It was with great anticipation that I approached my container grown sweet potato plants. Of the 15 plantlets that I had purchased in March, I had planted 13 in grow bags and two in a planter box on my front porch. Of the 13 in grow bags, I shared 11 with friends and neighbors and used them for door prizes at Lunch and Learn.
Unlike ‘regular’ potatoes, sweet potatoes are in the morning glory family and so are a vine. I watched as the 4 plants I had left grew vigorously with the heart-shaped leaves that are indicative of morning glories. I didn’t see a single flower all season long. As I was not growing them for their flowers,– only their roots, I was not disappointed.
The variety that I was growing was a Japanese variety called “Okinawa.” On a shopping trip to Trader Joe’s in Mount Pleasant a few weeks ago, I discovered some for sale and eagerly bought a couple of pounds. Not nearly enough, I found. They were without a doubt the most delicious sweet potato I had ever tasted; with no accompaniment whatsoever: no salt, no sugar, and no butter. They were absolutely sublime. I didn’t have enough to try them mashed, french fried or any other way, but I’m certain they would surpass any other variety usually found in supermarkets.
You can imagine how excited I was to try my own homegrown ones. Armed with my trusty Trake, I dug into a green grow bag and pulled out a beautiful, almost one pound, sweet potato!
And that was all!!
The other grow bag and the porch container produced only a total of 5 pounds of sweet potatoes. Where were the 25 pounds per plant I was promised?
And then I realized that the soil around every plant was extremely dry. I had watered them all only the day before. Why?
I had made the mistake of watering only until water leaked out of the bottom of the container. I found that it takes about
three minutes to fill a five gallon bucket from a garden hose and it had taken only a few seconds, actually, for the containers to begin leaking through the bottom. Not nearly enough to wet down five gallons of soil.
Three minutes doesn’t seem like a long time, but it’s an eternity if you are holding the business end of a garden hose. The culprit for my poor harvest was me! Like a harsh commandant of a POW camp, I had given them only enough to keep them alive – not to thrive.
Inasmuch as I will be limited to container gardening for the nonce, I have learned a very expensive lesson; in time if not in money. In hot weather like we have been experiencing, learn to water in stages. That is, give the first drink of water some time to be absorbed and then come back and give a final thorough watering. If it is a hanging basket or a small container, water daily in really hot weather. And it looks like 90o plus is going to be the new summer norm.
This is where an automatic drip irrigation system would be invaluable. A battery operated timer on your outside faucet will allow you (yes, you) to install your own drip irrigation with emitters placed in each container to regulate when and how much water will drip onto the soil. It’s easy-peasy and complete kits are inexpensive! It’s a water saver, too. A real consideration if you don’t have a well, since water is ridiculously expensive if you rely on Beaufort/Jasper water.
Remember those hydrogel crystals you used to see for sale everywhere? Let’s take another look at them. Especially now. They will absorb up to 600 times their volume in water (I use a very weak solution of water soluble fertilizer to hydrate them) and when mixed into the soil, they slowly release moisture to the plant roots as needed. Every time you water, they’re re-hydrated and go right back to work. They are viable for several years. They substantially reduce how often you have to water. I used to use them prodigiously, even in my garden beds. I grew out of the habit and haven’t used them for years. I think it’s high time I got back in the habit.
I won’t give up on sweet potatoes, though. When they’re finished curing (it takes about 10 days) I’ll relish every ounce of my paltry harvest and next year, I’ll keep more plants than I give away and I’ll water them properly. Definitely!