired you can wait a few moments for it to cool and use buttered fingers to stretch the candy slightly. Please use caution! This requires perfect timing. Too soon and you’ll burn your fingers. Too late and the candy will already be set, which simply results in a thicker brittle and does not affect the quality of the candy.
When cool, break into pieces and immediately store in an airtight container.

 

Maple Sweet Potato Bread Pudding

Ingredients

1 ½ pounds small sweet potatoes, or 3 large sweet potatoes

5 eggs

2 cups heavy cream

2 cups whole milk

1 cup maple syrup, plus additional for serving, warmed

½ cup firmly packed light brown sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon ground nutmeg

½ teaspoon kosher salt

1 (1 pound) loaf challah bread, cut into 1 ½- to 2-inch cubes (12 packed cups)

Ice cream or whipped cream

Directions

Preheat the oven to 400˚F. Wrap the sweet potatoes in foil and bake until tender when pricked with a fork, 50 to 60 minutes. Carefully unwrap the foil and let them stand until they are cool enough to handle. Remove the skins and place the cooked sweet potatoes in a bowl. Mash coarsely using a potato masher. Lower the oven temperature to 375˚F.

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs until frothy. Whisk in the cream, milk, the 1 cup maple syrup, the brown sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Stir in the sweet potatoes. Add the bread cubes and stir to mix thoroughly. Let stand for 15 minutes for the bread to soak up the liquid, stirring occasionally. Butter a 9 by 13-inch baking dish. Pour the bread mixture into the dish, cover tightly with aluminum foil, and bake until the pudding is set in the center, 50 minutes to an hour. Uncover the baking dish and cook until browned on top and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean, about 15 minutes. Serve warm, drizzled with the warm maple syrup and topped with ice cream or whipped cream

Yield: Makes 9 to 12 servings

Linda Alexander

Pictures by Linda and Starla Willis

Sweet Potatoes…Cornerstones of Southern Tradition

Beauregard Sweet Potatoes in Sheila’s Garden

Sheila Kostelny led the sweet potato segment of the panel discussion, sharing some insightful information about what many consider to be one of the world’s most nutritious vegetables.

*We have Christopher Columbus to thank for discovering the sweet potato on one of his voyages to the West Indies. He was so impressed that upon his return to Spain, he brought some back to Queen Isabella. Later explorers found sweet potatoes growing in much of Central and South America. Most historians think the sweet potato arrived in the U.S. after Columbus, as a result of trading between the early American settlers and the West Indians.

*The sweet potato belongs to the Morning Glory Family (Convolvulaceae). Its scientific name is Ipomoea batatas.

*The yam belongs to the Yam Family (Dioscoreaceae). Its scientific name is Dioscorea Species.

*The confusion between sweet potatoes and yams started when early slaves mistook the sweet potato for a yam (which is grown in Africa). It wasn’t long before sweet potatoes were commonly referred to as yams, especially in the South. Yams are rarely found in American markets. (*Fortunately, we did find yams from Costa Rico a few weeks ago at our local Walmart).

*Many supermarkets use the terms sweet potato and yams interchangeably.

*All crops grown in the U.S. are sweet potatoes with the largest crop grown in North Carolina. Yams are imported from the Caribbean but are difficult to find.

*Other than being from two different plant families, the sweet potato is a storage root and the yam is a tuber. Other differentiating characteristics:

Sweet potato: smooth, with thin skin. Short, blocky shape with a moist, sweet flavor. High in beta carotene (Vitamin A). Propagated by transplanted or vine cuttings with a 3 to 5 month growing season.

Yam: long and cylindrical with a dry and starchy taste. Low in beta carotene. Propagated by tuber pieces with a 6 to 12 month growing season.

*Growing sweet potatoes:

Purchase sweet potatoes for cuttings or slips from local nurseries in late spring. Allow the cuts to scar for a few days and, as with regular potatoes, include 3 or 4 eyes, if not sprouted. Plant the slips or cuttings deep, with at least 3 nodes below ground or 3 to 4” deep and 12 to 16 inches apart.

It’s also fun to try the “second-grade” sweet potato vine method, which is to root a sweet potato suspended in water using toothpicks.

Unlike most vegetable crops, sweet potatoes do not do better with high levels of organic matter. They need loose soil with good drainage…raised beds are ideal. Sweet potatoes are fairly drought tolerant but do appreciate moist soil.

Sweet potatoes demand warm growing conditions. Do not plant until all possibility of frost has passed. As soon as the soil temperature is at least 60˚F, plant 2 inches below the surface. They need at least 8 hours of sun each day for maximum yield.

Ideally, incorporate 1 pound per 100 sf of bed with a complete lawn or garden fertilizer or an organic fertilizer, per instructions, to the soil before planting. Ideal ph is 5.5 to 6.5.

Harvesting:

Generally ready in 90 to 110-120 days. Peak harvest season being October to December. Some say a light frost will sweeten the taste. Harvest before a hard frost.

Sweet potatoes don’t actually mature but are dug when they reach a usable size. Dig very carefully in dry soil. (They may be kept in the ground to continue sizing but should be dug up before the soil temperatures drops below 50˚F to prevent chill injury).

Cut the roots away from the spuds and allow them to dry for 3 to 4 hours in the shade before placing in a warm, humid area to cure for at least 2 weeks, which turns their starches to sugar.

Ideal curing temperature is 80˚-85˚F with 85 to 90% humidity.

Proper Storage:

Ideal storage temperature is 55˚ to 60˚F in darkness with moderate humidity. The average storage life is 4 to 6 months. Allow good air circulation.

Recommended varieties for our area (Zone 8):

Beauregard (perhaps the world’s most popular sweet potato…favored for high yields of uniform, reddish potatoes with tasty, deep-orange flesh that keeps well in storage. Developed at Louisiana State University in 1987), Centennial and Jewel.

Sweet potatoes are not only a nutritious and tasty vegetable, the skin and flesh are excellent sources of fiber. And, this very versatile vegetable, along with the turkey, makes our Thanksgiving feast complete.

Here’s one of our favorite sweet potato recipes to get us started after our recent Grow and Graze event-Pumpkins on Parade, Sweet Potatoes for Adornment.

Sweet Potato Crescent Rolls

 

Ingredients:

2 packages active dry yeast

1 cup warm water (105˚ to 115˚)

1 cup cooked mashed sweet potato

½ cup shortening

½ cup sugar

1 egg

1 ½ teaspoons salt

5 ¼ to 5 ¾ cups all-purpose flour

¼ cup butter, softened

Directions:

  1. Dissolve yeast in warm water in a large mixing bowl; let stand 5 minutes. Add sweet potato, shortening, sugar, egg, and salt; beat at medium speed of an electric mixer until thoroughly blended. Gradually stir in enough flour to make a soft dough.

 

  1. Turn dough out onto a well-floured surface, and knead until smooth and elastic (about 5 minutes). Place in a well-greased bowl, turning to grease top. Cover and let rise in a warm place (85 degrees), free from drafts, 1 hour or until doubled in bulk.

 

  1. Punch dough down, and divide into 3 equal parts. Roll each into a 12-inch circle on a lightly floured surface; spread each circle with 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon butter. Cut each circle into 12 wedges; roll up each wedge, beginning at wide end. Place on lightly greased baking sheets, point side down, curving slightly to form a crescent.
  2. Cover crescent rolls and let rise in a warm place, free from drafts, 30 to 45 minutes or until rolls are doubled in bulk. Bake at 400˚ 10 to 12 minutes or until light golden brown.

Yield: 3 dozen

More recipes coming!

Linda Alexander

 

 

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